How To Make Thomas The Train Track?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Designing Woodworking Projects forum

Forum topic by Pezman posted 10-09-2010 09:25 AM 26474 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Pezman's profile


17 posts in 3667 days

10-09-2010 09:25 AM


I’m looking for advice on how to make some train track for my son. It seems that most of these track manufacturers are building to the same dimensions (Brio, Thomas The Train, etc). I cannot however figure out the best way to build track at home and am looking for advice from you.

What I’m thinking:
  • I’m assuming I should use white birch so it stands the test of time without breaking the bank. If you disagree, let me know.
  • I can’t really figure out how to make the track male / female connectors, should I just try with a scroll saw?
  • I don’t really know how to make those grooves on curved blocks since I can’t just do a rabbet cut there. I guess I need a small router bit.
What I found from searching:

I’m looking for any helpful links / advice on how to knock out a great volume of track for my son since buying new is expensive. I’m looking to make straight pieces, curved pieces, ideally ones that gain height, etc. Example of a retail kit:

Thanks in advance!

9 replies so far

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4260 days

#1 posted 10-09-2010 05:05 PM

Personally, I think I’d buy the router bit set. If you make 60 pieces of track, you’ve paid for the bits. And by the time you figure out how to make all those cuts with other bits/tools, I think you’ll wish you had the set.

That being said, the grooves could be made with a straight router bit and a pin-type edge guide (rather than a fence-type). The connectors could be made with a scroll saw if you lay them out carefully.

Just about any tight-grained hardwood should hold up okay. I have a source for inexpensive “brown maple,” so that would probably be my choice.

-- -- --

View Jeff's profile


507 posts in 3580 days

#2 posted 10-09-2010 05:13 PM

The ones we bought for my son when he was younger were made of maple. I’d use hard or rock maple if you can get it but I don’t see why any hardwood would’nt be suitable as long as it’s knot or defect free and you’re paying attention to the grain. I’d also go ahead and buy the set. Once you get set up you might find you’re making some for friends or relatives or who knows even making some to make your money back?

View MrsN's profile


987 posts in 3912 days

#3 posted 10-10-2010 01:06 AM

I was thinking of making wooden track sets last Christmas, but I decided against it. I came to the conclusion it was more work then I wanted to put into it. Between the material cost, bit costs, and time, buying the set was easier.
I also don’t have the space to keep a really large amount of track, so I would not have made enough to off-set the investment of bits and lumber.

When I was thinking about making them, I decided that it would be in my best interest to buy the track bits. I don’t have many good quality router bits on hand and would have needed to purchase some to make the tracks. If you are good at jigs and templates making a pattern to duplicate would simplify the process a lot.
I wasn’t sure if the connector router bits would be as useful. I had considered using the “dowel with ball” type connection, but the number of holes to drill and all the assembling might get old.

Straight tracks can be made by cutting shallow dados into stock, and making connections on a scroll saw. If you add some extra straight pieces it may be enough to boost store bought track packs.

View Pezman's profile


17 posts in 3667 days

#4 posted 10-10-2010 07:10 PM

Update: I went ahead and purchased 3 of the 4 bits online last night for $79 dollars @ Amazon. I’ll keep you posted once I start cutting with them.

I also posted about the activity table where these train tracks will live.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4511 days

#5 posted 10-11-2010 06:16 AM

I used a 3/16” straight bit to do something similar, though I just cut a figure 8 with a cut-off side into some Baltic Birch.

I contemplated getting more dramatic, but couldn’t figure out a good way to do connectors either. Eventually I decided that if I was going to go forward I’d just do ‘em as dovetails.

And, yeah, I had the same track as DaveR when I was a kid, and my parents still have that track…

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Tony Strupulis's profile

Tony Strupulis

260 posts in 3509 days

#6 posted 10-12-2010 01:05 AM

For the connectors, I think the easiest way would be to make both ends of your track “female” and make a bunch of dogbone shaped connectors. Make the connectors from two pieces of vertical 3/8” dowel connected by a horizontal 3/16” dowel. These pieces will pose a choking hazard, so keep it away from kids under 3 (or whatever the law is).

I had a friend who made Brio track using 3/4” solid wood flooring strips. He didn’t mess around with cutting them into short pieces. He left them full length. He built some serious train layouts!

-- Tony -

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4098 days

#7 posted 10-12-2010 03:43 AM

I tried making some track for my son. I just drilled out the female part and then notched out the connector on the band saw. I made the male portion completely on the bandsaw. It’s a bit tricky but possible. Paul likes it because it is a great piece of track and his Dad made it :-). I routed out the track just using a 1/4 inch bit in my table router and set the fence to give me the proper ‘rail’ spacing. I used some maple I had left over it seems to work well.

On a side note the battery powered engines have different ground clearance than the manual ones and you have to shave the inside of rails to allow the engines to run around the track.

I looked at buying the router bits as well, but I can’t see making enough track to make it pay…yet :-)

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Crozier's profile


1 post in 3159 days

#8 posted 10-22-2010 05:25 PM

As AuroraWoodworks said before, the dogbone connectors work great, but can be swallowed by little kids. However, by making one half of your track with the female connector and then boring a 3/16” hole in the opposite end of the track you can take one vertical half inch long 3/8” dowel and then use a short piece of 3/16” dowel to glue it to your track to create the male. Much easier to fabricate than delicately cutting each piece individually. With a couple of simple jigs you can fire through as many as you need in no time at all.

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1766 posts in 2574 days

#9 posted 08-07-2013 08:11 PM

I know this is an old topic, but I just made some straight track for our Thomas layout. See my project entry here.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics