Reversible Train Table/Play Table Tutorial

Keeping with the theme of "Celebrate the Boy" month I decided to show you all how to make a great addition to any boys playroom. A while back I made this great reversible play table for Rocco. I decided to post some of the how-to basics because it's really pretty easy to make with some simple power tool knowledge (or not! hand saw can be used too). Not only was it easy to make, but it cost under $50 (not counting the Thomas the Train playboard). You can make it even cheaper if you use wood blocks instead of bun feet.
After talking to my dad about possibly building a train table, he suggested I make one low to the ground because Rocco likes to play on the floor. I found this one but didn't much like the look.

I had some clear ideas of what I wanted. One of things I love about going to toy stores with train tables set up is that the tracks are glued into place and always ready to play. I also wanted to have a flat surface for playing with cars and building blocks so I needed to make the table top reversible. 

Here is a list of supplies and tools to complete the project.
  • 16' 3/4" x 5 1/2" pine (I believe they call this 1x6). Use the cheap stuff unless you plan on staining it. Once painted you'll never see the knots or grain.
  • 16' 1" x 3/4" pine for inside rail that holds the play board in place
  • 4 bun feet (or blocks of wood)
  • Wood Screws
  • baseboard nails
  • 4 dowels if using flat bottom bun feet
  • Four cabinet handles with matching nuts and bolts (see photo below). Handles are for turning the playboard over.
  • 1' of 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" pine
  • Chop saw (can use a hand saw)
  • Drill
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood Glue
  • Paint
  • Inside Varnish
  • Wood Putty
  • Train table playboard or plywood (if using plywood table top you can make the train table any size you want)
I didn't miter the corners because I was going to paint my table and I knew it wouldn't show. If you are planning on staining it you may want to miter the corners (which is above my skill level!).

  1. Cut your 1x6 into four pieces to create a rectangle (just larger than the playboard). I used a chop saw, but you could hand cut these pieces too.
  2. Nail from outside at each corner with two nails to create a rectangle. Apply wood glue to seams first. These nails are to hold the wood in rectangle until later steps where screws are attached for strength.
  3. Cut 1"x3/4" wood to create inner rail. Glue and screw into place. Screws should be about 8-10" apart along rail. 
  4. Cut four equal pieces from the 1 1/2"x1 1/2" wood to fit under the rail wood but not to extend past the bottom of the train table. This wood will not show from the outside and is there to attach the bun feet.
  5. Apply wood glue to these blocks and screw from outside corners of table countersinking screws. I didn't have wood screws handy so I used drywall screws. If you want something that can fit under the bed like a trundle you can stop here and go to step #8.
  6. Flip table over and make marks for bun feet placement. If you have feet that screw in you just screw them into the bottom of the wood blocks at inner corner of train table. The bun feet I use (about $6.00 each) are flat so I find the center of the feet and table bottom by marking an "X".
7.  Drill holes to match dowel width in center of "X" of both the table and the feet. Apply wood glue. Weigh down with something heavy while glue is drying to get the best bond. I used heavy books.
 8.  Fill countersunk wood screw holes with putty.
9.   Sand edges of entire table and over areas with wood putty (once dried).
10.   Paint entire train table. I used the same paint to match Rocco's nightstand, toy trunk and bookshelf. I love this brand because it has great colors and goes on smooth.  It's not in any stores local to me so I order it online.
10. You can leave it like this or varnish. I like the coat of varnish because my kids are rough on their things. 
I haven't added my handles yet. I found these at my local hardware store and bought nuts and bolts to match hole size. I will drill four holes on one side of the train table playboard and attach one handle to each side (sandwiching wood in between) so it is easier to flip the board. I was waiting until I glued the train tracks in place.

Note: Once I found a configuration the kids liked for the train tracks I glued the wood train tracks in place with Aleen's Tacky Glue instead of wood glue because of it's tackiness. Since the table is only about 10" high there are parts of the track that would not fit when the board is turned over. Those pieces (and large buildings like the roundhouse) I did not glue in place. We just remove these prior to flipping the board around. Also remember not to place the tracks to close to the edge or they will interfere with the inner railing of playtable.
Here is the playboard leaning against Rocco's bed minus some of the large buildings and tall bridges. This is the track layout I used.

On the flip side of the playboard I found a felt mat used for playing with toy cars. It has roads and building printed on it. I had to cut it down a bit to fit and I used spray adhesive to attach it to the wood. Some Thomas the Train playboards are two sided, but mine was just plain wood on the other side.

You can get creative with this idea of a play table. If your child is not into trains and cars you can paint one side of a piece of plywood with chalkboard paint and the other side with dry erase paint! Let me know what creative ideas you come up with!

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