The goal of this is to be cheap, not pretty. Worry about making the artwork pretty!
What you will need
- A plywood board: I used a 24"x24"x1/2" board to start. The plywood part is important because it's cheap, and to avoid needing a router.
- Something to act as a spacer for the glass/plexiglass: I used thin cork from the craft store cut into strips.
- Glass/plexiglass: If you can score some acrylic, that's preferable, but in my case I found two sheets of 11x14" "frame replacement" glass on clearance for $3 each.
- Clear desk cover: Not 100% necessary, depending on how closely you can match the seam between your glass and the board.
- Scrap wood, door stops for elevation
- Aluminum rails for T-square fanciness
- Misc. hardware bits as necessary - screws, washers, hooks & etc.
- Wood saw
- Circular saw or drill and keyhole saw
- Router (if you have access to one, it's gong to be easier)
- Wood Chisels: I don't have a router. But I did have chisels and patience.
- Glue/epoxy (for spacers/optional side rails)
- Shellac, if you're fancy
Step 1: Overview
It's not a terribly complex thing.
Of course, I'm not much of a carpenter, so here's what I did:
I cut one edge off to make it 24x20"; the cut edge became the top, so I wouldn't have to worry about it being a perfectly square cut across. That way the bottom edge won't make it sit all cock-eyed.
I traced around the edge of my glass to find out the large hole size, and then measured in about 1.5" all around to find my through-hole size.
If you have a circular saw, this is the easy bit where you cut that inner whole entirely out. Lacking that, I drilled some holes close together and used a keyhole saw to cut through and hack that center section out.
Now here's where I use the chisels and the plywood to cheat, not having a router to make the larger part. I used the chisels to carefully start knocking out the glass inset area, and only chiseled out the top two layers of plywood. That let me get the inset depth I needed to get the glass down low enough (a bit on the too-low side, adjusted with a little fine-tuning chiseling and cork support strips) easily and without a router I don't have.
It seemed to take forever, so I recommend a router if you can find one to use, but don't let the lack of one hold you back.
Once you have your hole cut and ledge in, with clear part adjusted in, you have the main part done. You'll probably want to sand your board a bit to get a smooth surface there, too. I put shellac on mine because I had it handy and I'm a bit fancy, I guess.
Slightly fancier: If, like me, you're a terrible carpenter, there's going to be some gap between your glass and wood board surface. A clear desktop cover from the local office supply store will go a long way to making this disappear. It might be the most expensive component you could add at up to $20 or so, but since it's made specifically to be a good writing surface, it also happens to be rather nice for drawing on.
Even fancier still: I found some aluminum rails in the weldable metal section of the local home improvement store, that just happened to go over the edges of my board perfectly. I don't pretend to think that both sides a epoxied on absolutely parallel to each other, but my T-square goes entirely across so I only really use it from the left side, anyway.
Step 2: The Underside
Step 3: Edit As Necessary
Step 4: Now Get to Lightboxing
Lacking that, as long as you have your board tilted up high enough, you can use anything from a nimble-enough table lamp to one of those battery-powered LED camp lights from the camping section at your local big-box store.
Just be wary of lamp temperature - you want a light box, not a cooking surface!
You'll note I didn't specifically add a light diffuser to this; my light table already is diffuse enough, and I have that cheap roll tracing paper over the board, anyway. If you want to add diffusion, something as simple as white tracing paper taped to the underside of your clear part will work. Or, there is white "frosted glass spray" you can get at the craft store, if you want something nicer.
There you have it. Now get back to making comics!