DIY Train Table Top
One of our favorite past projects is our DIY train table top, made from plywood, acrylic craft paint, and some careful planning.
My son’s love of transportation toys started as soon as he could hold and push a car. For his second birthday, we invested in a train track. We combined gifts with both sets of grandparents and purchased a cargo-themed track with movable cranes, a bridge, battery-operated engine, cargo, and a dump truck. We also included a roundhouse, lifting bridge, and some trains. The train table lived beneath our DIY art display, holding some of our kiddos favorite works of art.
For additional excitement, we created a train table. We considered leaving the track loose, but instead secured the track to the table. This worked out well for our family. With two kiddos under 4, attaching the track made play really easy and held the track and movable elements firmly in place.
As the kids have grown, they’re now more interested in creating their own tracks. Keep reading to learn how we recently transitioned the DIY train table top. For some other DIY play ideas, check out our toy tree house, foam board building, foam board Encanto Casita, and DIY puzzle board.
We love a good DIY storage project. Here are some of our favorites:
- Toy Storage Bench
- Mounted Garden Tool Storage Box From Repurposed Fence Pickets
- Sports Equipment Storage From Repurposed Fence Panels
- Under Couch Storage From Repurposed Cardboard
How We Made Our DIY Train Table Top
1. Measure and Cut Train Table Top
We transformed a low toy storage bench my husband Dean made the prior year into the train table by adding a 3/4″ plywood top.
To start, we laid out track on the floor to get a rough idea of what size top we needed. Dean cut the plywood to 48″ x 34″ with curved corners to reduce the chance of kids running into sharp points. Then, he rounded the top edge with a router and 1/4″ roundover bit. I sanded and primed all sides and edges.
2. Layout Track and Paint Train Table Top
One fun (and slightly frustrating) evening, Dean and I puzzled through various track layouts to create multiple routes and maximize the fun cargo elements. A couple spots seemed impossible to figure out – the pieces were too big or wouldn’t connect.
Luckily, specialty pieces saved the day. We found adapters from the old style Thomas track to Brio; multiple sizes of male-male and female-female pieces, and “dog bone” connectors to connect two female pieces together.
After finalizing the layout, we took tons of photos, then outlined the water, road, and grass areas.
Using acrylic craft paint, I painted the top and edges. I kept it simple with bold colors, but added some depth and texture by blending two or three shades of blue for the water and green for the grass. With such large areas, I squirted the paint directly onto the plywood and then gently blended the colors leavings swirl and streaks.
I finished the train table top with three coats of matte polyurethane, letting the coats completely dry between applications.
3. Affix Track to DIY Train Table Top
Even with our reference photos, recreating the original layout was surprisingly difficult! After several attempts, we finally managed to fit all of the moving elements and most of the track onto the table top. I kept the extra track handy so the kids could design their own free-standing tracks.
On about every other track piece, I drilled a pilot hole in the middle of the piece and into the train table top, then secured with screws and a screwdriver. I used 6 x 3/4″ screws in brass to blend in with the track. Rather than add holes to the bridge and crane elements, I secured them with double sided foam tape.
4. Attach Train Table Top to Base
We repurposed an old DIY toy storage bench for our train table base. Whether you DIY or purchase a base, make sure it’s solid enough to handle kids pressing and likely sitting on the table. We’ve since made several more toy storage benches.
To give more height to the train table and make it easy to move, we added casters to the base. The casters were described as 2″ casters – which is the wheel diameter, not the full caster height. The 2″ casters added 2 3/4″ to the train table. Our finished train table, with casters, is 21″ high. The heavy duty casters handle the train table’s weight and securely lock. Attach by drilling pilot holes into the bottom of the base, then securing a caster to each corner, about 3″ from the edges, with screws.
After attaching the casters, Dean drilled pilot holes through the bench top. Then we centered the train table top on the bench, and attached from below with screws.
We kept the train table hidden away until my son’s birthday. After breakfast, we took him to the table covered in a blanket. His whole face lit up when he saw the trains, track, cargo cranes, and painted table top complete with a road for his cars.
My daughter loved it just as much, often incorporating animals or superheroes, and adding new features with pipe cleaners and food pouch caps.
Transitions: Train Table to Loose Tracks
Our kiddos consistently used the train table. But now that they’re older, they want the freedom to rearrange the track in their own designs. My son especially kept pulling off all the track pieces and making larger, unique tracks on the floor where he has more room. Following the kids’ lead, we decided to give them more flexibility and undo our train table. We removed the screws from the track and the adhesive from larger elements. They now live in a large, clear bin. Dean separated the painted top from the base. The top now resides on the floor and the kids still play on it with the train, magnetic tiles, or plastic figures and animals.
The kids’ ever expanding LEGO collection outgrew the toy storage bench Dean made last year. So, we swapped it for the larger train table base. My dad, Gpa, cut a larger top, which I primed and painted, then attached to the base.
We left room on one side for our LEGO instruction books and will add a LEGO shelving unit to the other. Now, the kids have ample room to store LEGOs in the toy bench shelves and a large open area to play with their completed models. We also took advantage of the space under the bench for additional storage using repurposed boxes.
Check out our LEGO Storage and Organization Saga:
Episode 1: LEGO Instruction Books
Have you created a custom DIY train table top? Tell us what worked for you!
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