WoodenToyTrainFilter: What is the difference between all the different brands of wooden toy trains?
June 18, 2011 10:02 PM   Subscribe

WoodenToyTrainFilter: What is the difference between all the different brands of wooden toy trains? Are some significantly higher quality than others?

Today I bought a wooden toy train set at Ikea for my almost-3-year-old. I've been shopping wooden toy trains for a little while now but the Ikea set was kind of an impulse buy. It actually turned out be pretty nice and lots of fun.

So what really is the difference between different wooden train brands? I know most of them are supposed to be "compatible", but are the expensive Brio and Thomas, etc. sets worth the big difference in price (character licensing aside - my kid isn't character-obsessed)? Do the tracks work better or are of better quality? Do the cheaper ones "derail" more easily or something like that?

I found the wikipedia page to be a good reference but am interested in first hand experience from other parents, as my kid seems to be getting really into these.
posted by kenliu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Brio and Ikea are sort of compatible but not really. You really have to push them together.

The Brio trains are slightly better quality than Ikea. Thomas are the best quality, based on my experience at the store.

If you're going to go all out and do a train table, I'd get a Thomas set. Even if you (and me) don't dig the character tie in, the quality is worth it.

A fullset appears on my neighborhood parenting list serv every few weeks.

The Ikea set is working for us (2.5 year old boy), although we got the recent add on set. But when my kid goes to the toy store and plays with a great train table, it is beautiful. If we had more room, we'd buy a set or do the Ikea train table hack.
posted by k8t at 10:16 PM on June 18, 2011

Best answer: My kid had a mix of Thomas trains & tracks, and also the two different Ikea sets (that were available several years ago, don't know if they still are). The only real difference is that with the "fancy" Thomas tracks there was just such a wide variety of shapes and configurations. My kid got really into it, and we would have gigantic assemblages all across the house, and it was just more thrilling with the various combinations.

But the Ikea tracks and trains were all high quality and have lasted for years and years.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:18 PM on June 18, 2011

Oh and Melissa and Doug, my go to for cheap wooden toys, is, as usual, sort of so-so quality. Might be good for accessories, but not the primary train tracks or train.
posted by k8t at 10:19 PM on June 18, 2011

You could go the whole other direction and do an ImaginNext train. According to various parenting blogs/Facebook groups that I read, these are really great. We bought one on sale but it was too big for our playroom.

We saw a Tomy brand electric toddler train set the other day at a friends and I was pretty impressed.
posted by k8t at 10:21 PM on June 18, 2011

Best answer: We live the ikea brand and it does fit with rhe Thomas brand. A word of advice I was given....buy a few of the Thomas brand bendy tracks as it makes the ikea set a lot easier to complate. It's about $20 each but well worth it. And offsets the savings made but nit getting exclusively Thomas tracks.
posted by taff at 10:29 PM on June 18, 2011

Mathowie had a blog post about his somewhere...I googled the ikea train tracks and his blog came up. I did this because there was a piece of the ikea set that I couldn't understand what to do with. It's not track and it's not tunnel...it's almost a block. Maybe it's a pylon of some kind...beware of it, it's perplexing!
posted by taff at 10:32 PM on June 18, 2011

I apologise for my previous spelling errors. iPhone.
posted by taff at 10:33 PM on June 18, 2011

Response by poster: Great answers folks. Re: quality - could you please be specific about the differences?
posted by kenliu at 10:39 PM on June 18, 2011

I am not familiar with the Ikea trains, but in my experience the Brio are worth it. Some ways they're better than various cheaper brands I've encountered: their connectors fit together well and easily and consistently without forcing, and they have grooves on both sides of the curved pieces so that you have more flexibility when you're setting up the track. It reduces frustration. They're also more durable than some less-expensive trains we were given as a gift; they seem like you could really hand them down to another batch of kids.
posted by not that girl at 11:07 PM on June 18, 2011

Best answer: Not that girl is quite correct. Brio is just beautiful. But, in my opinion, not justifiable new. Second hand, possibly. The quality difference is obvious. Really obvious. But only to an adult. To kids, not at all.

If you've got loads of dosh and want heirloom quality...Brio all the
way. Otherwise, many folk combine Thomas and Ikea...and I bet it will last. Just not as gorgie.
posted by taff at 12:04 AM on June 19, 2011

In our area, the Thomas sets are everywhere so that's what we went with; the Melissa and Doug are a much better value in my book but harder to find. I have seen no one that sells Brio in my area; they have been supplanted by Thomas in most places. There are a few stores and offices that still have Brio sets out for kids to play with in waiting rooms and such but I don't know where they got them other than online.

Having said that, the differences in quality are probably not that big a deal. Our daughter is 6 and after four years she is playing with her trains less and less. So any wooden train set will likely last that long unless you child is unusually destructive, although I can see the plastic ones falling apart more quickly.
posted by TedW at 3:22 AM on June 19, 2011

Best answer: I just went upstairs and looked: we have Brio, Thomas, Ikea, and Melissa and Doug, as well as some generic "brio-compatible" track I bought on eBay. We also have the Toys R Us Imaginarium table, roundhouse, and the bulk of our track is Imaginarium.

The Ikea track isn't truly compatible with the other track, but you can force it.

The Imaginarium track is fine. However, we've had some issues with the table and some of the buildings. The handle has permanently come away from one of the drawers, and two of the building's have had their roofs come off. But, for the price (we didn't pay the retail the website currently shows, I think we paid $100 for the set) it's done very well. My son doesn't play with the train that came with it - he vastly prefers the Thomas trains, and makes up tons of stories with them (many of which involve big crashes).

In terms of quality, I find that the Thomas, M&D, and Brio stuff is all comparable. There are visual differences in their track, and I do find the actual Thomas and Brio branded track feels much sturdier in the hand, but for practical purposes there isn't a difference - we've only ever had one bit of track break, and that was because an adult stepped on it.

My suggestion: Spend the money on the Thomas/Brio trains. Get an inexpensive table, and inexpensive track. You'll be fine.
posted by anastasiav at 5:12 AM on June 19, 2011

Best answer: We have a seriously train-obsessed three year old and we have a huge amount of track- some passed down from older cousins, some new, a mix of just about every brand out there. I got a box of track at Target that was branded "Circo" but I'm pretty sure it was Brio manufactured. That, and the Thomas track, have been great. I've had good luck finding really interesting connector pieces on Amazon, but will warn you away from the stuff made by Mesko, because the tracks are only on one side (cheap) which can create frustration when trying to get something to fit.

Some of the older track that we inherited (have no idea where it came from) has smaller connectors than the current Thomas/Brio track- we just got out the power drill and made the female end of each track piece a skosh larger, and that made them fit more easily.

It was suggested to me by another mom that Costco has a great train table- we don't use one- we either put it on the coffee table, or (usually) it sprawls all over the floor. A train table would have taken up a lot of space we don't really have to spare.

In addition to the older track, we also inherited a bunch of those alphabet letter trains for making words. Those work fine on the tracks, but they are too tall to fit through any of the tunnels that we have, so that's another thing to watch out for.
posted by ambrosia at 7:24 AM on June 19, 2011

We are very happy with our Imaginarium set-table, tracks, buildings and trains were all $100 on sale. Our kiddo loves it, and our daycare has one that gets heavy use and has held up well. O can't imagine Thomas being worth the huge difference in cost.
posted by purenitrous at 3:29 PM on June 19, 2011

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