How to Make a Cardboard Train


Kids love playing in cardboard boxes! It ignites their creativity and gives them a place to call their own. The problem is, who buys something huge like a stove all the time?

I decided to make a cardboard train for my son’s birthday last year… yeah, it was probably too elaborate, but I had fun doing it. The kids would have had just as much fun if it was a plain brown box and they had the opportunity to draw on it!




How To Make the Cardboard Train

Get 4 used refrigerator boxes from a distribution warehouse. Usually the delivery people unpack the refrigerators and take the boxes with them to recycle, so the boxes are in pretty good shape. I used 2 boxes for the engine and 2 for the passenger car.

Join the pieces with paper tape. You can find paper tape at Blick Art Materials, your local art store, or click here to buy on Amazon. Paper tape is normally used to stretch watercolor paper, but is the best for this project because it’s thin and you can paint it. If you’ve never used it before all you have to do is cut it to the length you need, wet it (the back of the tape is like old fashioned stamps) and stick it. Then you let it dry for a little bit. It’s really strong and does not come apart unless you don’t let it dry all the way.

To make the passenger car stand both boxes upright and cut each one along one of the folds. This created two big flaps which can be opened and taped to the other box.

To make the engine stand one box upright for the back half and one box on it’s side for the rounded part. To round out cardboard you slice the top side with shallow cuts along the grooves the entire length of the box with a utility or mat knife. When you make these cuts, the top layer of the corrugated cardboard is cut but the bottom layer stays intact which keeps the shape.You don’t have to cut along every single groove; skip a few in between.


The more cuts you make along the radius, the more smooth the curve will be, but you don’t have to overdo it. After making the cuts you will find that you can bend the box to make the curve. You could use paper tape to cover the slits after you are done putting it together, but it’s not necessary. Then cut a hole in the tall box and use that piece for the front of the engine to form the box.

Finally, make the wheels using leftover boxes or cardboard. Again, use a utility knife to cut them out. To make the wheels perfect circles use this little trick… make a long cardboard strip, put a push pin on one side and made a hole on the opposite end big enough to poke a marker through. Then stick the push pin in the center of the cardboard and move the marker around to make the shape. Basically a huge homemade compass!

Paint the train with latex house paint. I thought about spray paint but that gets really expensive because of the size. It seems like regular paint is going to be too wet and make the cardboard wrinkle and get all wavy, but it didn’t- I used the cheapest stuff I could find at our local home improvement store. I ended up getting red, yellow and black and mixed the colors to save money.

You can of course paint the train however you would like… You can paint it to look like Thomas the Train made from cardboard boxes or a cardboard box Polar Express. Good luck and have fun!


Have you and your kids created something out of cardboard boxes? Inspire all of us by posting your pictures on the Kidlist Facebook page. Or tag us on Instagram!


More fun projects with cardboard:

Click here to find out how to make this cardboard robot.