Trains are something that most little kids enjoy. The little wooden tracks with the magnetic trains are also great for their cognitive development, as it helps work on all of their motor skills. Fine for putting the pieces together and gross for pushing the trains along the track. Thomas is typically the set thought of when considering wooden train sets, but there are many different brands. Since Thomas tends to be rather expensive, it’s a reasonable question to ask if other brands of tracks are compatible with one another so that a larger collection can be made.
Not all wooden train tracks are compatible with one another as the link pieces are sometimes different, as well as the length of the pieces might not quite be the same between different sets. However, most sets can at least be used together if there isn’t a need to be perfect.
The love of trains doesn’t have to stop at the end of toddlerdom, and many adults find plenty of joy in all sorts of model train sets. That just makes the wooden ones perfect for some good bonding time with the little ones. Keep reading to learn more about wooden train tracks and their compatibility with one another.
How Important is Compatibility with Wooden Train Tracks?
How important the compatibility for the wooden train track sets are depends on the person. If it’s just something to entertain small children, it doesn’t matter much as long as the pieces vaguely fit together. They are not going for things that work or look perfect, they’re going for something that’s fun.
Children slightly older, with certain conditions or preferences on the other hand might desire perfect uniformity and aesthetics with the train set. In that case, the compatibility matters quite a bit. Adult collectors and enthusiasts might also prefer perfectly compatible pieces as well.
How are Different Wooden Train Tracks Different?
Wooden train tracks tend to be pretty close in general. However, they aren’t always perfect matches, which is why if it’s super important to have matching pieces to probably stick with the same brand.
Here are some ways that different brands of wooden train tracks are different:
- Connecting nibs are different
- Length of the pieces are different, so they won’t line up quite right when used together
- Different finishes
- Different gauges in the tracks
Additionally, any custom-made wooden train tracks can be significantly different based on the person making them, their goals, needs, and materials used.
Can You Mix Plastic and Wooden Train Track Sets?
Technically it is possible to mix plastic and wooden train track sets if they are similar enough, but they also tend to not hold together well. They also tend to not actually fit without some serious elbow grease, if at all. Therefore, it is usually recommended to keep plastic sets and wooden sets separate.
Some companies have the odd plastic piece that goes with their sets, or plastic parts that are attached to the wooden tracks, especially for bridges. Some of these work great, while others can be pretty fiddly or awkward. Totally plastic parts usually only want to connect well with others from the same set though.
Are Wooden or Plastic Train Track Sets Better?
For the most part, wooden train sets are considered better than their plastic counterparts. They’re less fiddly, more environmentally friendly, typically have a standard size, and hold up better long term. They also tend to have a lot more availability and compatibility with one another, unlike their plastic counterparts. Additionally, they’re far safer for curious little mouths.
However, plastic train sets are a lot easier to clean and don’t risk splintering if they’re one of the cheaper kinds made out of softer wood. Plastic ones also come in many more colors and don’t risk having toxic lead paint like some older wooden train sets.
Some sets even blend the two materials. This can get pretty fiddly, and it’s typically considered not a great idea from enthusiasts. Plastic and wooden parts don’t always go together well and are harder to find compatible parts that will suit each other than just sticking with a standard.
Do You Need a Table for Wooden Train Sets?
Some of the major companies sell fancy tables to go with their train sets. These are usually pretty small, so they aren’t great for large collections. In this case, using the floor or another surface is completely acceptable, and probably what’s going to be done anyway. So no, a table is not absolutely necessary for a wooden train set. They are cool though.
Another option rather than a table are those large rugs with cute city patterns on them. There also are a few that are designed with a train theme to encourage use with train sets. These make good options for those with larger sets and who want to have a designated place for children to play with them rather than all over the living room.
How Easy are Wooden Train Tracks to Clean?
Wooden train tracks are a little more of a pain to clean than plastic ones. Wooden tracks can’t be soaked in liquids for example, otherwise they’ll swell, crack, and splinter. This also makes them prone to staining. However, wooden toys are also less affected by germs since they are naturally more antibacterial than plastic. They should still be wiped down on occasion and allowed to air dry. Just don’t use harsh chemicals on them since they will soak up a little and risk transferring to tiny mouths.
How to Care for Wooden Train Tracks
If taken care of properly, wooden train tracks can last a long time. So long in fact that they can end up being passed down multiple generations! Many people have fond memories of playing with wooden train sets, at school, home, or just in those kiddie nooks at bookstores and libraries. However, it’s important to remember that young children explore the world with their mouths, so they need a little extra attention compared to some other things that get passed down through the ages.
Here are some tips on cleaning and caring for wooden train tracks:
- Keep them dry. Either when storing them or after cleaning, wood needs to be stored somewhere good and dry.
- Avoid extreme temperatures. Wood will grow or shrink in extreme temperatures, which can damage them.
- Never soak them in water. Wood is porous, meaning it can absorb water and other liquids. This will inevitably damage them.
- A warm, damp cloth is sufficient for basic cleaning. Wood is naturally antibacterial, so a simple wipe down on occasion is sufficient in most cleaning instances.
- Using a mild soap to help sterilize is fine. Especially if the tracks or their accessories are frequent visitors to mouth central station, they’re going to need some sterilization once in a while. Gentle soaps that are non-toxic and rinsing well with a sponge helps clean them, especially if they are painted or varnished.
- Diluted vinegar is a great natural disinfectant. Either white or apple cider is fine. Just wipe the tracks with it on a cloth and let them air dry.
- Olive oil can help polish them. Olive oil helps nourish and restore the natural shine of wood and is safe to use on wooden toys. It doesn’t need a lot or to be done frequently but can help keep the tracks and their accessories in great shape for many years.
- Never use harsh cleaning products on them. These toys are likely to end up in a mouth from time to time. Don’t use harsh chemicals such as bleach, Lysol, or other cleaning products on them. Other methods listed above are much better, safer options.
Basically, caring for wooden train tracks is just like caring for any other wooden toy. Therefore, all of these tips are also useful in caring for all of the accessories they have too.
How to Store Wooden Train Tracks
The biggest thing when storing wooden train tracks, either for short or long term, is to make sure they stay dry. For short term storage, there are limitless fun ways to store them.
Here are some ideas for storing wooden train tracks short term:
- Plastic containers
- Train tables that have storage underneath the tabletop
- Organized baskets or bins
- Storage bins that fit under beds
- Specialized storage containers by the company
- On their own shelf
For long term storage, putting them in a tote usually works fine. If living in a particularly humid area, consider storing them in a sealed plastic bag first to double up the likelihood they won’t get damp, or put some moisture packets near them so the wood doesn’t absorb more humidity than necessary.
Is it Worth Getting Different Kinds of Wooden Train Tracks?
It is absolutely worth mixing and matching different brands of wooden train tracks. Some brands have unique pieces, switches, turnouts, and other additions. Some of them even come with extra things to go around the tracks like little people, blocks, or buildings which just adds to the cute uniqueness.
However, might be an issue is when someone is really interested in having seamless pieces and the same aesthetic throughout their collection. Additionally, some older pieces tried some methods that made them not as compatible with one another, like when Ikea’s Lillabo set had plastic connectors instead of wooden.
How Do I Know if a Wooden Train Track Set is Compatible with Another One?
Chances are that if a track looks similar, it will probably be similar enough to at least fit together. That doesn’t always mean that they will be perfectly aligned, but they will probably work. To be precise, all compatible tracks have the same broad connections and track gauges at roughly 3mm deep and 5mm wide with a 20mm gap between. These are the most common measurements, so if that’s on point, the tracks will definitely go together. Check the packaging to find out if they are a standard size compatible with most major brands.
Steer clear of ones with plastic joints though. These tend to not fit together well, end up losing the nib, or simply not fit other types of tracks well. It’s also a bit finicky trying to get plastic pieces to work with a wooden track in general, so try to stick with solid wood if possible for the track itself.
What are Some Compatible Wooden Train Tracks?
The good news is that most suppliers of wooden train tracks make near identical pieces. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it does help make things a little easier. Most packages will state if they are compatible with other common sets.
Here are a few brands of wooden train tracks that are compatible with one another:
- Thomas & Friends
- Melissa and Doug
Some other brands have trains that work together but not tracks, or vice versa. For example, Chuggington trains are too big to fit underneath bridges and in tunnels. The Interactive Chuggington trains will fit on the tracks at least, so there is that.
Are Ikea’s Lillabo Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Ikea’s Lillabo wooden train tracks are a point of contention for collectors of wooden train sets. They used to be made with plastic connectors which would fall out and not connect well with other pieces. More recently, they tend to work a little bit better for many sets. Unfortunately, they are still off by just enough from the most popular pieces to have them be either hit or miss.
Are Brio Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Brio is one of the most famous wooden train set suppliers, having been making them for a century. All of their parts are fully compatible with one another and most other major brands as a result. They even use the same track system as Thomas & Friends, making it even easier to mix and match pieces. They have the biggest compatibility issues with Ikea’s sets and Chuggington.
Are Chuggington Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
While Chuggington is a newer hit amongst children, their pieces should really be left to themselves. While the trains sort of fit in the tracks, they are much larger than the standard models most other brands have. That means that they don’t fit well under bridges, in tunnels, or in other pieces well. Their tracks also tend to not link up very well with other sets. It would be fine for young children who basically don’t use the tracks anyway, but that’s about it.
Are Thomas & Friends Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Thomas & Friends is the gold standard for wooden train tracks. They are essentially what most other brands attempt to emulate when it comes to their tracks. Even their Trackmaster set has massive compatibility with others, though it can get a little finicky on the uphill sometimes depending on the other brand.
Are Bigjigs Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Bigjigs tracks are fully compatible with most other brands, and even blends seamlessly with Brio sets. These are fabulous options for mixing in, and even comes with some nice accessories that are also seamlessly compatible. They are excellent options for expanding the collection.
Are Lidl Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Lidl is another brand with high compatibility with other wooden train track sets. They use the standard gauge and sizing, so they work exceptionally well. They also come in similar packaging to the popular brand Brio to help make it clear that they can both be used together.
Are Melissa and Doug Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Melissa and Doug have some beautiful pieces and accessories, all of which can go together well with other wooden train tracks. They also have different vehicles that can go on the tracks too and some other themes rather than just trains, which can make for some really interesting collections.
Are Hape Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Hape tracks work rather well with other wooden train track sets. However, they do have a lot of fiddly plastic pieces in addition to their wooden parts that might not always connect well to parts that aren’t their own and their bridges tend to need specific pieces next to them or they sit awkwardly.
Are Imaginarium Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
For some gorgeous finish and high-quality wooden train tracks, Imaginarium are a must. They are excellent pieces with great compatibility with most other wooden train track sets. They also have a ton of lovely accessories and some unique pieces that fit together great with themselves and other sets.
Are ELC Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
ELC is a relatively popular and cheap option for wooden train track sets in the UK. They are pretty compatible with other sets, with the most noticeable thing being that their bridges are less fiddly than some other brands. They also have some nice hills and tunnels. The trains and accessories however are a bit lacking compared to other brands though.
Are Tiny Land Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Tiny Land tracks are one of those brands that are hit or miss. They do tend to work nicely with Chuggington tracks, which is not something all others can say. Smaller trains tend to sit a little awkwardly on the tracks and the plastic bits on some of the pieces are not always sturdy.
Are Eichhorn Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Another British brand of wooden train tracks is Eichhorn. Their wooden pieces tend to be compatible with other train track sets, but many of them also include plastic parts. These plastic parts are awkward and often have uneven gauges in the tracks. Their accessories are also pretty flimsy compared to some other brands.
Are KidKraft Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
KidKraft has some cute pieces in their train sets. The tracks themselves are compatible with most other wooden train tracks too. Their accessories, including the trains, tend to have a lot of plastic, but the tracks themselves are nice. The tunnels are usually painted on the sides too, so they make nice additions to a set.
Are Maxim Tracks Compatible with Other Wooden Train Track Sets?
Maxim has something going for it that most other wooden train sets don’t have: flat bridges. While they do have some of the raised bridges, they also have a good selection of implied bridges that are flat to connect with other basic parts instead of being more complicated. It’s one time that the little plastic details aren’t much of a detriment. They also work great with other sets and are made from solid hardwood, so they hold up well.
Wooden train sets are iconic, classic toys that children have loved for generations. They’re great for developing motor skills in younger children and fostering creativity in older ones. They’re also sturdy with lots of life in them, to the point they are common toys handed down throughout the generations. This is especially true if they are well taken care of and then stored in a dry place.
While most wooden train sets are compatible with one another, not all of them are. Be sure to always check the packaging to ensure that they are made using standard measurements. Finding ones that specifically state that they are compatible with Thomas & Friends and/or Brio is usually a good indicator of this as these are two of the most popular brands for wooden train sets.