Searching for the best wooden train set for your child? I’ve turned my expert eye on the wooden train sets that currently on the market so that you can make an informed choice.
A train set can sound good on paper, but there’s nothing like hands-on play to tell you whether it’s going to be the right choice for your family or classroom.
The problem is getting that hands-on experience. If you’re lucky, a toy store might have one brand of wooden trains out on a train table. But that’s only one train set from one brand.
That’s where I come in. I’ve bought and played with a ridiculous, preposterous, completely-unbelievable number of wooden train sets. I’ve learned the up sides, down sides, and quirky sides of all the brands, and formed strong opinions about which ones are worth the investment.
Here on Play Trains!, I’ve made it my mission to share that knowledge with parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians — anyone who needs help picking out the perfect train set on the first try.
Below you’ll find a wealth of information, organized by wooden train brand, updated as often as I can with new sets and new opinions. And this post is just one of many in our Ultimate Wooden Train Guide, where you can find advice and recommendations for everything from the best train table to put your new train set on to the best battery-operated wooden train to zoom around it.
And if you have a question I don’t cover, feel free to ask for advice in the comments section of this post or by email.
The Best Wooden Train Sets by Brand
This guide was last updated on Tuesday, November 9th, 2021.
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If you want high quality, high play value wooden trains from the start, BRIO is your brand. Many parents I meet remember BRIO from their own childhoods, and I talk to lots of grandparents who are pulling BRIO train sets out of their attics to share with a new generation.
BRIO has carried on its legacy of quality and good design, but it has also modernized its offerings, both in style and in materials. Most regular BRIO sets now feature trains made primarily of plastic. But the plastic is extremely high quality, heavy duty stuff — think of it as equivalent to LEGO rather than Mega Bloks. Also, there’s now a line of BRIO Classic sets that are in line with what people remember of BRIO from decades past: wood components, including the trains, and that “classic” BRIO look.
Modern or classic, either way you’re getting your money’s worth when you buy a BRIO set. They’ve literally been the wooden train standard for decades now. If a wooden train brand is compatible with any other brand, it’s definitely compatible with BRIO.
For a long time, I thought we’d never own any Brio trains because they seemed so expensive, but then we started our BRIO collection when our local Toys-R-Us was clearing it out years ago. Playing with those sets gave me a great appreciation for not just the quality of the trains but also the brilliance of the train set designers at BRIO. I’ve been happy to pay more for BRIO quality, and because pretty much every set is well-designed, you get a high play value out of a BRIO set.
BRIO Deluxe Railway Sets
Now, this is one of the most expensive train sets I’m putting on this list, but if you’re looking for an all-in-one set with enough variety, durability, and playability to last a childhood (or several), the BRIO Deluxe Railway Set fits that description perfectly. It sets you up with a full freight and passenger train system with lots to do. Plus, it comes with a cute storage box.
There is also a smaller — but not small! — BRIO Cargo Railway Deluxe Set. This set focuses on freight trains, with three (!) cranes, including a battery-powered crane and a very cool gantry crane that my son loves. There’s also an elevated section of track, and among the trains, they’ve included a battery-powered engine.
The newest and biggest BRIO deluxe set yet — the BRIO Railway World Deluxe Set — includes an airport, a farm, a ferry, a big station, and more. Each of these three sets has a different character, so I hope Brio will continue to offer all for a long while to come!
Classic BRIO Train Sets
If you’re looking for a train set that would look as at home in your childhood bedroom as it would in the playroom now, or if you want a wooden train set that’s actually, you know, made out of wood, the BRIO Classic sets are a great choice. The BRIO Classic Figure 8 Set and the BRIO Classic Deluxe Railway Set both feature trains, destinations, accessories, and track risers made primarily out of wood, and they’re all painted in the eye-catching, iconic BRIO style.
BRIO My First Railway Sets
Most wooden train sets are recommended for ages 3 and up for safety reasons (choking hazards, swallowable magnets), so it’s wonderful that BRIO has come out with this line of My First Railway sets for children as young as 18 months old. Intrigued (and drawn in by the rainbow colors), I ordered a BRIO My First Railway Beginner Pack Train Set to try out, and I immediately loved it.
I had my husband (who does things like woodworking and 3D printing as hobbies) take a close look at the trains from one of these sets to see what made them safer. Aside from the robust construction of the trains, he thinks the real safety innovation is the encased magnetic couplers. He was very impressed that the plastic magnet covers were secured inside the chassis — it would seem that they aren’t going anywhere, even if an adult tried to pry them out. The cover also protects the magnet from shattering into swallowable pieces — not that I’ve ever seen that happen, but hey, it never hurts to be extra safe when it comes to kids who are still in the “put everything in the mouth” stage.
Safety aside, these sets are well designed for the younger age group. These train layouts are more free form, with plenty of sturdy plastic ramps to allow toddlers to drive their trains off the track and all over the house. There are fun interactive features — spinning freight cars, bouncing rainbow bridges, buildable arches, and so on. The magnets spin inside the plastic cases and flip polarity, which allows the trains to be coupled up no matter which direction an engine or car is facing. (Personally, I like the problem solving challenge that the magnetic polarity of wooden train couplings presents to young children. But this would reduce this (generally short-lived) train play frustration for toddlers who are new to wooden trains.)
In addition to the Beginner Pack Train Set, there are more My First Railway products to check out, including a few other train sets. There’s even a battery-operated train set for the little ones, the BRIO My First Railway Battery Train Set. It includes a one-button motorized engine (note that it only moves forwards), a freight car with a reel that spins as the train goes along, a raised section of track, and a buildable arch.
BRIO Transportation and Freight Sets
Usually, I think of a starter set as a simple circle, oval, or figure-eight of track with an engine, one or two train cars, and a few accessories (trees, small buildings, people or animal figures). By that definition, the BRIO Railway Starter Set Train Set is actually quite a bit more than a “starter” set, both in size/scope and in cost. However, it would be a very fun set to start with — it includes a passenger train, three figures (two passengers and a train driver) who can ride in the train, a crossing signal, a bench, and a piece of luggage. All of this goes with a figure eight of track that includes a “rock” tunnel for the train to drive over and under. When you’re ready to expand the set, the BRIO Starter Track Pack Train Set is designed to coordinate with this set, and includes a picture of a possible combined layout incorporating both.
The Travel Switching Set was a very popular addition to our wooden railway. The Little Engineer loved that it came with two passenger trains, one red and one blue, with drivers dressed in colors to match their trains.
The Cargo Harbor Set was a birthday gift at our house a few years ago, and we just love the awesome container ship and the lifting bridge. (It goes very nicely with the Brio Train Ferry, which we gave him along with this set.)
The Metro Tunnel Set was part of the Little Engineer’s “surprise birthday layout” a few years ago. We’ve had a lot of fun playing with the metro tunnels, especially with the door that opens and closes on the metro station.
And for the construction-inclined kid, the Rail and Road Loading Set would be a lot of fun.
Themed BRIO Train Sets
The expanding range of BRIO World toys and sets is a wonderful way to combine train play with a child’s other interests, or to create a playscape where siblings with different interests can find common ground.
For the kid who wants to be a firefighter and an engineer, you could get the BRIO Rescue Firefighter Set.
Hape Wooden Trains
A couple of years ago, I was surprised to stumble into the world of Hape wooden train sets. I already liked Hape toys, so how had I missed that they made trains? My expectations rose, and the sets I ordered to test out didn’t disappoint! It seems to be a brand on the rise.
In style, quality, and range of available sets, Hape wooden trains kind of remind me of a blend of the practicality and innovation of BRIO and the whimsy and quality of Nuchi, a brand we really liked years ago that has sadly disappeared.
Hape Railway Wooden Train Sets
Hape’s line up of train sets has changed and expanded since I originally reviewed their sets, so you’ll have to forgive the out-of-date (but adorable, right?) photo above! I will update it when I can get my hands on one of the new sets, but for now, it does give a good idea of the aesthetic and construction of Hape’s train sets as a whole, although the destinations in the current line up of sets are super plasticky-looking in comparison to this thanks to their shiny red plastic roofs.
If I had to pick one of the new sets to buy, I’d probably go with the Hape Grand City Station Railway Set. The station itself is HUGE and has a number of nifty interactive features, the most unique of which is a projector than projects the images of different cities when you insert different train tickets into a slot. It also has a record-and-play function where your child can record different messages to be broadcast throughout the station. We have a BRIO station that does that, and it’s a really fun feature.
I also like the Hape Crane and Cargo Train Set because it has coal cargo pieces and a cargo loader that could double as a coal hopper! So few train sets include anything close to a coal hopper or a water tower these days, which is so weird to me because those are two of the most useful destinations if your child loves steam engines. Two other good inclusions in this set are the functional crane and four cargo cars, providing plenty of ways to interact with the set during playtime.
Hape Wooden Train Sets for Toddlers (and up)
Like BRIO, Hape has quite a few train sets and other products aimed at the toddler engineers out there. To my great surprise, when we compared a BRIO 18m+ set vs. a Hape 18m+ set, while the Brio had some innovations that gave it an edge in the safety/practicality side of things, the Hape set came away as the clear winner for fun for this age group.
The Hape set we played with was the Musical Rainbow Railway Set, and it’s the set I’d choose if I were buying a train set gift for a toddler today. It incorporates classic toddler toys (a xylophone, tambourines, a wire bead maze, and a shape sorting puzzle) into a bright, colorful wooden train set, so you’re basically getting a whole range of toddler fun in one box. My 8-year-old even found ways to play with the different toys that he really enjoyed, like racing to put the puzzle back together to fix the train before I pushed the train back around again. Each whimsical car of the train itself has a different visual surprise: a mirror car, a car that turns everything upside down when you look through it, and a car with a prismatic/kaleidoscopic lens. Also, all the wood is sealed, so any drool or potty training accidents that might occur are more easily dealt with than with other train sets.
Note: if the Musical Rainbow Railway Set sadly seems to be unavailable now, but the good news is that it’s been replaced by the similar Hape Rainbow Sights & Sounds Toddler Wooden Railway.
There is also the Hape Undersea Figure 8 Play Set, which is an absolutely adorable combo of sea creatures and trains. The painted water tracks with fish! The pool to drive the train over with little sea creatures attracted to the magnets on the train! So very, very cute and innovative!
Thomas Wooden Railway
For years, the Thomas Wooden Railway track has been my favorite, and if your child loves Thomas and his friends like mine did for years, the bright, colorful, and well-made engines will become dear friends.
I had been concerned about a possible decline in quality in the brand — more and more plastic that seems to be of a lesser quality, reports of track that’s not up to the former standards — but this became a moot point a few years ago when Fisher Price/Mattel has replaced Thomas Wooden Railway with Thomas and Friends Wood. (You’ll notice that Thomas and Friends Wood does not appear on this list of wooden train brands I recommend, not even at the bottom with the ones I don’t really recommend. I’ve been saying for years that I’m going to write an article explaining why, but I’m still too irritated for objectivity!)
With the real Thomas Wooden Railway sets out of production, eBay is probably the best resource to find them for those with super Thomas fans. We’ve also run into TWR sets at a few vendors’ booths at train shows, though their stock I’m sure is dwindling by now.
However, I do have one Thomas wooden train product I can recommend on this list!
I’m a little shocked that I’m putting this one on a best wooden train sets list, but as long as you don’t mind all the plastic, the Thomas & Friends Super Station Playset Train works with wooden trains, and it’s downright epic. It’s huge, and you get a roundhouse, a turntable, Cranky the Crane, a helipad, and various “destinations” (which are pretty much just stickers on some of the supports/tunnels) all worked into one big showstopper. This is a great choice if you’ve ended up with multiple types of Thomas trains in your house — it’s designed to work with and even store wooden, Trackmaster, Take’n’Play/Adventures, and Thomas MINIS trains, and it comes with adapters to connect it to Trackmaster, Adventures, and wooden train tracks (real wooden train tracks, not the new connectors from Thomas & Friends Wood). It also comes with an engine from each of the four lines (well, Harold in the case of the Thomas Wooden Railway inclusion). My son got a huge kick out of helping me put it together and play with it. I think his favorite part was hanging the Thomas MINIS from the hooks all over the station. Obviously this won’t appeal to everyone who’s shopping for wooden trains, but at least I expect that it will remain widely available for the foreseeable future.
Maple Landmark Nametrain Wooden Trains
There’s no denying that Maple Landmark makes the most beautiful wooden train sets around. Made in the USA from New England maple hardwood and finished with non-toxic paints and finishes, these heirloom-quality sets are a joy to have around. The quality can’t be beat, to the point that my own two negative observations on the NameTrain sets — that the connections are sometimes cut with a little too much puzzle-piece precision, and that the all-wood wheels and axles don’t roll as smoothly as the usual ones made of metal and plastic — are both due to the exceptional craftsmanship and materials used. I would also advise you to stick to the three years and up rating of these train sets, due to the strong magnets used (just in case).
I highly recommend the NameTrain Town Set. Like the deluxe Brio sets above, it could easily be the only train set you ever need to buy your child. I am very impressed with the complexity and intelligence of the layout design, and you get enough of a variety of track to do some fun things with it. It comes with a whopping SIXTEEN trains, cars, and other vehicles, including a steam engine, passenger cars, school bus, race car, fire engine, ambulance, police car, tow truck, airplane, tractor, taxi cab, and boat. That’s enough to keep multiple children busy at the same time, making it a good choice for large families, schools, daycare centers, bookstores, and doctor and dentist offices. And there are five destinations included (a train station, house, fire station, school, and grocery store). And rounding out the scenery are four adorable, fully three-dimensional wooden trees. Another thing to note is that the bridge is very tall, with even Chuggington trains rolling below it with plenty of room to spare.
Other Maple Landmark NameTrain sets include their Basic Train Set, a simple circle with a three-car train; the NameTrain Safari Set, a figure-eight with both an animal-watching train and five animals on wheels, and the NameTrain Skyline Train Set, which features a beautiful, red suspension bridge. If you’re looking for a Christmas-themed set, they also have a cute North Pole Village Railroad.
Whittle Shortline Railroad Toy Trains
I have wanted to get some of these gorgeous trains for my son for years, and thanks to Whittle Shortline Railroad, we finally have some! Whittle Shortline Railroad is a family business makes the most realistic wooden trains out there. Handcrafted in the USA, Whittle Shortline’s trains look impressively like both the real trains out on the the real railroads and the traditional electric model trains that kids rarely get to touch at train shows and grandparents’ houses. The level of detail on these trains is just amazing, and thanks to some specially designed wheels, even the longest of their large locomotives rolls neatly around the tightest curves of wooden track. If you have a child who is obsessed with real trains or model trains, if your child has a grandparent, parent, or other favorite family member who is a model train hobbyist, or if you’d just like to teach your child about real trains, you have to check these out! You can read our full review of these amazing trains here. Please note that their train sets only include the trains, so you’ll want to get some wooden tracks to go with them.
CHUGGINGTON WOODEN RAILWAY
When Chuggington Wooden Railway came out, I wasn’t a fan. Their sets were made by the same company as Thomas Wooden Railway at the time (first Learning Curve, and then TOMY), but they used a lot more plastic, especially on the trains to simulate the computer-animated, cartoonish train faces. Chuggington train tables replaced Thomas train tables at many of the toy stores we went to play trains at during that time, and I was always having to fix the elevator turntable things that raise engines up to the second floor of their improbable two-story roundhouses.
I’ve softened that stance with time, especially because Thomas has moved on to Fisher-Price while Chuggington has stayed with TOMY. Chuggington track is just like the Thomas Wooden Railway track that I’ve loved for years, and now that Thomas sets include more plastic, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much difference.
It seems that they’re not making Chuggington sets anymore, but if you have a Chuggington superfan, try searching for “Chuggington Wooden Railway set” on eBay.
Another good brand to go with is Bigjigs. While not equal to Thomas and Brio in quality, their train sets are far more affordable. Additionally, they make a lot of unique and extremely clever pieces, especially when it comes to their freight cars and destinations.
Bigjigs offers quite a few interesting train sets. Their My First Train Set is quite possibly your least expensive option for a small, good-quality beginner’s train set. While it includes passenger coaches instead of freight cars, and so doesn’t offer the fun of loading and unloading freight, it does include two people and two houses. That could be more fun for some children than the freight. And then for a very large set with everything from trains to trucks and boats to airplanes, check out the Bigjigs Rail Transportation Train Set.
Moving on from their basic sets, they also make sets in a number of fun themes:
- For a car and train fan, try the beautiful Rural Rail and Road Set.
- Animal-loving engineers would really enjoy the Bigjigs Rail Farm Train Set and the Bigjigs Rail Safari Train Set.
- For your future paleontologist, check out the Bigjigs Rail Dinosaur Railway Set.
- Their pink and purple Fairy Town figure-eight set and the larger Bigjigs Rail Fairy Town Train Set (and even the adorable Bigjigs Rail Magical Train Set and Table) are very sweet.
- If you have a budding railroad history buff, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the Bigjigs Rail Heritage Collection Flying Scotsman Train Set.
- And for your wee pirate, there be the Bigjigs Rail Pirate Train Set. Yar har har!
If you go with one of these theme sets, be sure to check out the coordinating destinations and additional trains that Bigjigs offers to go with them, like the Bigjigs Rail Pirate Galleon, Bigjigs Rail Shipwreck Bridge, Bigjigs Rail Skull Cave, and the Bigjigs Rail Pirate Train (complete with a cannon car!) that coordinate with the pirate train set.
Raise your hand if you shed a tear when Toys’R’Us closed down their U.S. stores.
(I am most definitely raising my hand as I type this. Metaphorically, because of the whole needing-hands-to-type thing.)
Beyond grieving the fond memories from my childhood and my child’s childhood, I also felt the loss of the Imaginarium wooden train line. Though I rated them lower than most of my other recommended brands, you got a great level of quality in comparison to the low prices.
All of our Imaginarium train stuff stood the test of years of train play and still looks great. I also liked that they offered a good range of fairly realistic trains. I was particularly fond of their freight cars, which made great Troublesome Trucks with the addition of some Troublesome Truck face stickers.
Now for the good news: as I was updating the list, I saw that there were several Imaginarium sets and train tables being sold on Amazon! I will have to look into this further.
IKEA LILLABO Wooden Trains
IKEA trains underwent a redesign last year. In the past, their tracks had plastic connectors that were a too-tight fit with many other wooden train brands’ tracks. I need to do more play testing, but the new all-wood IKEA tracks seem to be compatible with major brands. All the tracks in the set I have are made from a single piece of wood. Hooray for IKEA making the decision to change their design to be safer and more compatible! I tried out a Thomas, a BRIO, and a Chuggington engine through the tunnel, and unlike the old IKEA train sets, they all fit except for the Chuggington. But it’s really hard to find anything for a Chuggington train to fit under.
It’s also exciting to see new items in their train line, including an engine shed and a turntable.
Anyway, now that IKEA trains are seemingly compatible with other train brands, they’re definitely a cheap but fairly nice option for a first train set. One word of caution, though, is that one of my ascending track pieces had the top of the track sheered off at one end. It’s mostly useable, but I don’t know if this is a quality control problem or just a one-time accident.
Orbrium Wooden Trains
I love Orbrium’s unpainted wooden trains — I painted and used them for all the trains except Blue in the photo illustrations for Old Tracks, New Tricks — and we had some Orbrium adapter tracks that we were happy with. So I was a little disappointed in the Orbrium train set I bought to try out.
My main complaints are that there are some splinters on the cuts, there’s a lot of extra glue that built up around anything that was glued together, and there are occasional dents and chunks and rough patches caused by a dull saw blade, particularly on the switches, but also on the curves.
But it’s a decent type of wood, and they fit together and I haven’t found any problems with compatibility. They’re better than Melissa & Doug (which I’ll be grumbling about farther down this list), and at least they try to be innovative in some of their designs. The set I have is the 58 piece expansion, so it didn’t come with trains, but I’ve been using those unpainted trains heavily this year at train shows and recommend them. So as long as the paint holds up on them, their other trains should be okay. If you go with an Orbrium train set — or any budget train set — I recommend checking it over with some sandpaper, especially on the switches, and smoothing anything that looks splintery or feels sharp. (The places where the tracks intersect on the switches seem especially sharp on Orbrium tracks….that’s my biggest problem with them, actually.)
Melissa & Doug
Generally I love Melissa & Doug toys, especially their play kitchen food and their stuffed animals.
I’ve always wished I loved their train sets to the same degree.
We’ve had some Melissa & Doug wooden train tracks for a long time, and they are perfectly fine as far as tracks go. We also have a really big, cool bridge of theirs (that they unfortunately don’t make anymore, or I’d link you right over to it).
The thing is, I’ve never liked the look of their wooden trains themselves. Either they’re just a painted, flat silhouette of a train, or a more three-dimensional but blocky train design with a kind of meh paint job. We never ended up buying any of their sets for our original collection.
However, as I went about expanding this guide to talk about brands people often ask me about, I wanted to give M&D a fair chance. I bought a couple of their smaller sets to try out.
After playing with them, I still don’t recommend the brand. Their sets do tend to be inexpensive for the number of pieces you get, and the track seems to be made from better wood than other brands at that price point, so they’re not the worst choice. Just not the best one either. The main reason is all the corners you won’t see them cutting until you look closely, which I think leads people see the recognizable brand name and expect quality and thoughtful design that isn’t there.
Cut corner number one: the wheels. The axles on the trains are aluminum rather than a stronger metal like steel, which is the standard for other train brands. Only one side makes a nice smooth hub for the wheels. The other side is a messy looking exposed rivet or something. The wheels themselves seem to be made from a softer type of plastic. They’re thin and flat, requiring spacers between the wheels and the trains to not scrape off the paint.
Cut corner number two: the plastic. Even more than the wheels, the plastic in the circus cars that came in one of our sets is really obviously soft and weak. Out of the box, some visible stress damage already had turned the colored plastic white at the places where the car was assembled in the factory.
Cut corner number three: the tracks. I don’t know if the quality has declined, or just my memory, but the tracks we found in the M&D sets I bought recently weren’t nearly as nice as I remember the ones we purchased years ago being. The surfaces of these new ones are quite wobbly (as opposed to a nice, smooth, sand-flat surface), with rough patches on the wood and occasional splinters near the cuts. They’re still better than the tracks made of really soft wood, but they aren’t as well made as I expected them to be.
Cut corner number four: the trains. I still really don’t like the half-hearted look of the trains. It strikes me that they’re doing something to save money on production and trying to pass it off as style. I think that’s what my weirdly strong gut reaction to the sets comes down to: looking at the M&D sets, I just feel like someone’s trying to pull a fast one on me. I’d rather buy an Imaginarium set with the cheaper tracks, because they seem to put effort into designing functional, playable train sets, rather than just producing something that looks old fashioned that people will buy without realizing it’s just there to add another toy to a big company’s line up.
I could point out more cut corners, but I think that gives you the idea. Now I want to talk about the individual sets because people often ask about them. And really, if you can read what I’ve already said and not be dissuaded from considering an M&D set…well, they’re inexpensive, and the tracks will fit together and hold up over the years. And I should mention that the Little Engineer liked the look of the trains. Kid opinions count around here! When it comes down to it, I’d much rather hear about someone buying a Melissa & Doug set than a KidKraft set.
The first is the very simple Melissa & Doug Children’s Zoo Animal Train Set (which is maybe not being made anymore?). It comes with a circle of track, an engine, two circus-type train cars, and two zoo animals. The one kind of cool thing about this set is the set of circus cars (except for the fact that they’re made out of cheap plastic). I like freight cars that can hold any kind of object, and these are especially tall. But as I mentioned above, the plastic is already showing signs of stress straight out of the package. The Melissa & Doug Farm Animal Wooden Train Set (12+ pcs) looks to be a similar set with a farm theme.
The other set I tried out is the Melissa & Doug Classic Wooden Figure Eight Train Set. It’s 22 pieces that include a figure-eight layout with a bridge, a train with a coal tender, and one switch track that leads off to a siding with a buffer. I will say that the bridge itself is a nice, sturdy style. Out of all the Melissa & Doug sets, this strikes me as the best.
The Melissa & Doug set that seems to be the most popular for people who end up on this site to consider is the big Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Railway Train Set. At 130 pieces, it’s a lot of train set for the money. The layout seems heavily influenced by the classic Thomas Wooden Railway set that they had at every Barnes & Noble when my kiddo was a toddler. (Ah, the good old days.) The biggest problem with the set in my mind is the large amount of elevated track. It’s held up by narrow track risers with nothing to keep the tracks in place other than a small lip on either side. Those will fall over constantly. (If you do buy this set, you’ll want to read my posts about elevated tracks and temporary ways to secure train sets for ways to keep the elevated portions together during play.)
Finally, Melissa & Doug also make a Swivel Bridge Wooden Train Set (47 pcs). The swivel bridge seems gimmicky to me, because it’s not like it can connect to other train tracks, and a review I read noted that bridge can’t turn all the way around. So what would be the real life purpose of this thing?
Pottery Barn Kids Wooden Train Sets
I really wanted to like the Pottery Barn Kids train sets — after all, they look pretty in their staged photos. But I feel like the designers put all their efforts into making the sets look stylish for the catalogs, and not enough into the functionality or quality of the sets. However, one thing they do have going for their sets is that they don’t use much plastic at all in them, other than the wheels of the trains.
Our one and only PBK wooden train item in our original collection was a cute little firehouse that you could plug a wooden train track into. It had a button to push for some fire alarm sounds. But the paint was easily scratched, and the track connection was a tight fit and painted bright red, so it was hard to work with and also kept leaving red paint on our wooden train tracks. (I ended up wedging one of those rubberwood train tracks I talked about in the intro to this post into it permanently on purpose, to combine two annoyances into one.)
I didn’t want to base a review of the brand on one destination, though, so I got their 48 piece wooden train set to try out. It’s an okay train set, but I don’t think it’s worth the price, because it’s not premium quality by any means. The trains are blocky, and could have been sanded smoother before having their paint applied. The cow catcher on the front of the engine is attached off center, and it’s long enough to crash into the track at the bottom of the bridge if the tracks aren’t perfectly level. The paint on the freight car is either chipped or wasn’t applied properly around the edges. The track supports are just narrow wooden blocks with small lips on either side, and there was some kind of gummy glue stuck to the top of those. And all the accessories — the signs, the buildings, and the trees and bushes — were missing from our set. The glue and the missing accessories could have been a returns issue, so I’m going to try to see if they’ll let me exchange the set…it’s been a while since I bought it and added it to my review pile, so we’ll see.
Once you have your train set picked out, you’ll want to browse our Train Play archives for lots of ideas of what to do with them! You may want to read our Guide to Wooden Train Tracks for advice on expanding upon a basic train set as well. I also recommend signing up for our email newsletter to keep up with our new train ideas and activities as we post them.
A note on safety: Wooden train sets generally involve a fair range of choking hazards, especially when you’re dealing with freight for freight cars or other accessories. There is also the possibility of a magnet coming loose, although the only time we’ve had that problem in the past three years was on a Brio freight container when the plastic square concealing a magnet came loose. (We checked all the other freight containers and none of the others seemed to have the same problem.)
Most wooden train sets are rated for age two or three and up because of these dangers. Please take this into account when buying a trains set for your children, as well as their own stage of development when it comes to putting things in their mouths. We were fortunate that the Little Engineer was beyond the mouthing stage when he was only one year old, so we were able to buy wooden trains from the start of his interest in them. Even so, I did put a number of smaller pieces away until I was sure, and I always closely supervised him with his trains.
This guide will be expanded with time.
More Posts in the Ultimate Wooden Train Guide
- NEW! The Best Battery-Powered Wooden Trains
- The Best Wooden Train Sets: UK Edition
- The Best Wooden Train Tables for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Do You Need a Train Table?
- Alternatives to Gluing Wooden Train Tracks to Train Tables
- Wooden Train Tracks
- Bridges and Elevated Tracks
- Roundhouses and Engine Sheds
- Organizing Wooden Trains and Track
- Wooden Train Freight Cars
- …and more to come!