Thursday, January 27, 2011

Making Wooden Train Tracks

Cost Analysis
First we need to figure out if it really is more cost effective to make our own instead of buying. A 2”x12”x12’ costs $12. We can make 198 8" tracks from that. That comes out to 6 cents per 8" track, which will be a savings of 97% compared to $8 for a 4 pack. This definitely makes the time we'll be putting into it worthwhile.

Go to your friendly local lumber yard and buy 2 inch by 12 inch by as long as you can get into your vehicle and into your shop. I buy 12 foot lengths and cut them in half with a hand saw in the parking lot. If a 12" wide board is too intimidating, buy a 6" and work your way up to 12".

You'll need to have a fairly decent hobby woodworking shop, or access to someone else's. A table saw, dado set, jointer, drill press and band saw are needed.

Rip to width and height
Rip the board to width, 1¾”, on a table saw. Use a store bought piece of track to measure the distance between the rip fence and the blade. Leave some wiggle room between the blade and track so there’s some wood on the edges to spare for the jointer later.

If you're following along exactly, you'll now have 6 pieces of wood that are 1¾" x 1½"; almost square, but not quite. Be aware of this almost squareness for the next cut; if you have the boards rotated 90 degrees you'll end up with tracks that are 1/4" less wide then they should be.

Use the store bought track to position the rip fence to ½", the height of our track. Leave wiggle room like before.

This cut is where most of our wood is lost, but its unavoidable. With our first pass we get 1/2 of usable wood and 1/8 for the blade. We now have 7/8" of our 1 1/2" left; second pass we get 1/2 usable and 1/8 for the blade again, which leaves us with 1/4", which is now scrap wood.

We now have twelve 1¾"x½" pieces of wood.
Rough cut to length
Cross cut boards to length. The standard track lengths are multiples of 2". The male end adds 3/4". I add another 1/4" for sanding and good measure. To make an 8" track, cut to 9".

Never use the rip fence as a guide with the miter gauge unless you want a kickback. An easy solution is to put a piece of tape, or multiple pieces at different distances, on the table to mark how far to crosscut. Try to avoid including knots bigger then a pencil; just make a shorter track right up to the knot, cut the knot out, then continue with whatever length desired.

We now how a whole pile of blanks; between 80 and 100, depending on how many imperfections we had to work around!

Joint to width and height

Set the height of your jointer's in-feed table to be 1/32" below the out-feed table. Make at least one pass on each face(wider sides) and edge(narrower sides). Check the width and height against the store bought piece and make additional passes until they match.

Cut the grooves
Swap out the ripping blade with 1/4" worth of dado blades. In my set, its the two outer blades with a spacer in between.

Adjust the height of the blades to 1/8". I never get this right the first time; I have to run a piece through, check the depth of the groove against the store bought track, adjust the height, rinse and repeat.

This is a process that lends itself to leaving the machine on while adjusting; don't do it. Shut'er down before adjusting. Its especially important to use a push stick of some kind for these cuts because the guard has to be removed; you don't want to end up with a bloody stump and an ER visit like I did.

Use a ruler and make tick marks at 8", or whatever length we're going for, from one end.

Use a square and draw a line across the width of each piece at the tick mark.

Trace male and female patterns onto blocks using the store-bought track with a pencil.

Drill ½” diameter holes for female ends on drill press.

Cut neck on female end on bandsaw. This is the pair of lines going from the end of the track to the hole we just drilled. Leave the line or just barely cut the line off. Its really easy to clean this up later with sandpaper on the bandsaw.

cut to male neck on length line(base of male adaptor) and to tip end of neck and cut any excess length off on bandsaw.

cut excess width off around male end on bandsaw

trim off remaining wood, including lines, on male end on bandsaw

Sand the female neck and female endgrain on bandsaw and check against pattern.
Make sure the circular part of the store bought piece is at least centered if not butting against the back of female end. Sand off more of the endgrain on the female end until the male end is centered.
If the neck of the female end is too narrow, sand more off until the male end fits.

sand male endgrain, neck, and circle on bandsaw and check against pattern

sand all edges and corners by hand

General Safety
Don't be like me and grind the end of your finger off. Use common sense, take breaks, don't rush. Toys are less fun when it hurts to play with(or make) them. Never touch a blade while the machine is plugged in; those few seconds are worth it.

Understand kickbacks.

Use a push stick.
Making your own will increase your odds of using it. It'd be a waste to not use something you spent time making, right?


Elizabeth Henry said...

I'm impressed! Very neat to think of making your own tracks. I'd probably lose a finger, but you deserve an award :o) Check out my blog if you have a chance:

Elizabeth Henry said...

I'm impressed! Very neat to think of making your own tracks. I'd probably lose a finger, but you deserve an award :o) Check out my blog if you have a chance:

Maria Torres said...

I like how they make the wooden railway, it's very clean.
For more train toys visit

Steven A. Galaz said...

That's the idea! I found a video of how to make a slider for the camera in the same way. But I can`t do it correctly and beautifully. Therefore, I decided to order some wooden parts by the carpenter from the platform . And my brother can mount slider for me.