My kids love their little Matchbox and Hot Wheels Cars – much like all little kids and toddlers. One day my little boy started making small ‘tunnels’ and garages out of his Megablocks. I thought, why not try to make a little toy car garage out of some plywood? I had some sitting around that I wasn’t using for any upcoming projects. And I figured it would be a great little Father and Son bonding experience. He is now 4 years old, and can at least handle a saw. Maybe he doesn’t use it well, but he does have the general idea.
So, I needed to make a design (the plans are available free further down the article). I just started sketching what normal service stations look like, and came up with a few ideas. I also saw some toy car parks with ramps, and I figured I would incorporate some of those elements into it.
The main features I wanted was multiple ‘bays’ to hold cars, like a real garage or service station. I also wanted it to have a ramp because, hey – these are toy cars. A tunnel of some kind would be a good feature too, as it would just add more things to do. I hadn’t given too much though to the tunnel, but during the build I figured why not make a ‘car wash’ for the matchbox cars to go though.
Also – I made a video showing all the key steps for making the Toy Car Garage. It is at the bottom of the article, so have a look. Somethings are easier to show rather than explain!
The final design of The Matchbox Car Garage from Plywood
The base design is a two-bay service station, with a 3rd garage around the side. It has a short ramp that little matchbox cars can drive up, and park on top. Perhaps a more efficient use of space that Jiffy-Lube could incorporate for urban locations? Anyway, with my basic sketch it was time to determine the specific dimensions of the pieces. I need it to fit most Matchbox/Hot Wheel cars, and assuming they are standard sized, I measured several to get their length, width and height.
When I started putting pencil to paper and started looking at the size of the pieces I had a great idea. What if I could build this toy car garage using only a Two-foot by two-foot sheet of plywood? I had a 2′ x 4′ piece in my basement that wasn’t marked for a project, so I could use that. But, you can buy 2’x2′ sheets of plywood from most big box stores for around $10.
Tools and Materials
So, if you are reading this and want to build the same garage I made, or make a design of your own, you will need some tools. Below is a list of tools and materials I used in this project;
- 2′ x 2′ sheet of plywood, 3/8″ thick (60 cm x 60 cm x 9mm)
- Gorilla Glue Construction Adhesive
- KIllz Latex White Primer/painter (I had mine on-hand already)
- Gray Latex Interior/Exterior paint (Again, on hand already)
- Red paint, Acrylic
- Blue paint, Acrylic
- Yellow Paint, Acrylic
- White Sharpie paint pen with a fine point (for the lettering)
- A single use plastic bag (to make the curtain for the Car Wash)
The following tools are what I used to construct this toy car garage. If you have access to some power tools, like a jig-saw, table saw, or band saw you can save a lot of time. But, using hand tools isn’t the end of the world. Plus, I like having my kids learn on hand tools.
- Japanese pull saw. These are really handy to have around. They cut on the pull stroke, which makes controlling the saw much easier when you are in somewhat awkward positions. The one I use is really cheap on Amazon. I had previously bought one from Lowes for $20. But Amazon is now selling it for $15.
- Coping Saw. A coping saw is an inexpensive saw that allows you to make turning cuts. Kind of like a manual scroll saw. This is basically the same one I use in the video. It is cheap, and gets the job done.
- Back Saw. Also known as a dovetail saw, I used this for cutting out the car port holes. I wanted to have the best control I could have, and this can provide it. I use mine for cutting dovetails, and any other fine or precise work. I’ve owned my Zona dovetail saw for about a year, and am really happy with it. They are really cheap too. You can generally get them on Amazon for less than $15.
- Tape measure
- Clamps. If you don’t own any clamps, fear not! They are available really cheap from Amazon or Walmart. Just don’t squeeze them too hard, as these quick-release bar clamps aren’t exactly heavy duty. The Irwin brand is better than the Walmart / knock-off brand. You can use bigger clamps in place of smaller ones too, like substituting a 18″ clamp for a 6″ clamp. I would suggest having at least four 6″ clamps and a few 4″ clamps on hand for this project.
- Speed Square or square
- Combination Square. Combination squares are extremely handy. They allow you to set precise measurements and layout cut lines in just about any situation. I used one when attaching granite to an old wooden table. By setting the depth, I could use it as a quick and dirty gauge that allowed me to perfectly center the granite. No guessing, just very precise. The cost around $10-$15 typically.
- Sand Paper (80 grit)
- Hand Plane or Block Plane (optional)
- Work bench or saw horses. I mainly used a Black and Decker Workmate for cutting pieces from the large sheet of plywood. Black and Decker workmates aren’t just a bench though, they are also a vise. So, if you don’t have a vise, or a workbench they are a good investment. Plus, you can fold them up so they don’t take up much space. You can get a decent sized one for around $100.
- Paint Brushes
How to Build the Toy Car Garage
1 – Layout your cuts. Use your tape measure and squares to draw out all of your cut lines. Remember, you need to account for the width of the cuts! What I mean is that if you need to boards 3″ wide, don’t just measure out 3″ twice beside each other. The line that you cut in between them will actually shorten the width by a small amount. This will generally result in the boards not being equal width.
But, below are some small images of the cut list. Just click on it and the picture will open into a new window. You can then save/print it out.
There are some parts that are missing from my cut list. For the white barrier pieces I glued to the roof, I just cut them from the left over plywood. So, no measurements. I just cut 3/8″ wide strips, then cut them to length based on the final dimensions. Also, I made a little gas pump. To do that, I used a couple of scrap ‘border pieces’, and a small piece that is about 1″x1.5″. I rounded the edges with a file or sandpaper. Then just glued them up separate. If you want more detail on these pieces, ask me in the comments and I can update this page further.
2 – Cut out the pieces. The first step is to layout the pieces you will cut from the plywood. By clicking on the image below, you will open it into a new window. Save this file and print it. It isn’t exactly what I did, but if I had to do it over again, this is how I would cut up the plywood. Then, secure the board and begin cutting. Take your time to hold your lines straight and true. Take care to have the saw blade perpendicular to the face of the board.
3 – Square up the edges. You need to make sure the edges of the pieces you cut are square, or close to 90 degrees to the face of the board. This is necessary to make sure the pieces stand up straight. Having them square, or square enough will make sure you have strong glue joints in the end. You can square them up using 80 grit sand paper, or a hand plane.
4 – Cut out the car ports. Layout the ‘holes’ for the cars to fit into. Then, secure them in a vise and carefully cut them out. I used a backsaw to cut the leading edges down. Next, take your coping saw and cut across to the other vertical line. Remember, the coping saw can be turned when cutting only. Otherwise you will twist the blade, and potentially break it. If you try to turn the saw and meet significant resistance, you need to stop and take a less agressive cut. You should feel little resistance when cutting.
5 – Sand the pieces. Plywood can be notorious for giving splinters after it has been cut with a saw. Take a couple of minutes and sand along the edges so that nobody will get a splinter. If you have an old flat metal file around, that will work too. But this is an important step because little kids will be playing with it, and you don’t want them to get splinters.
6 – Cut out the ramp, and put the edges on it. Also, put lead in edges on the frame of the garage.
So, this step is about the trickiest part of the project. But as you can see in the pictures and video at the bottom, I used my physical pieces to determine my cut angles. The final angles were around 35 degrees. But I suggest that you actually hold your ramp up and sketch your cut lines on.
To begin, lay your ramp on top the garage frame and set it how you would like to lay. Then, take a piece of your scraps or other pieces, and lay it flat. Now, just draw a horizontal line using this scrap piece as your guide.
Next, use your square to draw a horizontal line down the face of the ramp. Then secure the piece in your vise or workmate, and carefully cut the chamfer on the ramp.
Next you can place your ramp on your garage frame again, holding the bottom edge flat on the table. Holding your ramp against the garage, you can then draw a horizontal line on the top of the ramp. You will then use your square to draw a cut line down the face of the ramp, and carefully cut the angle on your ramp.
7 – Paint your pieces. Decide on what colors you want, and start painting! The paints I used are listed below. You may very well have some old paint in your basement right now.
8 – Glue the walls together. Take your tube of construction adhesive and put a layer on each edge that will be glued. Within 10 minutes, press the pieces together and check for them being vertical and square. Once you are confident, carefully clamp the pieces together. Next, apply gradual pressure, slowly increasing the pressure on each clamp sequentially. It is very important to leave the glue joints clamped overnight, as it needs 24 hours to cure.
If you have enough clamps, you can also glue up the ‘car wash’. Since I made my car wash a single color, I didn’t bother painting before I glued it up.
9 – Cutting the notch on the Roof.
Now that the main frame of the garage has been glued together, we will use it to determine the size of the notch we remove on the roof. Place the roof on a flat surface, then put the garage frame upside down on top of the roof. Once you are happy with the roof position/overhang, you can use a pencil to draw your cut lines. Then you just need to cut that notch out.
10 – Cut the edge on the roof. Using your ramp as a guide, you will need to draw the leading edge on the side of the roof, so that the roof will match up to your ramp. Then, we will repeat the same steps we used on the ramp to cut the angle. I didn’t do as good a job cutting this, and my line wavered. So after cutting I clamped it to my bench and used a rasp/file to flatten out the ramp area.
11 – Paint Touch Up. One of the reasons I like the Gorilla Glue Construction Adhesive is that it accepts paint really well. So, at this point you can paint over glue that squeezed out.
12 – Paint the lettering. I talked my wife into helping me out on this build. She has a great method for transferring lettering to things from a freshly printed piece of paper. You can read about her method on her post about making decorative book stacks. But, she used her method here, and it looks great. She used a fine-tipped Sharpie paint pen.
This is also a good time to make the curtain for the carwash. I cut up an old plastic grocery bag into a couple of squares. Then I just cut a few strips in them, and super-glued them to the inside of the carwash. The curtain is really cute and adds a degree of realness to the Carwash.
13 – Attach the Garage to the Base. Turn the frame upside down and apply construction adhesive. Just like before, we want a thin, but opaque layer of glue. But, I tried to make sure the outside edges were somewhat thin to minimize glue squeezing out. Flip the frame over and attach it to the base. I used two scrap 1×2 boards to make sure the garage was lined up square on the base board.
Then, just weigh everything down. I had some dumb bells laying around. But, if you had to you could just lean your weight on them for 60 seconds, then not touch it for 24 hours. You will still get a good bond in that way.
14 – Attach the roof. Glue up the roof the same way you did the base. This is also a good time to attach the car wash. Glue the car wash down the same was as everything else.
15 – Attach the Ramp, and roof border. I couldn’t come up with a good method of ‘clamping’ the ramp. I tried a few ways using clamps and weights (before I applied glue). And I didn’t like any of the methods. So, to glue the ramp I applied glue to the roof area, and the bottom of the ramp. I then just pressed on it for 60 seconds as hard as I could. The final joint seems really secure to me, so this method does work very well.
This is also a good time to attach the border strips, gluing and clamping them just like the roof. Also, if you made a little gas pump, you can glue this now too.
16 – Attaching felt pads. I had some sticky felt pads, and put them on the bottom of the base. That way we can have it on our hardwood floors without fear of scratches! I just stuck about 5-6 of these on the corners and middle.
17 – Painting the road / parking lines. Once everything else was complete, my Son and I painted a road and some parking lines. Using painters tape to control the width really helped.
Finally, my kids can now play with their Toy Car Garage! This was a really fun project that I made with my kids. It was a family effort, as even my wife got in on the action by painting the lettering.
Have you ever done something similar? Got any questions? Tell me in the comments!
Video how to Make your Own Toy Car Garage
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