Over the past decade, Thomas the Tank Engine has become one of the most recognizable icons in childhood entertainment across the globe! He (and his show) have spent the 8 years in Google’s top 10 most searched in the kids TV category! Beaten only by Spongebob, Power Rangers, and sesame Street in terms of longevity. “The Cheeky One” certainly has founded a fairly formative following , and my son is, of course, a follower!! Oddly, he doesn’t typically watch Thomas on TV, but anytime he sees a toy in a store his excitement is palpable (holy Marketing)! So, when he saw his “number 1” favorite little engine as a wooden crate craft demo during a recent trip to our local A.C. Moore…well, he could barely contain himself. A sucker for crafts I offered to make one for him! Now, typically these demo crafts have instructions on the Projects section of the A.C. Moore website ( lots of cool ideas, check it out if you get a second). Unfortunately, this project didn’t make the list. So, while I can’t take credit for the concept (and I’d gladly give credit if I knew who to give it to), I did have to figure out the products, paints and techniques for getting Thomas chugging along. So, I decided to outline my efforts for those that may want to give it a whirl!
- 1 – 11″ x 5.5″ x 4.5″ Woodline Works Wood Crate (engine/body)
- 6 – 3″ flat wood circles (wheels)
- 4 – Jumbo (6″ x 3/4″) popsicle sticks (struts/wheel connectors)
- 1 – 3″ round wooden box w/Lid (head)
- 2 – 20 mm googly eyes (sold by the bag)
- 1 – smoke stack (see “Step 8: Smoke Stack” for more information)
- 1 – Red Foam Sheet (#1 background)
- 1 – Yellow Foam Sheet (#1 foreground)
- Acrylic Paints
- Bright Blue “My Studio” – large bottle (Let me know if you find a better Thomas color!!)
- Black – small bottle
- Silver/Grey – small bottle
- White – small bottle
- 1″ Foam Paint Brushes (at least 4, probably more)
- Metallic Silver Sharpie – fine tip (wheel decoration)
- Black Sharpie – fine tip (face and wheel decoration)
- Red Paint Marker – thick tip (tank engine outline)
- Wood Glue
- Tacky Glue
- Ruler/Yardstick/Straight Edge (for straight lines)
- Fine Sand Paper (Semi-optional)
- Power Drill (for smoke stack depending on your child!)
- 3/16, 1/4 and 5/16 wood drill bits (for smoke stack depending on your child!)
- 1 –2.5″ screw (for the smoke stack depending on your child!)
- This portion is semi-optional. I always sand wooden projects prior to painting, as even smooth wood will become rough as paint dries. The smoother your pieces going in, the smoother it will be after painting. If you are incredibly motivated, you can actually apply one coat of paint, sand and repaint for optimized smoothness (I’m typically not that motivated…).
- Using the fine sand paper, sand all wooden surfaces (Crate – inside and out, 3″ wood circles, Popsicle Sticks, Smoke Stack), until smooth to the touch. You can sand the round wooden box, but be careful as they tend to be thinner wood and prone to breakage.
- Tip: Always sand with the grain of the wood as cross grain sanding can lead to scratching
- Bright Blue “My Studio”:
- Crate -inside and out ensuring to hit between the slats on the bottom and side (I did the bottom as well)
- 3″ wood circles – paint both sides, as the back side will be visible between the side slats in the crate
- Popsicle sticks – I only painted one side of each (if you tend toward OCD…do both and spin around 3 times)
- Round wooden box (not lid). Side only (you don’t have to paint the bottom or inside)
- Smoke stack
- Silver/Grey (I used a metallic Silver pain):
- Box lid – Paint the top and sides only (you don’t have to pain the inside)
- 20 mm Googly Eyes:
- In both the lid and box there is a seam where the wood overlaps. This seam should be at the bottom of your face, so lay your lid face up and place the eyes ~ 1.25″ from top and move them out so they are equidistant from each side and each other (equal spacing is ~0.5″ from the sides and each another). See Picture on right.
- Once eyes are in place, trace around each lightly with a pencil (to mark location)
- Use Tacky Glue to glue eyes in place (using pencil markings as guide). Allow to dry
- Black Sharpie – Using a fine point black sharpie, draw in your face. Here is where I called in the wife! I would probably make the nose symmetrical if I had to do it over again (even easier). I can’t give you much in the way of drawing tips, but follow the basic lines from the picture on the right and I am SURE you can do it! (another pep talk…I should start charging!)
- Paint Mouth – Using White Acrylic Pain, carefully paint the mouth white. If you cover your sharpie mark you can touch it up after the paint dries….though going too far outside the lines can be a pain (re-painting silver and such)
- Glue Box Closed – Using your wood glue, glue the lid onto the box. Make sure to line up the seams before allowing to dry! You can do this prior to decorating the face if you prefer. If you do that, you can place a heavy (not to heavy!) on the lid to ensure good adhesion with the glue (hindsight…amiright??)
- Glue Head To Crate:
- Stand the crate upright and center the head on the top face from left to right (~1.25″ from both the left and right edge).
- Adjust the face from top to bottom however you would like. I have my Thomas’ face above center, closer to the top of the crate.
- Once you have it in position, mark it lightly around the base, add glue to the back of the head (bottom of the box) and using marks as a guide apply to crate. Allow to dry completely before turning the box!
- Struts (the black PopSicle stick cross pieces between the wheels)
- Using the fine tip metallic silver Sharpie, draw a circle at each end of the painted side of each Popsicle stick (or on one painted side depending on your level of OCD in a previous step!). Then using a ruler or other straight edge, draw two straight lines connecting the two circles (but parallel to one another). See picture to the right for Clarity.
- Wheels ( all six 3″ wooden circles):
- Black circular Outline – Using the fine tip black Sharpie draw a circle around the inside of each wheel with a slightly smaller circumference than the wheel itself (To achieve the uniform and clean outline I used….wait for it….a can of corn). Most vegetable cans are slightly less then 3″ in diameter, so I put a vegetable can on the 3″ in wooden circles, centered it as best I could and then carefully traced around the edge. Careful not to move the can of corn as you trace! (I’m sure a compass or some other high tech device would work, but can of corn suited my needs just fine!)
- Black Wedges are basically 8 equal, black, 45 ° wedges or more simply, 4 straight lines intersecting at the center of the circle. This is actually fairly easy to achieve (even simpler if you have a 3″ protractor…we did not). So, assuming you are also protractorly deficient, just follow these simple:
Step 1: Sanding (Semi-Optional)
Step 2: Painting
I did two coats of each paint as follows:
Allow all to dry completely for next steps.
Note: Steps 3 and 4 are completely inter-changeable, this is just the random order I decided to do things in…
Step 3: Face
The face is really the only thing that requires any artistic ability in my opinion (which is why I called in the wife on this one!). Though, in terms of drawing, its a series of well placed lines, so, I’m sure you can do it! (pep talk complete).
Step 4: Decorating Wheels and Struts:
- Trace one wheel (only need to do one) on a piece of paper.
- Cut out the circle (cut inside the line to ensure your paper is the same size as the wooden circle)
- Fold paper Circle in half, and then in half again to form a 90 ° wedge.
- align paper wedge’s rounded edge with the outer edge of the wooden circle and mark the wood at the point of the paper (this is the center!). This isn’t 100% necessary, but it is a good reference.
- unfold paper to half circle and again align the edges of the paper with the wooden circle (ensuring you are passing through the center point (if your paper isn’t perfect it may be slightly off, but if you bisect your center mark with each line you will be fine!).
- Using a fine tip black Sharpie and your paper as a straight edge, trace a line from one side of the inner black circle (that we drew around a can of corn) to the other (don’t go past the black inner circle we created before).
- Draw another black line perpendicular to the first, then do the same thing splitting two 90 ° sections in half, and one last time splitting the last two 90 ° sections. You should now have eight 45 ° wedges intersecting your center point and stopping at your outer circle. Follow the pictures below. I’ve colored the wedge so you can see it on the white paper circle, you do not need to do this obviously
- Silver Wedges were generated free hand (I’m sure you could tell) using a fine tip metallic silver Sharpie, and simply drawing the wedge shape inside each of the eight 45 ° black wedges. Just do your best not to run the silver into the black lines, and to keep the silver rounded on the outer edges.
Step 5: Gluing the Wheels and Struts in Place:
Lay the crate on one side so that the side you plan to work on is face up. Do not turn box until all parts are dried. After affixing the wheels and struts to one side, the second side will not lay completely flat when you turn it over, but it should be sufficient to work with.
- Back Wheel – Align one finished wheel so that the circle is barely hitting the back and bottom edge of the crate (as shown in picture to the right ). Turn the wheel so that the strut might cover any imperfection in the detailing in the next step. With this positioning in mind, add wood glue to the back of the wheel (bottom edge and very top edge only to avoid the wood clue from being visible between the slats). Press into place and dab visible glue away if needed.
- Front Wheel – Align another finished wheel in a similar fashion to the back wheel, but in alignment with the front edge and bottom (as shown in the picture fo the right. Follow the same gluing procedure as the back wheel.
- Middle Wheel – Align a third finished wheel with the bottom edge and equidistant from the front and back wheel (~1.25″ from both front and back wheels as shown in the picture above). Follow Same gluing procedure as above.
- After drying (I placed more veggie cans on each wheel for drying time to increase bond) , repeat process on opposite side with remaining 3 wheels (allow to dry completely).
- Back Strut – using wood glue, glue a decorated Popsicle stick from the back wheel to the middle wheel as shown above. The Popsicle stick should be centered in the back wheel, but the bottom edge of the stick should be just above center of the middle wheel.
- Front Strut – using wood glue, glue a decorated Popsicle stick from the middle wheel to the front wheel as shown above. The top edge of the Popsicle stick should be just below center in the middle wheel (just below and parallel to the back strut) and centered in the front wheel.
- After drying (yup, used the veggie cans to hold them down again! It’s important here because the it can be difficult to keep both ends of the stick down), repeat process on the opposite side.
Step 6: Red Outlining Above Wheels
- Use a yard stick or other straight edge and trace along the edge with your thick red paint marker (red sharpie doesnt show up as well)to generate the top red line. Try to keep it slightly below and parallel with the top edge of the crate and stop the line slightly before the front and back edges of the crate.
- Use the straight edge and red paint marker to draw two vertical lines (one on each side of the horizontal red line) forming two 90 ° angles
- Using your red paint marker, free hand a the line around and between the wheels connecting the vertical lines.
- Repeat process on opposite side
- See picture above in the wheels and strut section for visual guidance.
Step 7: Number Ones
- On your red foam sheet trace a “fancy” number 1 with a tooth pick (avoids visible lines but allows you to see your outline). Should be ~1″ high with a base of ~0.75″ wide. Cut out the red 1.
- On the red foam sheet, trace around the initial red 1 with a toothpick, and cut the second red 1 out.
- On the yellow foam sheet, trace around each of the red 1s (you can use a pen or pencil here). Then, with the tooth pick, draw a slightly smaller 1 with the same shape inside each outline. Cut out out both yellow (smaller) 1s.
- Apply a small amount of Tacky Glue to the the back of the yellow 1s and apply them to the red 1s with the yellow centered so you can see red on all edges.
- With Tack glue, paste them to the crate just above the middle wheel on each side with the red back down (should be obvious, but uh….well you never know!).
Step 8: Smoke Stack
I’ve saved this portion for last because it’s slightly less straight forward and based on preference. You could use a Large Wooden bead which would be very simple as you could add a good amount of wood glue and paste it in place. It would be less likely to fall off. I, of course, went the slightly more difficult route to improve (I believe anyway) the visual appeal of the piece. Unfortunately, I don’t know what to call the piece of wood I used. I bought it pre-made at A.C. Moore, however, it was symmetrical. Meaning, it had the tapered wooden head on both ends of the center cylinder (if you go to A.C. Moore and search their wooden crafts you will find it). So, if you’d prefer to use the wooden bead…just paint it black and paste it on. DONE. However, for those that like a challenge (or like the look of my smoke stack in the picture to the right, I will outline what I did:
- Using a hack Saw (actually just the blade) I removed one of the tapered heads. Safety Warning: This was NOT easy and for safety reasons, I would not advise trying this if you’re not skilled with a saw! Further, children should NEVER do this…I nearly cut myself several times and I’m well versed with the practice!!)
- I sanded (with the fine sandpaper) the cut edge until it was smooth and I could sit it on the cut edge and it remained upright (this way you know it wont be crooked).
- I painted the smoke stack black
- Attachment options: If you’re child is calm and easy going, and plays with toys carefully….well then Option 1 (my first try) will work for you. If, like my son, your child plays a bit ROUGHER with his “toys”, you might want to consider option 1 below because it will break off…or maybe you now want to go back to the bead idea!
- Option 1 (gentle) – Using wood glue, glue the stack in place in the center of the top front edge of the crate (above Thomas’ head) Centered (given the same wooden crate size as listed above) is ~2.75″ from either side. Make a mark, and glue the bottom (cut edge) of the cylinder to the crate so it is centered over the center mark.
- If you’re child is a gentle soul, well congrats you now have a Thomas Crate!
- Option 2 (rough):
- Using a power drill, and a 3/16 drill bit (for wood!) drill down through the top tapered head and through the cylinder itself. Careful to keep the bit straight, and go slow as to not split the wood.
- Now, using a 1/4 drill bit, drill half-way down through the cylinder (slowly!). Follow this with a 5/16 drill bit stopping at the same half-way mark. This is to “drill it out” and provide a recessed stopping point for a screw.
- Place the smoke stack on the 2.75″ center mark on the top edge of the crate (described in Option 1) and using the 3/16 bit drill down through the smock stack into the crate (keep the drill straight up and down and go slow!).
- Using a 2.5″ screw (2″ would probably work, but I didnt have one of them!), screw the smoke stack to the crate. Drive the screw slowly, and stop when you feel resistance (or the smoke stack is tight) as to avoid splitting the crate OR smoke stack.
- Congrats! You have a Thomas Crate!
So, that is “my easy” Thomas the Tank Engine Wooden Crate craft. It may not sound so simple, but how hard can it be if I did it? If you have any questions or comments, please let me know below!
If you are the originator of this concept please let me know and i will gladly give you credit where credit is due!
Finally, I am always looking for new ideas and/or challenges in terms of cakes, crafts, or projects. If you have any kid friendly ideas that you have an requests or want to put me to the test, please feel free to comment below and I’ll see what I can do! Thanks for reading!