Jul 26 2012

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Wooden Engine Garage (Sodor Steamworks)

My son has amassed quite a few engines in the few short years he’s had his wooden train table. The problem is that there just isn’t enough track to play with all of them, so they end up all over the table and floor. He has a garage that is attached to a round house, but that isn’t a very effective use of space since it can only hold five engines with out their coal tenders.

I wanted  to be able to store a lot of engines in a small space and make it part of the track rather than a separate case. Rather than using a round house I decided to use a sliding track like the type used in front of the Sodor Steamworks. This allowed me to pack 12 engines, with their coal tenders, in a space a little bigger than the round house garage. Plus by calling it the Steamworks, it serves multiple purposes when my son is playing with his trains.

Of course the hardest part of the project was figuring out how to make the sliding track and how to make it thin enough so that it is compatible with the rest of the wooden track. I ended up cheating a little bit by making the track in the garage 3/4″ thick rather then 1/2″ and making a ramp on the front that brought the higher garage track to the level of the standard track. Making the track 3/4″ thick allowed me to construct the sliding track from three 1/4″ thick layers. To keep the sliding track locked into place I mounted it on two sliding dovetails.

The first step was to make enough track to cover the floor of the garage, the sliding track, and the ramps. I cut the track from 1/4″ thick maple and used a 1/4″ straight bit to route 1/8″ deep grooves into the track. Then I measured length of the longest engine and cut the track into 13 sections that were slightly longer, 12 for storing engines and one for the sliding track. After I had all the track cut to length, I could figure out the total footprint and cut it of 1/4″ baltic birch plywood. Then I cut another piece of 1/4″ plywood that would raise the stationary track to the height of the sliding track.

To make the sliding track slide, I took yet more 1/4″ plywood and cut it into 4 strips as long as the garage was wide. I cut the two outside strips with a bevel of about 10° on one side and two strips with a bevel on both sides, one for the middle stationary strip and one to cut up for the sliding dovetails. Once I had the material cut, I glued the strips into place using scraps from the sliding dovetails to properly space the stationary rails. Then I just glued the sliding tract onto the sliding dovetails.

I used some of the scrap track to make two sloping tracks in the front to adapt to the standard track height. I shimmed under one end and glued them in place, then to fill the gaps between tracks, I measured the slope of the front and cut a strip of maple with one edge 1/2″ thick and the other 1/4″ thick.

To finish off the garage I milled a bumper to glue the back of the garage so the engines couldn’t roll out the back, then I glued to strips of maple to the sides to finish them and capture the sliding track. I built a roof from some 1/4″ plywood and framed that with maple edging. Finally I drilled 1/2″ holes in the sides and top and attached the top with 1/2″ dowels for columns.

I wanted to color the area below the sliding track black, but since it was a sliding dovetail, I couldn’t use any finish that would coat the wood or make it expand like a water based dye. After much thought, and after noticing how hard it was to sand sharpie markings out of wood, it hit me to try using a black marker. At first it was slow going because I only had fine-tipped markers, but after a short trip to the store it went muck faster. To even out the stroke marks, I rubbed the marker out with some alcohol. Then I put a coat of wax over it to make the track slide smoothly. To make the garage a little more colorful I painted the top, columns, sides, and front with acrylic paint from the craft store. This is the first time I’ve used acrylic paints and I was surprised at how easy they were to work with. They cover pretty well, dry really fast, and clean up with soap and water. Plus they are supposed to be very durable.

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