When I was seven or eight years old I received a wooden train set for Christmas. I loved it. I enjoyed building elaborate track structures and figuring out new designs. Playing with the train cars and driving them around the track was a blast. Recently I reclaimed the train set from storage at my parents house and gave it to my son.
There are a lot of different brands of wooden train sets. The one I owned and passed onto my son was a Brio starter set. Over the years track had been added from other sets found at yard sales or purchased at the store. When you are looking for a wooden train set there are several things you need to consider.
Brand Name vs Generic
Many people will tell you that you need to stick with Brio brand trains. I disagree with this. It is true that Brio train sets are high quality but there are plenty of Brio compatible train sets out there that are perfectly fine.
The area that I see most of the Brio compatible train sets lacking is consistency. Pieces do not always fit together easily. I do not like having to force two pieces together because I will probably then have to struggle to get them apart. Brio does not seem to have this problem.
I would recommend that if you are going to a Brio compatible train set I would take a piece of Brio track with you and test out several pieces from the set. This will give you a pretty good idea on how well the track will mix with other sets.
Maple vs Pine Train Pieces
Another thing to consider is what type of wood the track is made out of. For the most part there is two choices Maple and Pine. I recently decided that we needed some more curved track pieces because we kept running out while making elaborate track designs. I headed down to the local store that I knew sold train track ala cart. When I picked them up off the shelf I noticed that they were pine instead of maple. I shrugged this off and checked out.
Within 2 months of purchasing the 8 new curves 4 had already broken. My son is not extremely rough with them, but he is 3 years old. He would pick up several pieces of track while they were connected and the strain put on the joints would stress the pine pieces and eventually they broke around the connection hole.
Pine track tends to be cheaper than Maple, but I won’t be purchasing Pine track pieces for my set anymore. They just are not able to stand up to normal kid play. The price difference does not make up for the quality/strength differential.
One thing to avoid when purchasing train sets are ones that have plastic connectors. One set that was found at a yard sale and added to our track had track pieces with holes at both ends and used plastic connectors to join two pieces of track. When I first saw this I thought it was great because you never run into the spot where you have two “male” or two “female” ends of track that you need to join. The problem is that the plastic pieces just do not last. They cannot stand up to prolonged use. Once they break you are stuck with a bunch of track that cannot connect to anything without purchasing more plastic connectors that will just break when used.
I have completely enjoyed playing with my son and watching him build tracks. I have become convinced that every child needs to have a wooden train set. I love to watch my son figure out how to connect two lengths of track. I can see his problem solving skills as he determines the best way to to get from here to there on his train. Having a train set also makes gifting easy. There are countless add-ons that can be purchased and added to your set to make it more personal.
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