Over the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about wooden trains. One of my favorite things is the wooden track. It’s beautiful, it feels real and solid (too rare with toys these days), and it presents both an intellectual puzzle and a creative opportunity. I love that building train layouts can be an enjoyable challenge to both myself and the Little Engineer. In this first installment in our Ultimate Wooden Train Guide, I share the knowledge I’ve gained through experience with many brands of wooden train tracks, including product recommendations and answers to frequently asked questions.
Last Updated: February 9th, 2017
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Posts in the Ultimate Wooden Train Guide:
Wooden Train Sets
If you’re interested in purchasing a wooden train set — and I recommend this as a good way to start a collection, or to add more track and new and interesting features to an existing train set — please take a look at the Play Trains! Guide to the Best Wooden Train Sets, where I’ve broken down the current options I recommend by brand.
Wooden Train Track – Recommended Brands
We’ve grown our track collection over time, mostly buying specific pieces as we’ve started feeling a need for them. Fortunately, there are a number of brands that make great track for good prices. Back when I was actively growing our collection, I generally aimed for basic straight, curved, and connector track to cost from $1.50 to $2 US a piece, although large switch tracks and very long straight tracks of course always cost more per piece than that.
Note: with many of the budget brands of track, you may want to take a piece of sandpaper and sand down any rough cuts. These especially occur when the saws are cutting curves across the grain of the wood, so check curves, switch tracks, and the ends of tracks for anything that looks rough, splintery, or sharp.
Click on the name of each brand to be taken to a search on Amazon for their wooden train tracks.
- Thomas Wooden Railway: While Thomas track is my favorite by far — at least back when it was being made by Learning Curve — I’ve rarely seen their track expansion packs for reasonable prices, and so generally we only get Thomas track in train sets. I’ve heard that the quality of the Thomas tracks may not be as consistent as it once was now that it’s made by Fisher Price, but I haven’t bought a full Thomas train set recently, so I can’t say if that’s true or not.
- Chuggington: Chuggington and Thomas Wooden Railway used to be made by the same companies, so Chuggington track is similar in quality to Thomas track, just with a different railroad tie design on the tracks. As I’m typing this (12/4/15), their track sets are being sold for very good prices on Amazon, but this may be a limited-time deal. Either way, I would recommend these tracks if you can get them for a good price.
- Brio: Brio makes good track, although I like the feel of the Thomas track better. We’ve only ever bought Brio track as part of a set as well, but they do offer different packs of track. They seem a bit on the expensive side to me, though.
- Melissa and Doug: I’m often asked what I think of M&D train sets, especially because they are not included on our Best Wooden Train Sets list. While I’m hesitant to speak to the quality of the trains and accessories because we don’t own any, I can say that M&D does make good train track, and they sell single types of track in six-packs that tend to be a good value.
- Bigjigs Rail: Bigjigs has some really well-priced tracks for you to consider. Their set of two T junction tracks is notable both for being not much more expensive than it usually is to buy one of these junctions and for have two male connectors instead of only one (or none) like T junctions usually have. They also make some fun tracks, like their freely-curving Crazy Track (similar to the old Thomas-brand Wacky Track) and their Wavy Track. They also offer the least expensive option I know of for buffers/bumpers in their pack of 6 track buffers, though the design is bare bones in comparison to the pack of four track bumpers from Orbrium Toys.
- Conductor Carl: Recently, I finally ordered a box of bulk Conductor Carl track to try out. I’m very impressed! The quality is great for the price. And this is the track you want if you’re going to any sort of DIY project painting the tracks, because all of the male/plug connectors are cut out as part of the wooden track, rather than added as plastic plugs — even on the switch tracks! ETA (2/9/17): I opened a new box of these, and they look great! Whatever production issue they had with the sets I got late last year seems to have been resolved. Hooray!
- Jesse’s Toy Box: This is another brand of track I recommend. It’s a good value, but the availability and variety is currently somewhat limited.
- Ikea track: The track in Ikea train sets works well enough, but there are some compatibility issues with other brands of track (see below). Also, the range of track pieces is limited, and the bridges that come in the sets are too low for trains from most other brands to go under. That said, it’s an inexpensive option.
- Nuchi: This used to be our choice for expanding our track collection, but it now appears to be generally unavailable. However, if you can pick some up secondhand, I recommend it. They made good wooden tracks.
- Maxim: A budget brand of train sets and track, Maxim does offer a pretty wide selection of wooden track. While it would not be my first choice for quality, Maxim does sell several switches and other interesting tracks that you may have a hard time finding elsewhere, so it’s worth a look.
- Maple Landmark: If you’re looking for wooden train tracks that are made in the USA, here you go. These look beautiful, and I’ve read rave reviews about their quality, so if you’re willing to pay a little more for the right track, this could be it.
- Orbrium Toys: Here’s another lesser known but reasonable wooden track brand. The standout purchase here is their set of 8 Male-Male Female-Female Train Track Adapters, something every wooden train set eventually needs. However, I’m not recommending their track as enthusiastically as I was before after ordering a full box of track to review. The male-male and female-female adapters we ordered before were great, but there’s a great deal of inconsistency within the big box. But I think the track is workable if the price is right (see my note about sanding tracks above).
- A reader recently reminded me of the Choo Choo Track and Toy Co., which makes their wooden train tracks here in the USA. They have a couple of rare track types worth mentioning: 12-inch curve tracks (they form a circle with a 30-inch diameter) and a 12-inch “wiggle track” (similar to the wavy track above, but with more curves). I’m ordering some soon to try out.
- Mesko Toys has been another place to buy unusual wooden tracks. Unfortunately, they’ve stopped producing their wooden track line so they’re sold out of many things, but it’s still worth a look if you’re as into building wooden train layouts as we are.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wooden Train Track:
What brands of wooden train tracks work together? In our experience, Brio, Thomas, Chuggington, Nuchi, Bigjigs, Jesse’s Toy Box, Orbium, Conductor Carl, Melissa and Doug, and Imaginarium track all work well together. The connectors on Ikea track make it a very tight fit with other brands, sometimes too tight to work. I have, however, used Ikea tracks on purpose when I needed two tracks to stay together well. The old-style wooden Plan Toys track never fit well with our other tracks; I haven’t had a chance to test their new pressed tracks, so they may be better.
Is it better to stick to one brand of track, or build a collection from several different brands? I love having a range of brands to work with, and this is why: there are subtle differences in the lengths of each brand version of a type of track. Why is this a positive thing? Well, when you’re trying to make a complicated layout, often you need that last track to be just a little bit longer or shorter to make the whole thing work. Thomas tracks tend to be shorter than other brands, so if I need a track to be shorter, I dig through and find a Thomas track. If I need a track to be longer, I replace Thomas tracks with other brands.
Are Trackmaster and Take’n’Play trains compatible with wooden train tracks? Trackmaster trains’ wheels are the same gauge (width) as wooden trains, so they will run on wooden tracks. However, they can’t take the tighter curves under their own power without derailing, and they won’t go up the bridges. Take’n’Play trains are too narrow to run on wooden train tracks.
Are wooden trains compatible with Trackmaster and Take’n’Play tracks? Yes! Wooden trains fit on Trackmaster tracks, and Take’n’Play tracks seem to be intentionally made to be wide enough for wooden trains because they are actually too wide for the trains they’re made for. However, both of these tracks are much harder to work with when building a train set. Take’n’Play tracks tend to fall apart often, and neither kind of track has the flexibility that comes from the wooden tracks being able to shift from side to side and up and down at their connections. And there’s just a lot less variety in the tracks that you can get for these lines of trains. On the other hand, I like having some of these plastic tracks around for activities where the tracks might get messy or wet.