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So you think you can make your own wooden train tracks for cheaper than buying them. Well, unless you plan to make a few sets you’re probably wrong. Still, that’s no reason not to do it yourself. You can create custom track pieces or build a track that fills a whole room — your toddler would be the envy of every kid on the block.

To make wooden track out of the recommended white birch, maple, or European beech you need three different bits. One bit makes the female connector with a single pass, another makes the male connector in two passes, and the third makes the tracks themselves. The single-track bit works well for both straight and curved tracks, but if you want to spit out straight tracks in one pass, you want the dual-track bit.

Three different companies sell bit sets for making wooden train tracks: Rockler, MLCS, and Hartford Tool. Whiteside makes the Hartford Tool bits and possibly the MLCS bits. The origin of Rockler’s bits is less certain. Also, watch out: There’s a couple of different track styles. The MLCS bits make the tracks that work with Thomas the Tank Engine sets — if you own a train set like the one in the Rockler picture above, you probably want their set.

The individual bits will cost you $20 to $40 when purchased separately, but you can get kits with all four bits from Rockler and MLCS that’ll cost you around $100.

Train Track Router Bits [MLCS]
Train Track Router Bits
[Rockler]
Train Track Router Bits
[Hartville Tools]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]

 

37 Responses to Make Your Own Wooden Train Track

  1. Jax says:

    I cant really get my head round what sort of jig you would need to make up to do say a tight 90 degree curve?

    Cool idea though, a custom made one with a battery train pack would make a much better present than a off the shelf trackset.

  2. Shopmonger says:

    I can’t wait to get this,,…. this looks soooooooooo cool

  3. [...] your own could cost you more in heartache and pain than going to Toys’r’Us ever could. Toolmonger has links to each manufacturer although they recommend using MLCS’ kit to ensure [...]

  4. Stu Smith says:

    I just buy the wood from Lowe’s or HD. Their stock straight pieces are about 1/16″ too narrow but work fine. I worried that the 1/32 narrower edges would break but they havent. A 1/4″ router cuts the grooves, a 1/2″ drill bit makes the female, and I use a craft saw for the male end and cut in the female. you could just cut the male end straight and screw in an eye hook but I enjoy the fine cuts. The cost? About $20 worth of maple made about as much track as my boy’s figure 8 starter kit. Heartache and Pain? Didn’t notice any. I can’t do sharp 90 degree turns but I can make just about anything else. I’ve also made a coal hopper (it’s very cool, a smashable (a la, Percy’s Choclate Mess) chocolate factory). If I could get my hands on decent wheels I’d make rolling stock too but the engines have to be the real deal.

  5. Kirk Smith says:

    Why is there nothing available for use as decent wheels? I’ve been looking for months but still have not come up with anything. If anyone comes up with something post it up, I would appreciate it.

  6. Barry says:

    Greetings

    I have made quite a bit of track using a 6mm straight bit (1/4 inch). Use a router table and make a jig for the curves, have a look around the net, there are quite a few ideas. I can’t seem to make the junctions though! I am using ply wood and the router knocks bits of the ply off which is a problem, if I were using solid timber then it may be a different story.

    Regards
    Barry

  7. Bryan says:

    Anyone tried goign to a Hancock’s and looking in their button selection for wheels? I think there are many that would work for wheels if you were willing to drill out the inside.

  8. For wheels, get wooden wheels from a craft store. They look a little more like car wheels than train wheels, but paint them black and it’s hard to tell the difference. They’re cheap and work well. I used them to make a train (locomotive, tender, and three passenger cars) for my son for his birthday one year.

  9. I thought of making a ‘switch yard’ which would be four or five parallel tracks made out of one board. The idea being that I could store all the trains in the switch yard instead of having them thrown all over the floor, etc.

  10. Amy OShields says:

    Does anyone know where to get the MALE END Plastic Pieces. Im thinking its easier to make with those are they even sold by the pack does anyone know ?

  11. Dave says:

    Anyone know where to get magnet couplers? I’ve seen lots of magnets for sale, but none the correct round shape.

  12. @Amy OShields:

    I just noticed your comment after reading Dave’s comment today. I tried to find the male-end plastic pieces but ended up making my own from 1/2″ and 1/4″ dowels. Use the 1/2″ dowel to fit in the female connector, drill a 1/4″ hole in the side of the dowel and the track and use the 1/4″ dowel to connect the two. You might have to sand down the 1/2″ dowel a wee bit if it’s too tight.

    Here is a picture of a male-male connector I made:
    http://workshop.electronsmith.com/content/creating-male-connector

  13. Michael Kramer says:

    I got tired of the cheapness that is used to mass produce the store bought track sets. I tried many different ideas to build track pieces in my workshop. The first idea was to use the wooden dowel idea. I didn’t like the seams. The next idea was to use a wooden dowel on the lathe and create one piece. I also used a drill press and a jig to drill the female hole. I also used a jig to cut into the female end on a band saw. I haven’t used these new router bits yet but I do look forward to them. As for the 90 degree corner, I’ve never seen a train make this curve. However you could use a 14 inch diameter curve and just cut the quarter circle out. This would be equal to two of the ordinary curves. If I’m mistaken and you’re looking for two tracks that cross the you should make two straight tracks and cut a section out of the bottom of one piece and the top of the other. This should be in the middle and let the pieces overlap in opposite directions. Need help just ask me.

  14. marvin says:

    I have started using discarded styrofoam (large pieces are best) and a soldering iron to create structures with track melted in. The fumes are toxic, so this must be done outside with a fan blowing away from you. Multi-level buildings, bridges, and tunnels are fairly easy. The track is not perfectly smooth, but my four year old loves daddy’s creations. He then decorates them with markers and stickers. Both male and female ends are melted in to allow for connection to the rest of his wooden tracks.

  15. george says:

    I’m also trying to wrap my had around how to do more complicated things such as a switch. It seems you need a router to cut from the end instead of the side ?

    • Rizdek says:

      I made a switch by first making the curved section…I describe how I did that elsewhere in this blog…and then taking a pieces of wood exactly the right thickness and width to make a straight section. THEN, I carefully cut a curve in that straight section to match the outside of the curved section. Not that the curved section already has the grooves routed in to it. I glue the curve section to the curve cut out of the straight section. A bit of sanding and fitting was necessary. Then when it dried, I set up my router with a straight fence and routed the two straight grooves…which meld with the curved grooves making a passable switch. I’ve even added plastic pieces that swivel so I can set the switch for the battery powered trains to turn or go straight. I am still working to perfect the design because I still get some derailments…but it’s coming.

      • Rizdek says:

        Sorry a typo adds confusion. The curved section already has the grooves routed in to it so all that needs to be done is route the straight section to the curved section and route the straight grooves.

        I make the female connector by marking the hole and channel from a purchased section then drill the hole and cut the channel with the band saw. I make the male connector using a dowel the size of the large end and a 1/4″ dowel. I drill a 1/4″ hole in the larger dowel using a drill press and a jig to get it centered. You can go in just as ways or all the way through depending on preference. Then I cut the large dowel off to the correct length, insert the 1/4 dowel and glue in place. THen I cut the 1/4 dowel the right length so it’ll fit in a hole drilled into the end of the track section. I glue it with slow drying glue so I can insert it, fit it the female end of another section. My method is not automated so each piece is cut, sanded and fit. If anyone want’s more details, give me your email and I’ll send pictures with more detail.

  16. george says:

    oh now i see — never mind

  17. Andrew Freed says:

    Here’s how I made train cars for my son, inspired from this article:
    http://freedblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/homemade-wooden-train-cars.html

  18. Don says:

    Just to recap on the DIY train wheels ,in similar situations I have used tap washers glued ogether, it seems to work

  19. JD says:

    SO am interested in making my own wooden train tracks, however I just cannot seem to wrap my head around how to make a piece with more than one curved track on it, i understand using a router from the outside radius, but to do it from the inside radius is eluding me, any tips??

    • Think of the curved track as a chunk of a piece of pie. All of the arcs that make up the track have the same center — the outside edge of the track, the outside groove, the inside groove, the inside edge.

      To make another “track” on the pie piece you just need to make two more arcs spaced apart the same distance with a shorter radius.

      • One more point, when I say “make two more arcs,” I’m talking about using a 1/4″ straight bit with the track flat on the table and pivoting on a fixed point (like how you make a circle on the router table) rather than using the special track cutting bit.

        • JD says:

          Any idea what the radius is on the curved pieces? so i can get started on a jig.

          • I didn’t keep any notes from when I made my jig, so I went back to the way I calculated it before.

            I made a circle out of 8 pieces of curved track and measured the diameter of the grooves (the numbers are approximate because there’s some wiggle in the connectors):

            Big Curve: Approx 15″ and 17″ in diameter or 7.5″ and 8.5″ radius

            Little Curve Approx 7.5″ and 9.5″ in diameter or 3.75 and 4.75″ radius

            The actual radius isn’t as important as the distance between the rails (1″). To be safe, rather than measuring, I’d setup the jig using an existing piece of track.

          • Rizdek says:

            I just cut out pieces exactly the same size as the curved pieces on my purchased set. I set the 1/4 inch router bit to the right height to match the purchased track grooves. I made a jig on my router table that matched the outside curve of the track and clamped that to the rail so that when I pushed the track section around it (on the inside curve of the jig) it made a curved groove. I simply adjust the “jig” to the correct distance for the outside groove THEN move it so it makes a corresponding inside groove. It automatically makes the curved grooves parallel, exactly matching the purchased groove track. That way I don’t worry about any diameters or circles. I can make a section with ANY degree of curve just so long as I make a corresponding jig to match the outside curve of the track section. My only limitation is that I’m using just pine wood and not the closer grained wood most tracks are made of.

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