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Ethan’s Christmas Wish: A (DIY) Train Board

2012 December 23
by Becky

We’ve been talking about Santa and Christmas non-stop for a month.

The Christmas music has been playing constantly, “vintage” Christmas movies playing on Apple TV, and the calorie counting/sugar-consumption-watching has gone out the window.

And if you ask Ethan what he wants Santa to bring him? He’ll say “A choo choo”.

Wish: Granted.

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We decided to make a train “board” way back last year when my mom revealed she had all of our BRIO train tracks stored in her garage. ALL of them. In mint condition. Most in original boxes. Thank you grandma!

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I honestly don’t really remember playing with these a lot. Apparently I was nine (my brother 4) when Santa placed these tracks and trains under our Christmas tree, so my brother was probably the main user. But I was ecstatic about having these beautiful tracks all ready for Ethan. He LOVES the train tables at Barnes & Noble and the local kids toy store, Why Not?, so I knew this would be the perfect two year old gift. But everything had to be secured…two is much too young for putting tracks together and just causes frustration and a quick loss of interest (unless you have three great-uncles and a grandpa creating awesome tracks for you, in that case it’s tons of fun at any age). 

We started with a piece of oak plywood, having it cut down at Home Depot to 30″ x 48″. We wanted the board to be big enough to get a really cool configuration going, but also small enough to store under our couch. Storage was a big concern and most of the reason why we did a board vs. a table—not a ton of room in these Old Town houses.

After sanding the board down, I spent at least three hours coming up with the perfect configuration—something interesting that maximized the pieces we had. I supplemented with one box of Ikea tracks that included a viaduct and bridge risers ($9.99), plus a BRIO tunnel and some BRIO large curve track pieces, both of which I found on Ebay (BRIO is not made anymore but is all over Ebay). I’d say I invested about $30 in new tracks.

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Oh, and don’t underestimate the need for both small AND large curve tracks…they are both super important for twists and turns.

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Our workspace was very limited—not idea for doing projects. I was sharing a space with kitty litter, my wedding dress (which has never been cleaned or packed up…ugh), an extra door, suitcases, and other items. Things were a little cramped.

The original plan was to trace the tracks, drill all the holes, paint, then put the tracks back…but we quickly realized that would not work. The tracks start getting strained if they are even a tiny bit off because if one is off then another will get off and so on. Therefore, I took tons of pictures of my configuration before taking all the tracks off the board and painting.

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I squirted two shades of green and a little yellow in my mini-roller tray. Without mixing it very much, I started rolling. The variance in paint mixture made for a nice, textured, natural look. Just what I was going for.

Next, it was time to drill.

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For some reason we have three electric drills. Well, one is a screwdriver, but still. The Hubs claims you always need a “backup” drill. Whatever the case, the redundant power tools came in handy in this step. I learned from my friends at Young House Love (I can call them friends since we’ve met!and from reading Ana White’s blog that countersinking is key to woodworking. And since we don’t own a countersink drill bit small enough for our tiny train track screws, we did it the manual way.

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Removing each piece individually, we drilled down through the plywood. From underneath, we used the pilot drill to start a hole in the track while holding it down from above…just to get the screw started. Using the larger drill bit, we made the hole slightly bigger, not going all the way through. Finally, we drove a screw up through the hole and into the track while holding it down from above. An extra pair of hands is necessary for the middle tracks, gotta hold ‘em down tight against the board!

It sounds a little time consuming and, honestly, it was. But there weren’t that many tracks and with two people the job went pretty quick. And there will be no screws scratching our hardwood floors, so it was worth the time.

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After everything was down tight, save for a few tracks I needed to paint under (like where the stream is), I finished the detail painting. A lake, stream, and larger body of water in the corner. A road and darker foliage added depth. A few little yellow wild flowers for some additional color.

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I picked up the little wooden trees at Why Not?, and we drilled them in. The crossing gates can be moved around (in the picture above they are just sitting on the track out of the way) as well as the little crossing signs. After adding some felt pads, we were done.

It looks awesome.

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A little homemade, but not cheap or cheesy. But not perfect either…what’s the fun in that? Stu couldn’t wait to try it out. Men and toys…it never ends.

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And check this out…

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Bam! Storage. Thank you Ikea Karlstad couch for your generous clearance.

I measured many times to be sure we didn’t build the tracks too high. It meant I couldn’t use the super cool BRIO draw bridge and a few other awesome bridges I was so tempted to include. My maximum clearance being six inches, I made sure to count my board thickness and stay well under this number.

So there it is! DIY Christmas present number uno.

A few tips…

Be very careful if you use nails on your tracks. We wanted to nail the raised track into the risers below and, well, I won’t point any fingers, but let’s just say some words were said.

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The nail split the track on the left. Not good. We tried one more time on the other end and it worked, but we took no more chances. The rest of the raised tracks got glue.

Also, I should note that Ikea tracks look a little different than BRIO and Thomas…they have a plastic connector. Not ideal, but not very noticeable. Another note, Ikea tracks don’t always play nice with BRIO tracks. (I think that is the first negative thing I’ve ever said about Ikea) I used them sparingly…only where absolutely necessary. And I mentioned “strained” tracks…that’s when things get slightly “off” or when things don’t fit just right. We only had one spot where this happened a little, but it doesn’t seem to bother the trains at all. Just something to watch.

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No matter the tiny issues, everything turned out just swell.

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I have a big red bow for the top for Christmas morning…I cannot wait to see Ethan’s face. He will be a full force Santa believer after getting his wish! Now we just have to decide how we’ll give it to him:

  1. have it sitting under the tree first thing
  2. give him all the components and reveal the board after all the other presents have been opened

My parents always did the big gifts last, but maybe Ethan is a little too young for that tactic. I’m just afraid he won’t enjoy his other presents if this is the first one he gets.

Nonetheless, the project is a 100% success and I can’t wait to see ( and post pictures and video of) his reaction! This is by far the most exciting Christmas ever.

Oh, and after seeing Santa yesterday, Ethan said he also wanted a kitchen…

:)

What DIY projects are tucked under your tree?  

 

You may also like:

NICU—Day Thirteen
Ethan's Birth Story—Part One
Art is On The Wall
16 Responses leave one →
  1. Patti permalink
    December 24, 2012

    Becky, that is absolutely incredible !

    Ethan’s going to freak when he see this and just go crazy when he gets his kitchen.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Becky permalink*
      December 24, 2012

      Thanks Patti! I cannot wait for him to see it. Merry Christmas!!!

  2. December 24, 2012

    Love it all! Guess Mike was old enough to keep the track together. We had a fun Brio board as a setting, but nothing like yours. He will go crazy. Can’t wait to play with it on Friday. Children and Christmas make for the perfect combo. Enjoy every moment–we certainly did.

    • Becky permalink*
      December 24, 2012

      4 is a lot different than 2. That’s why we tried to do minimal damage to the track so maybe someday we’ll take them off and Ethan can create his own masterpieces!

  3. Grandpa Joe permalink
    December 24, 2012

    Incredible creation!
    I love the bridge-engineering with the pylons in the lake for the train to cross.
    and all your other workmanship touches.
    Merry Christmas!

    • Becky permalink*
      December 24, 2012

      thanks! wanted it to be “interesting”. Maybe we can find him some tiny boats to sail through the water?

  4. susan permalink
    September 11, 2013

    Love the train board, we are in the midst of making one for our soon-to-be 2-year-old.
    Q: Did you varnish the board, or just paint it? And if you did not varnish it, is the paint job holding up well and not chipping much? We used latex paint for the base green and then acrylic paint for details.

  5. Jason permalink
    November 8, 2013

    Thank you!!! Clearly, I’m not the only one trying to relive his childhood through his child. Your tips were awesome.

    I’m in the midst of building my table and bought blue and green Astroturf to add texture. My main concern was ruining the tracks with screws . . .

    Earrrrrrrregardlesssssss . . . Awesome step-by-step.

    Thank you,

    J

    • Becky permalink*
      November 9, 2013

      Astroturf is a great idea! And as for the screws, I decided it was less damaging than glue…the holes are very small and the whole thing could be disassembled for free form track building in the future. I just know my little guy was overwhelmed by track building and the table was a better option for him. Good luck!

  6. December 8, 2013

    This post is super helpful to me! I am working on Ike’s train board now! Now at the age of 3, does Ethan still love the train board?
    Erin @ Domestic Adventure recently posted..Candy Coated Christmas ShelvesMy Profile

    • Becky permalink*
      December 8, 2013

      Thanks Erin! He does still play with it and his buddies love it too.

  7. December 14, 2013

    Hi there,

    this is so very very lovely, but I have to correct you. BRIO is most certainly still made, I just a few months back bought a whole set for my nephew (http://www.brio.net/ToPlay/Railway.aspx), and he loves his trains.

    regards,
    Charlie

    • Becky permalink*
      December 15, 2013

      Good to know! I heard they were out of biz from a toy retailer in Alexandria, VA who used to carry Brio but said he could no longer get it. I’m glad they are still selling their amazing product!!

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