How to Build a Modern Train / Activity Table in 10 Easy Steps

Build an activity table, you say? Pshaw. Not everyone’s a carpenter, right? Wrong! If I can make this table and survive to tell the tale, then so can you.

This DIY project came about during the One Room Challenge, when I was making over my son’s playroom. Of course he had a perfectly functional train table to begin with, but it screamed, “Birch effect! Birch effect!” even more loudly than the bookcases behind it. So, it had to go.

I wanted to make an activity table that was sleek and modern, and that was still feasible for someone with no skills to build. So I took some cues from his existing table, and made my own using a sheet of plywood and some extra lumber I had in the shed.

modern train activity table diy tutorial
The best thing about this project is that you can customize it to any size you want, all you need to do is a little math.  Be sure to have your hardware store cut the plywood before you bring it home, unless you have the means to cut it yourself.  Most places do this for free.

I did decide to keep the drawers from the first table and paint them white, because we still needed the storage. Any under-the-bed drawers would work just as well, or I’m sure they’d be easy to make.  But I’m pretty happy with the result! I definitely had a Tarzan, beating-my-chest moment afterwards. The beauty of power tools…

Supplies

  • 1 – 4 x 8 sheet of ¾” thick plywood (I used red oak) cut to the following dimensions:
    • 2 pieces 17.5” x 34 ¾”
    • 2 pieces 6” x 48”
  • 1 – 1 x 3 x 8 board cut to the following lengths:
    • 2 pieces approx. 22”
    • 1 piece 33 ¼”
  • 1 – sheet of 4 x 8 MDF or thin plywood cut to 33 ¼” x 48”
  • 12 – 4” L-brackets
  • 48 – #10 ¾” wood screws
  • 6 – #10 1-¼” wood screws
  • Wood stain
  • Primer
  • Chalkboard paint
  • White paint
  • Painter’s tape

Equipment

  • Drill
  • 2 paint rollers covers
  • A paint roller, preferably attached to a long handle
  • Small painting brush
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil

For clarity’s sake, I’ve included a drawing with each piece labeled:

how to build a modern train activity table

1. Stain your four pieces of ¾” plywood (B, D, E, G) to the desired color using the small brush. Follow the directions on the can as to drying time and technique. Stain both sides, but don’t stain the edges!

how to build a train activity table 1

2. While the wood is drying, prime and paint piece H with the chalkboard paint and paint roller. Using one on a long arm, like a broom handle, makes this part go quickly.

how to build a train activity table

3. Take pieces A and C and drill three small holes evenly spaced down the length of them, as shown.

how to build a train activity table

4. Measure 1” from the top of B and D and make several marks along the length with your pencil. Then take piece A, line it up along the marks, and attach it to piece B using three 1-¼” screws. Do the same thing for pieces C and D.

how to build a train activity table

5. Take piece E and align it in the top left corner of piece B as shown (and please ignore the fact that I did not stain both sides of E.  Do as I say, not as I do!). Make sure the outer edges of the two pieces are flush. Place two L-brackets in the corner you’ve created, taking care that the top bracket lies below the 1” line you created in Step 4. Affix with the ¾” screws.

Note: my screws were the type that did not need pre-drilled holes, but you may find it easier to pre-drill them.

how to build a train activity table

6. Now take piece F and attach 4 L-brackets, 2 on each end and on opposite sides. You will need to stagger them, as you can see in the photo.

how to build a train activity table

7. In the approximate center of piece E, measure 1” down and mark. Then attach piece F, as shown.

how to build a train activity table

how to build a train activity table

8. Can you see it taking shape? You can probably figure out the rest of the steps from here, but I’ll help you out. Attach 2 more L-brackets to the other end of piece E, in the same manner as before. Then attach pieces D and G with the remaining L-brackets. It helps to have another person on hand to hold things in place, but I managed to do this part alone.

how to build a train activity table

how to build a train activity table

9. Mark 1” from the top on the inside of piece G, line up piece F, and affix with screws.

how to build a train activity table

10. Looking good–almost there! Now, mark off the edges with the painter’s tape and paint them white. Once that’s dry, you can place piece H on top and admire your hard work.

how to build a train activity table

*Here’s a tip: you can go back over any cracks or gaps with spackling paste (the stuff you use to fill nail holes in your walls). It’s already white, and it’ll make the edges nice and smooth!

how to build a train activity table

how to build a train activity table

There you have it! Here’s how it looks in the playroom:

modern playroom toy storage

Have you ever built something from scratch like this? Had an “I am woman hear me roar” kind of project? I’d love to hear about it!

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