Ethan’s Christmas Wish: A (DIY) Train Board
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”.
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!
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.
Oh, and don’t underestimate the need for both small AND large curve tracks…they are both super important for twists and turns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And check this out…
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.
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.
No matter the tiny issues, everything turned out just swell.
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:
- have it sitting under the tree first thing
- 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?