I'd been resistant to the idea of a train table because I think that building and laying out tracks is the most educational aspect of paying with a wooden railway. I for sure did not want to glue or bolt Rhys' tracks down onto a table, thereby limiting his play and learning options and dooming him to an eventual life of NOT being an astrophysicist, rocket scientist or similar.
I'm also cheap and train tables are expensive, yo. And while I know that Rhys absolutely adores playing with train tables now at this exact point in his life, I assume he won't when he's, say, seventeen. In other words, a train table didn't exactly strike me as a wise investment piece.
The obvious solution was to make my own table: something inexpensive that would look great in Rhys' room, might remain useful even after Rhys outgrows his train phase and something that wouldn't limit his track layout options.
I decided to start with a simple, inexpensive Ikea coffee table. We actually returned the recalled Ikea tent and applied the credit to the table, so we got it for $10. To be honest? We almost could've stopped there. We set up some track on the plain coffee table for Rhys to play with for a few days as I was gathering supplies for my hack and it worked fairly well, save for the fact that there were no railings to help keep track in place during play, and so our layouts had a way of ending up on the floor after a few minutes of rough toddler train action.
Ultimately, though, I wanted Rhys to have something a little beefed up and more interesting looking. I initially figured that I'd find some sort of landscape scenery printed wrapping paper to adhere to the top, but that proved difficult to find. I started looking into maps and found some interesting ones, but thought something more graphic would work better . . . with bold lines that Rhys could run his cars and trains over rather than a spiderweb of tiny streets and highways. Once it finally dawned on me, the choice seemed so obvious: a London tube map. Perfect. I found one (slightly out of date, but who cares for this purpose) for about a dollar (!!!) via Amazon.
I used gloss Mod Podge to attach the map to the table. This was my first Mod Podge experience and, though not without wrinkles and flaws, it was actually far easier than I was expecting. The surface of the table is passable. There is one large-ish wrinkle running vertically down the left hand side of the tube map, but as the Mod Podge dried it actually seemed to flatten itself out fairly well. I used one coat to adhere and two coats on top, letting the layers dry overnight in between coats.
I then used a few inexpensive strips of moulding, cut to size with my metal saw and painted white using spare paint from the garage, and attached them to the sides of the table with wood glue in order to form a lip. I used painters tape to hold the lip in place as it dried and, although I used an Elmer's wood glue that didn't expand initially, it wasn't holding all that great so I added some expanding Gorilla glue in the cracks between the table and the moulding. This, of course, expanded and made kind of a mess. Which is how I found myself googling "Where can I find white caulk that gets REALLY hard?" (thank you, UCLA, for the education that enabled me to spell "caulk" properly and thereby avoid a plethora of Internet porn).
I discovered that something called "Painter's Caulk" exists . . .for mouldings and, well, things that are going to be painted. It applies more or less the same way as silicone-y bathroom caulk does, but it dries hard. When my husband got home, I greeted him with "We need to go buy some really hard white caulk". So, that was fun.
The caulk did the job and covered most of the Gorilla Glue mess. I finished the whole table off with a layer of clear acrylic spray sealer over the top surface and the rails. It doesn't look perfect up close, but it is passable, for sure:
And with trains:
All set up:
Total cost for Rhys' bitchin' new train table, that looks perfect in his room, has meaning for our family and which may even be useful after he outgrows trains (I can totally see him taking this to use as a coffee table or bedside table in his first dorm room or bachelor pad. Amirite?):
Ikea table: $19 -$9 store credit from the recalled tent: $10
Out of date London tube map: $1.09 + $3.99 shipping (although a bit pricier now) = $5.08
Gloss Mod Podge: $7.70
Hardware store run including moulding (only a few cents), foam brushes, wallpaper smoother, clear acrylic sealer spray, really hard white caulk, painter's tape, wood glue, etc. = about $20
Grand Total: $42.78