DIY Train Playboard Tutorial (for wood trains)

Our son received quite a few trains for his birthday this month, plus his first set of tracks!  In our little condo, there's no way we'd ever have room for a train table (nor did I want to spend ANY money on one). When I set up the tracks on the living room rug, they kept falling apart, so I crafted this compact playboard. It makes the train set a little more colorful, stable, and once we clean out his room, it should slide underneath his bed.  Or at least off to the side.  Keep reading for more photos and a tutorial.

Supplies needed: 


1)  Wood train set (any will do; ours is the Thomas 5-in-1 track set).
2)  Piece of wood or cardboard, a few inches larger in each direction than the track when set up.
     (note: cardboard isn't the best when you'll be using this on carpet.
     And it dents a little when stepped on.  But it's what we had on hand. )
3)  Roll of white contact paper
4)  Utility knife with a new blade
5)  Permanent markers (I used regular Sharpies, but for coloring, the fatter the better!)
6)  Museum putty (also known as earthquake putty, Quakehold, etc.)

Step 1: set up track in whatever configuration you want; I chose the most compact arrangement I could come up with---not one of the 5 suggested ones on the box.

Step 2: measure and cut the cardboard or wood so it's a little larger than the track (so the track doesn't come all the way to the edge of the board). Make it a little larger if you want to be able to rearrange the tracks.  I'm content to leave them, at least for now.  It's easier for a 2-year-old to play with them that way.

Step 3: Cover board with contact paper.  I was able to use two long, overlapping strips.  Cut long enough so that you can wrap the edges around to the back of the board.

Note: when I realized what a pain it would be to color all that light green with my fine point Sharpie, the design suddenly got a LOT more trees---because dark green was my fattest marker!


Step 4: With tracks in place, use a black Sharpie to draw the outlines of trees, buildings, roads, or whatever else you want.

Step 5:  Remove the tracks and color everything in.  The only really fat marker I had was dark green, so I ended up with LOTS of trees!  I got very tired of coloring the green grass with my thin little Sharpie. I didn't want to spend any money on this project, so I had to work with what I could find.  If you're so inclined, buy some big markers!

I have to say, I truly missed my beautiful set of Prismacolor markers from my Architecture & Planning school days! At least some of the skills developed in my previous career were a bit helpful here.

Tip for coloring trees: work quickly, coloring in circles.  Make the outer edge of the tree with the green marker, and quickly make smaller and smaller circles until you get to the center.  You can see the ridges of the cardboard that's below the contact paper. I drew borders of tree "areas" and then just filled each area in with a variety of overlapping circles.  Outlining every tree in black first would take for.ev.er!!  


Step 6:  Place tracks back on the board, and stick down each piece of track with several pieces of Museum Putty.  You're going to use a lot of this.  But it will get more sturdy after a few days.  That's it!  Have fun!

Anonymous –   – (August 3, 2012 at 12:01 AM)  

Great job, thanks.

Anonymous –   – (March 6, 2013 at 10:43 AM)  

How much museum putty did you use for this? I am ordering some from my kids' set, and it looks like the putty come in 2.6 oz. packs... Thanks for any info!

Anonymous –   – (March 6, 2013 at 12:12 PM)  

Less than one package. I had a partially-used pack of museum putty, and it wasn't all used up after this. I put a pea-sized or smaller amount on each end of the longer pieces, and only one small piece on short track pieces. Keep in mind that it might leave a stain on the track. It doesn't bother me, but some people might not like that.

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