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Giving My Handmade Christmas Train a Makeover

December 14, 2023

See how a handmade toy train is given a modern makeover for Christmas.

CHRISTMAS   |   Updated December 10, 2023

As a child, each year at Christmas time I would decorate a small tree for my bedroom.

I guess that may have been an early indicator of my love of design. The tree was about three feet tall and was a chance to personalize my space for the holidays.

I'd love to be able to know what my thoughts were back then as I placed the white angel on top of the tree. Did I step back and analyze the placement of ornaments on each branch as I do now? Was there a plan or style that I decided before starting the process? Or did I just use the items that I had to make my tree festive for the season?

One Christmas, my grandpa constructed a wood train for me to place under my decorated tree. I'm sure as a child, this little train or the effort that went into making it didn't mean much. But now as an adult who understands the creativity and work that goes into any DIY or craft, I appreciate it more.

A few years ago, there was a flood in my basement. Without realizing it, water somehow seeped into the plastic storage totes that were on the floor and it was quite awhile before the boxes were opened to find the damp items. I'll leave you to imagine the condition of what was found.

This train was one of the things that were in the box and while it wasn't permanently ruined, it was stained pink by some of other items in the box. It also had some spots of mold that had to be removed with bleach.

That left the train in a not-so-pretty condition (especially the caboose as you can see). After being packed away again for a few years, I decided to do a little makeover to it this Christmas and put it out to be seen again.

In some ways I felt bad about painting over the finish my grandpa had put on the train. But the craftsmanship of the train was not in the paint. It was in the creation and building of the train and that was not altered.

And I think that my grandpa would be happier knowing that this heirloom is still being used and loved even if it doesn't look exactly like when he gave it to me.

If you'd like to try a DIY like this for yourself, you could buy a new toy train set and add some craft store wood letters to the sides.

Before starting the painting process, I sanded the edges of the train to reveal some bare wood.

I painted the train cars in Lamp White Fusion Mineral paint. It is a white color with just a hint of gray....a bit different than the bright white on the original train, but more my style. Then I painted the NOEL letters red and wheels in Ash (also Fusion Mineral paint).

Without letting the paint dry for long, I then sanded in places to distress the paint and get back down to the bare wood.

You may have seen this train around the base of a tree in my entryway during my Christmas tour. It is a little different than it once was, but much like my Santa picture and making Sour Cream Cookies, it is another memory of Christmas that I have this holiday.

In our current times, the true meaning of a gift is sometimes lost during the Christmas season.

We have a list of people we are expected to buy for and spend a certain amount of money on. We often buy gift cards because the people we are shopping for do not like what is purchased. A lot of the time, people go out and buy generic gifts like candles to give to everyone on their list just to be done.

And then the day after Christmas comes and many of the gifts that were given to us go back to the store.

But this train was a true gift.

It wasn't anything I asked Santa for, begged to be purchased at a store, or actually needed. It was something that my grandfather thought I might like and he used the skills and time he had to create it. It wasn't given to me with the expectation of anything to be given in return.

Isn't it nice to imagine someone dreaming up a project out of love and creating it to give just because? No gift in return necessary.

As we get closer to that day of gift giving and time spent with family and friends, have you taken the time to share something out of love with no expectations in return? Even if it is just taking a plate of cookies to someone who might enjoy them, the smallest gesture can sometimes mean the world to someone else.

Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your day with me today. I hope that this holiday, my personal stories have helped you to reflect on your own past and the current holiday season, too.

More Christmas DIY Projects to Try

DIY GOLD BEAD GARLAND - Give a simple antique inspired makeover to your old discarded Christmas beads


NO-SEW TABLE RUNNER - Great for your Christmas table or make a few to give away as gifts!

DIY CLAY CANDY CANES - Perfect for any style home

HAND PAINTED CHRISTMAS PILLOW - Learn how to transform a basic neutral pillow into a holiday keepsake.

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anderson+grant is a lifestyle blog dedicated to helping you to create a slower, simpler home with contemporary style.



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