I had an old glass topped coffee table that was missing the glass and rather than throw away a sturdy table on wheels I gave it a new top and created a place for my daughter to play.
Step 1: Old Coffee Table
This Instructable shows you how I built a play table if you would like to build something similar. Since you probably won't have the same table to start from I have left out any mention of sizes. As with any project be sure to wear safety glasses and the proper safety equipment for whatever tools you are using.
The first step was to clean and tighten the table up. Go over every screw and bolt and tighten them now before you start working on it. Next was a quick once over with some fine sand paper just to smooth out any dings or rough spots from its former life. Now that we have a sturdy base it's time to start on the top.
Step 2: A New Top
The new top is a piece of 3/4" MDF(medium density fiberboard) left over from a previous project. I trimmed the piece down to just cover the groves in the original top. You could also use plywood as long as the top was either a finished grade or you sanded it down. Do NOT attach the top yet! MDF does not like to take screws in the same hole more than once and it is much easier to trim and paint the top as a separate piece and attach it at the end.
Step 3: Getting a Little Edgy
To help give the top a more finished look and to keep the matchbox cars from flying off I installed small pieces of trim around the outside of the MDF. I used an inexpensive plastic miter box and cut the pieces a little long then carefully sanded them to the exact length. I used small brads and wood glue to attach the trim to the sides. Be VERY careful when nailing into MDF from the edge, too close and it will split out and ruin your project. I used blue tape under the edges to keep the glue from sticking to the table top. Once the glue was dry I sanded the edges and rounded the corners.
Step 4: Time to Paint
Once the glue was fully dry I sanded the whole top and then it was time for primer. At this point you could just paint it the final color and it would be fine but I wanted a smooth finish all over and a couple of coats of primer and some fine sanding will give you a much better end result. After the second coat of primer had dried I did a little design sketch to make sure everything would look right.
Step 5: Green Grass, Well Sorta
After priming and layout it was time for the final color. I chose the leftover green from our kitchen and it looks just like grass, sorta.
Step 6: Final Layout
The design I chose was a simple straight road with two intersections and a bridge crossing a river that formed a small lake/pond. The first road went straight and the second turned and dead ended at a beach on the lake. This layout also forms the initials in my daughters name. So... win, win. As you can see in the pictures I laid everything out and then decided it needed one more coat of paint. When in doubt give it one more coat of paint.
Step 7: Painting the River and Lake
Once the top was dried I used blue painters tape to mask off the future bridge and then painted the shallow water using some light blue acrylic paint. After the light blue had dried I painted the deep blue center of the river and lake and then painted the beach with a light tan. You might notice that I painted the light blue all the way across and the painted over it with the dark blue. This gives the blue in the center some highlights without making it look like they are painted on top.
Step 8: Laying Out the Roads
Once the river had dried I removed the blue tape and started laying out where the roads were going to be. Luckily I could still see some of the previous layout marks through the top coat of paint. I used a large protractor to draw the curves for the "J" and carefully cut the tape with an exact-o knife.
Step 9: Paving the Roads
Now you could just use black paint for the roads but that wouldn't be much fun. Since the MDF was leftover from making a chalkboard and I still had some chalkboard paint left I decided that being able to draw on the roads with chalk would be much more fun. Just so you know, it IS. However chalkboard paint is very thick and it didn't cover very well on the first coat. Two coats and its covered. I found that using a 4" foam roller for cabinets will give you the smoothest finish with almost any kind of paint.
Step 10: Stop on the Line
No little roadway would be complete without lines at the intersections to show you where to stop right? Some quick masking and some yellow paint and we're ready to roll, er I mean stop.
Step 11: Glossy Water and Trees. Oh and the Bridge.
At this point I made the one mistake I would like to change. I used an old can of polly clear coat to make the water look wet and it has since turned slightly yellow. not a big problem but worth noting, if you can't remember buying it then its probably too old. I then painted trees around the road in various places. Using a natural sponge and several different colors of green I simply dabbed the sponge in a circle to get the tree top shapes. Start with your darkest green and then use lighter greens each coat to give the illusion of depth and shadows down in the trees. Or just paint green spots and let the kids imagination do the rest. Last was the bridge and some rocks around the edge of the lake. Using acrylic paints I mixed several grays to get a stone/concrete look. When mixing colors don't fully mix the paints and the swirls will give the impression of natural variations in the rock color.
Step 12: ABC's Not As Easy As 123
Once all the paint had dried I lined up the corners and screwed the top to the base from underneath. Make sure that the screws you are using do NOT go through the top. Your best bet is to pre drill holes through the base and check your screws with a scrap of MDF. You can also glue the top to the base if you wanted.
The last step in decorating the table top was to apply dry transfer letters down the long sides. I used 1 inch dry transfers from Michaels and put the alphabet down both sides. This was probably the trickiest part of the whole build. Each letter is slightly different in width so you need to mark out lightly in pencil where each letter goes and then move them around a little to get them to look right. I used a scrap piece of paint stick to help align the letters with the bottom edge and taped them in place as I went with blue tape. Only after repositioning them at least three times did I start rubbing them down. If you have not used dry transfers before they are super easy and work great but require extreme care not to move them until you have rubbed the whole thing down. Take your time. The last step was to cut part of the front trim away to allow the plastic bins we have to slide under.
Step 13: Play
Thats all folks. This has been my first Instructable and I hope it gives someone the push to do their own play table. This table gets used everyday and works great as a puzzle table or to build legos or to simply smash little cars together and see if they will fly over the edge. Have fun and keep building.