Introduction: Spiral Ramp for Wooden Train Tracks
Here's how I made custom supports for my son's wooden train track set, to make a spiral ramp that goes 3 'storeys' high (in toy train terms, that is). This project was an exercise in combining 3D printed precision parts with wooden bases, to complement the wooden aesthetic of the overall train set.
This design is compatible with BRIO, IKEA and Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train set parts.
Step 1: Inspiration: Basic 3D Printed Track Supports
The various brands of compatible wooden train tracks come with simple wooden piers to raise up the tracks to bridge height. But one bump from an excited kid and the whole setup will come tumbling down. I came across this design of a clip-on track support by user sir_indy on thingiverse. Link here:
The whole idea is that these plastic piers will clip on tightly to the wooden track pieces, and won't fall easily. I customised a set of these for my son's train set (see the blue plastic piece in the foreground), and it works like a charm.
Step 2: Designing Supports for a Spiral Ramp
To create a spiral ramp, each of the supports needs to be a different height. The 'easy way' to do this would have been to just 3D print different height supports. However, I didn't like the look of having tall plastic columns all over this lovely wooden play set. And the tallest columns wouldn't fit the printable area in my 3D printer anyway, and even if they could be printed, it would take days to print all of those tall supports individually.
I realised that really only the 'clip' portion of the piers needs to be 3D printed, to be an accurate and tight 'snap fit' to the tracks. The rest of it can just be a simple timber block. So I just drew up some single clips and double stacked clips in Sketchup, and printed those out in batches. It is so much faster this way - a plate of 8 single clips could print out in about 2 hours.
The 3D files are attached here, if anyone is interested. These should fit all the typical compatible train tracks.
I measured the height of the existing bridges and basic single-tier track supports in the set, which are at 65mm high (base of the track). Let's call this bridge level L1, and the real floor level L0. I wanted to create a spiral that would go up 1.5 turns, starting from L1 up to L3.
The calculated desired heights of each support are as follows:
L0 = 0mm (Floor level)
L1 = 65mm (Bridge level / Single-tier supports)
L2 = 130mm (min 2 sets)
L3 = 195mm (min 1 piece)
A = 70mm
B = 80.4mm
C = 90.8mm
D = 101.3mm
E = 111.7mm
F = 122.1mm
G = 132.5mm
(A-H: 1 piece each)
Step 3: Cut the Support Blocks
I cut the support blocks for the various piers out of some pre-finished pine planks I had lying around. (Old IKEA bed slats, I believe!) Be sure to measure 5mm shorter than the desired finished height, to accommodate the thickness of the 3D printed clip part.
I used masking tape to prevent tear-out, when using my mitre saw.
The ascending blocks (A-H) should form a perfect ascending set of steps as shown. Each one ~10.4mm taller than the previous one.
Step 4: Round Off the Blocks
These pine planks were a bit wider than the tracks, which is good for stability. However the squarish corners at the top bugged me, so I rounded them off.
First, I clamped a few blocks together, and used a 15mm round-over bit on my trim router to round off the 'shoulders' of the blocks. Then, I switched over to a 5mm round-over bit to round off the edges.
Finally I sanded the blocks and gave them a coat of mineral oil and let them dry.
Step 5: Join the Clips and Blocks
The beauty of 3D printing is that your parts can be as detailed as you need. In this case, I designed the parts to have the counter-sunk screw hole as part of the model.
I pre-drilled a hole at the top centre of the wooden blocks, then glued the plastic clips on with hot glue before screwing them in place with flat-headed screws.
Step 6: Assemble and Play!
To assemble the spiral, you'll need 12 curved track pieces, 4 S-ramp track pieces, and a bunch of straight tracks. This is in addition to the customised piers.
See the attached labelled photo to see how it all comes together.
Once the tracks are all in place, the whole system becomes quite strong and stable. But best of all, it can be disassembled and packed away flat anytime.
Hope you guys like this, make your own, and have lots of fun! My son was so excited to play with the new "Super Ramp" as he calls it.