This tutorial on how to make a wooden train covers making the log car. It’s a open car with six uprights that hold dowel logs. This is an easy build, and makes a nice addition to any handmade wooden train set. The car base is the same size as the others in this series, and the look blends well with the rest of the cars. A preview of the entire how to make a wooden train series can be seen in the picture below.
The entire train making tutorial is broken up into several sections, one for each car. In total, there are instructions for an Engine, Tanker Car, Three Tank Car, Open Top Car, and in this tutorial a log car. The whole set looks great together, and is sure to become a family treasure. The simple design is easily recognizable and classic looking.
How to Make a Wooden Train Car – Assembling the Body
Start with a piece of wood for the base of the wooden train car that measures 2 inches by 6 inches, and 3/4 inch thick. Select a piece that will contrast well with the dowels that you use for the uprights.
For my wooden train, Walnut is used for all of the train car bases.
Next, measure for six drill holes. Three on each of the long sides. First, measure in 5/16 inch from the long ends, and draw two long lines that run the length of the piece. Then, measure in 1/2 inch from each end, and place marks perpendicular to the long lines. Finally, measure for the center of the lines, which should be about 3 inches, and make two more marks on the lines. Indent the six intersections with an awl or sharp nail so that the drill can enter the wood without walking.
This is an old woodworking trick. The indent gives the drill somewhere to focus. It helps prevent the bit from wandering before entering the wood. This is the most effective with twist bits that do not have center points, but is helpful with all bit styles. Long story short, it will help you drill the hole exactly where you intended.
On the good end, sand the chamfer smooth and make sure all of the scratches are removed. This will be the end that you see after gluing.
Drill the six holes using a 3/8 inch Forstner bit, stopping 1/2 inch into the surface of the wooden train car. Then, sand the pencil lines off the base. Blow out all the dust, and then drip glue into the holes. Insert the bad ends of the dowels into the holes, and rotate them for good glue coverage. Allow the piece to dry for a couple hours to set the joints.
If any glue comes out, be sure to wipe it off. It will be difficult to remove excess glue with the dowels in the way. Use a wet rag, and remove any glue that comes out of the holes while it’s still wet. You do not need a ton of glue to hold these dowels in place. A few drips that are spread around well is just right.
How to Make a Wooden Train – Making the Logs
I chose Oak for the dowel, because it has a grainy look and almost looks like small milled logs for transport. You can chose another species if you like, just make sure that it is not irritating to the child getting the train.
Cut 8 pieces from the dowels, each one measuring 6 inches long. Chamfer both ends with sandpaper or a belt sander, then focus on sanding them smooth. Make sure to spend the time cleaning up the ends, because they can be splintery if you are not careful. Sand the logs smooth, and check them carefully.
An optional non-toxic stain can be used to give the logs a more realistic look if desired, but the natural look of the Oak is pretty good by itself. For this wooden train set, I only use a clear finish. It’s completely up to you though when it comes to finishing.
If you want to have a look more like the picture, you can let them fall more naturally into the train car and they will stick upwards a bit.
After you are satisfied with your test fitting, set the logs aside for finishing. This will happen later in the wooden train tutorial, as everything can be finished at once. If you have kids that are going to lose these train logs, take the time to make a few extra for spares.
I give this advice after the fact, because I have no idea where most of the logs are now. My son has lost the majority of them already, and he has only had the train for a few weeks. Plan ahead, and you will have replacements at the ready.
How to Make a Wooden Train – Drilling for the Axles and Couplers
Measure 1 inch from each end, and make a mark on the side of the train car. Do this on all four sides. Then, make another mark that is 3/8 inch from the bottom of the car.
Use an awl or sharp drill to make an indent at the intersection of these lines all the way around the train car. Then, use a drill press or a hand drill to make the holes. The axles are 3/16 inch diameter, so use a bit that is slightly larger to accommodate for glue and swelling. Drill the four holes 1/4 inch deeper than is needed for the wheel and axle to press into the train car body. This extra is for the glue.
I used a 7/32 drill for most of the axle holes. I found that it worked well, and allowed enough room for the swelling and glue. Some of these store bought axles and wheels are a little different sizes. The best way is to test a couple holes and try pressing in the pegs. The one that lets you push them in without too much resistance or wiggling is the right drill.
Next, the wooden train couplers need to be drilled and installed. Since the train couplers are all the same for the entire series, I show how they are made in this article. You will need two for this car.
On each end of the car, measure for the center by either connecting the opposite corners with straight lines or measuring for the center of the faces and edges of the board. Make an indent for the drill to follow where the lines meet. The dowels used for the wooden train couplers are 5/8 inch diameter, so use a 5/8 inch Forstner bit to drill a hole that is 1/2 inch deep. Do this on both sides of the log car.
If you plot the center well and drill carefully, the hole is an easy drill.
Make sure to set a stop on the drill press or mark the drill if you are drilling the train couplers by hand. It can be easy to go too deep, and since the couplers are already cut to length, they will sink in too far. Also, keep the drill as straight as possible to ensure that the couplers install straight.
If the coupler holes do not come out perfect, don’t worry. A little variation is not something that will be immediately noticeable. As long as the train couplers work, then the hole being slightly angled is not the end of the world. You can decide based on how off center the hole ends up. As long as it’s inside the end of the board, it should work fine.
Use an axle pin (without glue) to sight the hole on the coupler to be pointing straight up. Turn the coupler until the pin is pointing straight up, and then move on to the other.
Repeat the process for the other coupler. It is very important that the hole points straight up, so use an axle peg to help. Let the glue dry for a couple hours, and then the couplers will be very solid.
Remember, do not add any glue to this axle pin. The whole point is to just use the pin for easier alignment of the hole in the coupler. Once the coupler has had a few minutes for the glue to tack, the pin can be removed.
How to Make a Wooden Train – Sanding and Finish Prep
This is meant to be a kids toy, so make sure to break all the sharp edges and round off all the corners. Start with 150 grit paper, which breaks through the sharp areas quickly. Then, switch to 220 grit for the final smoothness.
Check over the piece carefully, and make sure to address anything that needs more sanding. These are simple wooden trains, so there will not be much to distract people from large scratches and tool marks. Spend the extra few minutes and the project will come out great.
How to Make a Wooden Train – Finishing and Assembly
Select a finish that is agreeable with the person that will be receiving this train as a gift. For kids, it is important to select a finish that will not irritate them, or cause any reactions.
My son has plenty of toys that were finished with Tried and True Danish Oil, so this is the finish that I use for the project. Use a clean cloth, and wipe on very thin coats. The thinner the better, as they will dry faster and more even. This is a good rule to follow for the vast majority of wipe on finishes.
Many people make the mistake in the beginning of dipping their project in finish, thinking that it will speed up the process. In reality, the thicker the finish applied, the longer it takes to cure. Wipe on a very thin coat, and after that dries, you can always add a second if you like. All of the pieces in my how to make a wooden train tutorial series are finished with just one coat.
For the axles, only finish the heads, not the shafts. The bare wood is needed to allow the glue to adhere.
The logs finish really quickly. A couple wipes with a cloth does the trick.
Set the logs and the wheels on a cloth to dry, and allow the product ample time. A good rule is to double whatever it says on the finish can, because the manufacturers tend to exaggerate their drying claims. Depending on your environment, drying can be longer or shorter. Once the wooden train is fully dry, move on to the assembly phase.
Assembling the train begins with the wheels and axles. Test fit the axles first without any glue, because some are larger than others. Find four axles that fit well, and set them aside for attaching the four wheels.
Drip glue into each hole one at a time, and press a wheel and axle into place. Make sure to leave a little wiggle room for the wheel to spin freely.
Then, glue a full length axle into one of the wooden train couplers. In the other, a shortened axle with a leather train coupler threaded onto the shaft. Make sure that the leather piece can rotate freely. The glue will hold both pins in place.
The wheels only need a tiny fraction of space to spin. Anything more will allow the wheel to wobble. Wobbling can lead to broken axles. Once the wheel spins freely, do not back out the pin any farther.
Set the train car aside to dry for a few hours, and the piece can be added to the rest of the train from the tutorials.
This is a really easy build, and a couple of these look great on any handmade wooden train. If you make a couple, they can be spaced out on the train, or carried in groups. Either way, the log car is a great addition to a handmade train, and is sure to get quite a bit of play. My son loves taking out the logs and putting them back in. It’s fun for him, and he really loves this train set.
The rest of the how to make a wooden train series will be added over the next couple weeks, and each car will have it’s own tutorial. Check back from time to time and you will see them all. I hope you enjoy making this wooden train as much as I did. My son loves this train, and I couldn’t be happier to have made it for him.
If you have any questions on how to make a wooden train – the log car, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends online. It helps me reach more woodworkers, and share my passion. Happy building.
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