How to Make a Toy Train From Scratch

Written by christina sloane
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How to Make a Toy Train From Scratch
Make your own toy train with common household objects. (Black Toy Train image by J3TPhotos from

Simple and sophisticated toy trains are commercially available, but sometimes homemade trains are just as fun for kids. Many household materials, such as bottle caps, cans, tins and cardboard boxes can enjoy a second life as a toy train. Kids can paint or cut and glue details to create their own train cars, and parents can assist with trickier steps, such as using a hammer and nails or a hot glue gun to attach wheels and train cars.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Cardboard boxes, wood blocks and/or aluminium or tin cans
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Construction paper
  • Glue
  • Double-sided foam tape
  • Scissors
  • Empty thread spools and buttons
  • String
  • Paper clips
  • 1 inch washers
  • Duct tape
  • Metal juice bottle caps
  • Metal soda bottle caps
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Metal hooks
  • Metal eyelets

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  1. 1

    Lay four or more tins, boxes, blocks or other items out horizontally. Each will be a train car. You can make the cars as large or as small as you like, but they should all be about the same size relative to each other. You can make the engine stand out more by gluing or taping a horizontal cylindrical object (e.g. a soda can) to the front of a rectangular block. All other cars may be made with a single can, block or box.

  2. 2

    Paint your boxes/blocks with acrylic paint in the colours of your choice, glue construction paper over them to cover the surface or leave them as-is if you prefer the original design. Wait for the first layer of paint to dry, then paint additional details such as windows and doors, or cut shapes out of construction paper and glue them on. Wait for your paint to dry before painting a different colour over it.

  3. 3

    Glue a spool to the top of the first (conductor) train car to make a smokestack, or attach it with double-sided foam tape. Paint the spool to match the colour of the train.

  4. 4

    Glue a paper triangle or paint an inverted triangle on the front of the first car to symbolise a bumper. Paint vertical lines on the triangle to approximate the grill of a real bumper. Glue or paint a small circular or doughnut-shaped object (for example, a bottle cap) above the bumper to symbolise a headlight. If you wish, paint the headlight silver or yellow to make it resemble a real headlight.

  5. 5

    Paint circles to resemble wheels on each of your cars or glue painted thread spools on the bottoms of the boxes/blocks. To make wheels that move along an axle, use your hammer and nail to punch holes in the centres of your juice and soda bottle caps (one juice cap and one bottle cap for each wheel). Stick washers on the sides of your cars with double-sided tape in the positions where the wheels will go. Don't cover up the holes in the washers. Straighten one end of a paper clip for each washer, and thread it through the washer so that the bent end goes under the train car. Thread the larger juice cap (inside facing out) over the paper clip, then thread the smaller soda cap (top side facing out) over the clip. Bend the tip of the paper clip to hold the caps in place, then secure the other end of the paper clip under your car with duct tape. Repeat this process for each wheel.

  6. 6

    Poke holes in the short ends of each of your cardboard boxes. Thread string through each car and tie a knot at the end of the caboose to create a pull-along toy. If using blocks, use a glue gun or superglue to secure a short length of string between each car, then glue a long string to your conductor car. You can also glue or screw in metal hooks and eyelets and hook the cars together that way.

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