Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DIY Train Table Entering Retirement



I took some photos of the boys' train table today because it is entering retirement. I wanted to make sure I captured it on camera before it is gone forever because it was my own "invention." The boys are really fond of it. They use it every day, for at least a little while, and some days they use it for hours on end.

Kal-El's obsession with trains began when he was around 18 months old. So I was thrilled when my brother and his wife gave Kal-El a really neat train set for his second birthday. Kal-El was definitely ready for some trains and track but my husband and I were not mentally ready to devote a big patch of floor space to a train table or to pick up 80 accessories off the floor every day. At the same time, I wanted the track to be stationary (at least temporarily) because Kal-El could not rebuild a track once he had taken it apart. The solution was to make my own "train table."

I picked up a smooth piece scrap of plywood at the hardware store that was approximately the size I wanted (my finished table is about 28" X 24"). Both boys have always wanted to play wherever I happen to be working in the house. This small size meant the table was portable. For a while we kept it on top of a 22"X22" children's work table we kept in the kitchen but were able to move the train platform to the coffee table or an end table whenever desired.

Only half of a classic figure eight fits on a table of this size. This worked out well because there was still a "circle" to go around, but there was also a bridge and a ramp to let the train go down fast.


I fastened the track to the plywood with something called Earthquake Putty. This looks a lot like standard poster putty but it cures with age. The first week or so after I made it, it was possible to pull a piece of track off with some effort. When I dismantled the table last night I need to use a putty knife to pop the pieces off. I was really happy with this for the last 3.5 years and am using some Earthquake Putty again in places on our new table. I have since also heard an idea that would work for those using a standard train table with a lip. Some people have a piece of Plexiglas cut to fit the top of the table and glue the track to the Plexiglas with Gorilla Glue. I think I still would prefer to use Earthquake Putty because it is removable without scraping so, likewise, the track is reusable without scraping as well.

My table didn't have a lip, but didn't need one because the pieces were stuck to the board and I wasn't handing out many accessories like road signs and trees.

After I finished tacking down the track I used my cheesy Black-N-Decker jigsaw to custom-cut curved edges around the track (as opposed to a square board). This reduced the overall size of the board significantly and reduced the chances of toddler head trauma. The crane was an addition made to the set a year later so it hangs over the side a little bit.

The board looked fine and was ready to go after those few steps. However, because it is the type of thing I like to do, I used Kal-El's eight-color set of jumbo Crayolas and drew a landscape right onto the board. This was simple and held up perfectly.

I used a piece of Rubbermaid shelf liner underneath the board not only to protect the furniture underneath, but also because it is "grippie" and prevented Me Too from pulling the board down on top of himself when he used it to learn to pull himself up.

I'm sad to see it go, but the boys' interest in trains has not waned and it was time to move up to a bigger set. I was planning on making my own again from a big piece of pine, some trim, a scrap of indoor/outdoor carpet, and four wooden legs. I had the project all planned and priced out at $30 for materials. Then, I was out rummaging and found a train table for $25 and decided to save myself the time. At the same rummage I also bought 200 pieces of track, trains, and accessories (trees, buildings, people, road signs) for $10. I have spent way too many hours this week setting up the new table. I plan on keeping the track stationary for a while longer so it took me a long time to decide on just the right configuration. And don't worry, no way am I giving them 200 train pieces this week. I couldn't even find a way to use all of the track that came with that. Those pieces will come in handy when they are a little older and building their own layouts and spread out onto the floor.

I have to go finishing setting up the new table. I'll let you know what the boys think.

1 comment:

  1. After age 4, I moved the tracks away from the train table and my son became very creative, making his own different track designs on the floor. He is 51/2 and still loves trains.

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