Monday, September 13, 2010
ID Mommy Projects: Make Your Own Train Table!
My little boy is officially in love with trains. He eats with them, he sleeps with them, he stuffs his backpack with them when we leave the house, his underwear has pictures of them, and he pretends that whatever car he's riding in is Thomas. His does not name colors "red, green," or "blue." They are "red like James, green like Percy," and "blue like Thomas." I'm not sure if it's going to be a short phase or a lifetime hobby, but for now, I enjoy indulging him. Not only have we gone on several train themed family outings, but we've even successfully used trains as motivation when potty training. As a result, we have begun accumulating wooden train tracks (at garage sales and thrift stores), which got me thinking about train tables.
Store bought train tables are expensive. You can get a simple one for around $100 or a little less, there are many between $200-$300, or you can really bust the bank with this Thomas table for $550. I've seen many on CraigsList too, although they still can be expensive even used. When it really comes down to it, kids are going to have just as much fun with their trains whether you spend $500 or $15 on it.
I really wanted to make one myself. After all, I practically have a college degree in train table building, with my industrial design & model making background. I had planned on watching at garage sales for a cheap coffee table that I could attach edges to and paint to function as a train table. Then I thought maybe it would be better just to build the surface itself, to fit over the top of one of our coffee tables, so it could be removed and easily leaned up against the wall when we wanted it out of the way.
I stupidly did not buy it the day I saw it, proceeded to kick myself for 24 hours for not buying it, then raced back to the thrift store the next day and luckily it was still there. Whew!
Here's how I transformed the ugly $6.95 table into a sweet train table...
Prepare for Painting
Re-Finishing The Table
Next I spray painted the legs and frame using several coats of white spray paint. Make sure to shake the can well according to the directions. If you get a clogged nozzle, you'll have a useless can of paint. TIP: Between coats and when you're done, tip the can completely upside down and depress the nozzle for a few seconds until plain air comes out. It'll clean paint out of the nozzle, preventing it from clogging. Just a little something I learned in design school. ;-)
Decorating the surface:
You don't have to be an amazing artist to make grass...You can go as simple as painting it green for grass and leaving it at that. To fancy it up a bit, add a couple blue blobs for lakes, or even add some streets. I wanted to keep this a surprise for my son so I did this all myself. However, it would be fun to get your kids involved in making it at this point. Let them set up their track on the table, and figure out from there where you want to have roads placed. You can use a pencil or marker to draw what you want where, then go back later and paint it with some acrylic paint.
clear resin, I wanted a little texture to my grass. My goal was to make a really realistic looking scene, with a little dimension, but still have the durability needed to stand up to a toddler. I found a large roll of grass, designed for train sets, at my local hobby store for $12.99.
I painted the wood surface white with some extra white interior latex we had around from previous house projects. (I did this because the "mat adhesive" instructions said to paint the surface first.)
Then I applied the mat adhesive, doing half of the table at a time so I could have the grass perfectly positioned, and just fold it in half to apply the glue to both the grass and table. Once it got to it's clear, tacky state per the directions, I un-folded it and used a roller to press it down into place. Then I repeated the process for the other half...folding the grass mat over, applying glue, then fixing it down. It worked well and it paid off to get the right glue and apply it liberally.
Once the grass dried on well, it was time to scrape off grass wherever I wanted to put roads, the lake, and river...
I sell them on my Paintertainment site. I sprayed small areas and then scraped with my flat X-acto blade. It worked really well.
Here's what it looked like after all my roads and water were scraped off. Ooooh...this is really getting fun now! Time to paint some roads and water...
Making The Water
Unfortunately I had a little camera accident and lost the photos of me applying glitter to the lake. But, what I basically did was just cover all of the blue "water" with Elmer's school glue, making sure to get good coverage. You can smear it into an even coat with your finger too. Next, I sprinkled the glitter over the glue, making sure to cover ALL of the glue areas liberally. Don't worry about having too much glitter piled on your table at this point...we'll remove the excess. I used some glitter that I found at Michael's, which looked almost like little chopped up pieces of blue cellophane, and was perfect for the ripply water effect I was going for.
Next, wait a while for the glue to dry. This was really coarse glitter, so I also laid a piece of paper over it and rubbed it with my hand to make it as flat as I could and stuck into the glue. (I didn't want pieces sticking up out of the resin at the end so I was trying to get as low profile as possible)
Painting The Beach
Making a Dock
a previous project. I cut a rectangular piece of the light wood, making sure the grain ran across the dock. Next, I used a hole punch on the darker paper to make perfect little circles, which would function as the posts of the dock. Using an X-Acto knife, I peeled the paper off the back of the circles to expose the sticky side, and stuck three along each side of the dock. Next, I removed the paper backing to expose the sticky surface of the dock itself, and simply stuck it on the lake by the beach, like a sticker.
Pouring the Surface
Next was the part I had been waiting for, but also the part that made me most nervous...covering the whole thing in clear resin. I didn't want to screw this up because it could ruin all the work I had done, but it turned out great. Here's what I did.
my package of resin. If you skipped all the train table grass and glitter and all that textured stuff and just painted everything, you could really be done at this point...just make sure you have a good clear coating over everything to protect it. A clear Shellac varnish works great too and you can paint it on in many layers for more protection. You also may want to run a bead of clear caulking, hot glue, or some other glue around the four edges. This will help prevent the resin from leaking through any cracks around the edges of the table.
For the resin, I used Envirotex Lite pour-on finish because it is simple to use and doesn't create the knock-you-over fumes that other resins create. They also sell this at Michael's craft stores, so I was able to use coupons and get it half off. They are normally $29 for each kit of this size, and I needed two 1-quart kits to cover this large area.
the resin instructions. I gathered a couple plastic containers to mix in, and a wood paint mixing stick to stir. The instructions recommended pouring the mixture from one container to another for better mixing.
First I opened all the bottles, next I poured both bottles of resin into a container, and then both bottles of hardener.
After letting the table cure for a couple days, I re-attached the legs. They all fit perfectly where they were, of course, because I had labeled them as mentioned earlier.
And, we're done!! I love how glossy and reflective the finish is, yet it has depth and texture from the materials underneath. Sammy still has not yet seen his surprise train table...I can't WAIT to show him, but I'll be stashing this away to give him either for his birthday (train themed of course) in a few months, or if we are able to sell our house and move as a moving day present (since we don't have room for this anywhere in our current house!). I'd say the whole project took me probably a couple weeks, although I could have done it quicker because I did not work on it every day. It definitely was a fun project to work on between my paid gigs!
Alright, now let's see how much this thing actually cost me in the end...
$7.00 - Train Table
$5.00 - white spray paint
$13.00 - Grass
$9.00 - Mat Adhesive (glue for grass)
$3.00 - Glitter (for water)
$30.00 - Clear Resin (with 50% off coupons)
$0.00 - Stuff I already had on hand (tools, clear coat spray, acrylic paint, school glue, Contact paper, etc)
Grand total: about $67.00
Okay, so yes, you can buy a train table for probably less than this. And, you can make one for a lot less than this if you skip all the "3D" elements of grass and glittery water that I added. However, I had a blast making this, I know it's the only one out there like it, and if it were manufactured and sold in a store, I know it would go for a lot more than the expensive ones you can buy now!
Other Ideas Online...
Want to REALLY start from scratch? You can buy instructions to build the table itself at sites like this, or you can go to this site and get plans for free.
If your kid is more into trucks and tractors than trains, Instructables has a nice post about how to turn a train table into a construction table. Looks like fun!!