My son and I enjoy playing board games together. We used to use the kitchen table, but sometimes it wasn't quite big enough to hold all the game components, sometimes pieces/cards would fall off the edge of the table, and sometimes games would run long and we'd have to clean it up before finishing so that the table was cleared for breakfast the next morning.
I have seen gaming tables online, with an inset/recessed playing area, but they were all too expensive. So I decided to make my own. I don't have a workshop, so my design is one that can be made without having a table saw, a planer, a drill press, etc. I had the following constraints in mind when I set out on this project:
- It had to be relatively inexpensive (under $400)
- It had to be achievable with just hand-held power tools
- It had to have a place to store all of our games
- It had to come apart to get it into/out of the basement
With those constraints in mind, I designed the table to you see here. I ended up using the following:
Table Top Materials (~$125)
- One sheet of 1/2-inch plywood (4' x 8')
- Seven 2"x4"x8' boards; plain wall framing kind
- Two 3/4"x2"x4' red oak lumber
- Two 3/4"x2"x4' poplar lumber
- Two 3/4"x2"x6' red oak lumber
- Two 3/4"x2"x6' poplar lumber
- Four 3/4"x4"x4' red oak lumber
- Four 3/4"x4"x6' red oak lumber
- (Optional) Roll of 3mm neoprene rubber mat with nylon on one side [~$80 additional]
Base Materials (~$125)
- Two sheets of 3/4-inch red oak plywood (4'x8')
- Shelf Pins
- (Optional) One 3/4"x4"x6' red oak lumber for trim
Misc Materials (~$70)
- Wood Glue
- Wood Screws (1.25" and 2.5")
- Circular Saw
- Random Orbital Sander
- Drill with bits
- plus a countersink bit
- Hammer and brads (trim nails)
Step 1: Determine Your Table Size
Based upon our current kitchen table size, and my constraint on power tools, I decided that the overall dimensions of the table top would be 4'x6'. This is because the red oak lumber at my local big box store is available in 4', 6', and 8' lengths. This size limit is the maximum size of the overall table, meaning to the outside edges of the armrests.
Looking online, I saw that a 3" armrest was a typical size, so I based my plans on that. With the armrests being 3" wide, the recessed playing surface would be 3.5' x 5.5' (4' minus 3 inches on each end, 6' minus 3 inches on each side).
The next dimension to determine was the height of the table top. Again, looking online, I found that 2-2.5 inches was the typical recess depth for the playing surface. I chose to make my recess 2.25" deep due to the lumber dimensions (more on that in the next section).
I also wanted an overall table height of 29", as that is a standard table height. With an table top height of 4.25", the base should be 24.75" high; my base ended up being 25" high in the end.
Step 2: Assembly Considerations
I wanted the table to appear as if it was made out of solid oak. To achieve this, but still make my budget, I made all the visible wood out of oak and the hidden pieces out of less expensive wood. The visible wood of the table top is comprised of the playing surface, the walls of the recessed area, the outside walls, and the armrests. The visible area of the base is... the whole base. Since I wanted to use plywood for the base, I chose to add oak trim to all ends that were exposed.
The table top "sandwich"
To assemble the table top, I had 4 layers:
- The table frame
- The playing surface
- The riser walls
- The armrests
The table frame
The frame of the table is made out of 2x4's. Structurally, the table would be more stable if I stood the 2x4's up, but that would add an extra 2" to the height of the table. Maybe if I was using table legs, that extra stability would be more important, especially for the long 6' span. However, I am placing my table top onto a pedestal-type base, which provides constant support under most of the table. So, I laid the 2x4's down, which contributed only 1.5" to the height of the table top (the dimensions of a 2x4 piece of lumber are actually 1.5" x 3.5").
The playing surface
The playing surface was the easiest part, as it is just a sheet of plywood to play on. Again, for structural support, 3/4" plywood would be the way to go. But, also again, my table top will sit on a pedestal-type base, which provides constant support under most of the table. So I used 1/2" plywood (whose actual dimension is slightly less, but we will use 1/2" for this article) on top of the table frame as the playing surface.
The riser walls
The inside riser wall of the recessed playing surface was made using 3/4" x 2" red oak lumber. Because its actual dimension is 3/4" x 1.5", it adds 1.5" to the overall height of the table top. At this stage, the height of the table frame + the playing surface + the riser wall equals 3.5" (1.5" + 0.5" + 1.5"). From the inside, you can only see the playing surface and the riser wall, so it all looks to be oak. But from the outside, you can see the 2x4 of the frame and the side of the plywood. To make it look like a solid oak table, I used a 3/4" x 4" piece of red oak on the outside to cover this. Since the actual dimensions of the 3/4" x 4" lumber is 3/4" x 3.5", it perfectly covers the side surface from the bottom of the 2x4 to the top of the inside riser wall.
At this stage, the last layer to add is the armrest. I used 3/4" x 4" red oak for this, too. The astute reader will point out that I wanted a 3" armrest and the actual dimensions of the 3/4" x 4" board gives a 3.5" armrest. Yes, this is the first time that a cut had to be made (other than to length) in my design. But, it turns out, that this was a blessing due to the fact that all wood from a big box store was slightly warped, and since I don't have a planer, I couldn't do much about it (more on this later).
I decided that I would make the base of the table a pedestal-style shelving unit. This would offer the greatest overall support for the top, as well as give us a central place to store our games. Since the base will be holding all of the weight of the table, I used 3/4" plywood here. I had to compromise between leg room and storage space, so I decided that I would come in 12" all around from the top. This yielded a base with the dimensions of 2' x 4', and 25" high. Because there is a central divider running the length and width of the table, each of the four shelf cubby holes is about 2'x2' x1' deep.
Step 3: Assembling the Table Top
The Table Frame
The frame for the table top was made out of 2x4's. The size of the table top was figured as follows:
- Overall table size is 4' x 6'.
- The 3" armrests will overhang the outside wall of the table by 3/4". So the table top frame is now 3' 10.5" x 5' 10.5" (3/4" overhang on each side yields a 1.5" reduction from each dimension).
- The outside riser wall will abut against the frame to hide the fact that it is constructed of 2x4's. So, the table top frame needs to be reduced by a further 1.5" in each dimension (the outside wall is 3/4" thick oak on each side). This gives a final table top frame size of 3' 9" x 5' 9".
- You will note on the hand drawing, I originally planned to have sliding drawers with cup holders in them. I abandoned that idea once I realized how wide the drawer would be in the middle of the 6' table span. Guests would definitely hit their knees on that.
Using my circular saw, I cut dados out of each piece of 2x4 where the pieces overlapped (search the internet for videos on cutting dados with a circular saw for examples). I actually tried using my router to make the dados, but that took way too long and created too much saw dust. Then, I glued and screwed the frame together using 1.25" wood screws. Because the plywood was to lay on top of this frame, all screws had to be counter-sunk to allow the plywood to lie flat. When screwing it all together, try to get the outside frame as square as possible, as all other wood cuts will be based upon the frame size and structure.
The Playing Surface
The next step was to cut the plywood so that it was only 1/8" larger than the frame on all sides. I actually just traced the table frame while it was on top of the plywood before removing the plywood and cutting the excess off with my circular saw. Then I glued and screwed the slightly over-sized plywood to the frame. Remember that this plywood is the playing surface, so I could only use screws on the outside 1.5" in order to keep the playing surface blemish free. Finally, I used my router and a flush trim bit to trim the excess plywood away so that the plywood was the same size as the frame (this also helps account for any fluctuations from non-square/slightly warped frame wood).
The Riser Wall
This next part will probably need the photo to go with it, but here is my best explanation. The 3/4"x4" red oak lumber sat on the outside of the table to cover up the frame, plywood table surface, and inside recessed wall. The easiest way to do this, I thought, was to first attach the 3/4"x4" piece to the inside recessed wall strips of wood. This way, the recessed wall could sit on top of the playing surface and hold the outside wall in place (now is a good time to look at the photo). Keeping this design in mind, I actually attached a piece of 3/4"x2" poplar to the 3/4"x4" red oak lumber, and then I added the 3/4"x2" red oak lumber to the poplar (sorry, no picture of this specifically). This gives 2 pieces of 3/4"x2" lumber resting on top of the playing surface, plus the 3/4"x4" outside wall, for a total thickness of 2.25" (3/4" + 3/4" + 3/4") for the wall that the 3" armrest will eventually sit on. That is a great amount of surface area for the glue to hold when the armrest is added, and still gives us the 3/4" overhang that was desired.
Note that even though the frame is supposed to be 3' 9" x 5' 9", I was cutting all this free-hand with a circular saw. My dimensions are close, but human error crept up; plus, the frame was MOSTLY square, but not perfect. So, to cut the lengths of the riser wall pieces, I used the table frame as a guide.
- I measured the length of one of the long sides. Let's say it came to 5' 8.5". I added 1.5" to that (0.75" x 2) because I wanted the long sides to extend passed the frame for the butt joint with the short sides. Then I took a round-over bit on my router and rounded both ends. With this complete, I attached the 3/4"x2" poplar to it and then attached the combined piece to the table top frame making sure I centered it such that it stuck out 3/4" passed the end of the frame on each side.
- I repeated this process on the other long side. The other side may have measured the correct 5'9", so I cut the 3/4"x4" piece of red oak to be 5'10.5" and rounded the ends with the router. After attaching the poplar strip, I attached the combined piece to the table top frame, ensuring that it was centered with 3/4" sticking out passed the end of the table top frame on each side.
- For the 3'9" sides of the table, you would think that the outside riser piece would be 3'9" long. But again, due to variations introduced by manual tools and slightly warped wood, I placed the 3/4" x 4"x 4' piece of wood up against the two other 3/4"x4" pieces and traced a pencil line down one side to get the exact gap between them. Then I cut that to length so that it fit tightly between them for a nice inset butt joint. I cut the strip of poplar and mounted that to the outside rise piece and then attached it to the table with wood and screws.
- Finally, I repeated step 3 for the other side of the 3'9" side of the table.
The armrests were designed to be the full extents of our measurements. So, buying 4' and 6' boards were perfect; I just had to miter each end at 45 degrees. Once that was done, I dry fit them on top of the riser walls, ensuring to align them so that there was ~3/4" overhang all around. When I had it positioned exactly how I wanted it, I reached under with a pencil and drew a line where the inside riser wall met the bottom of the armrest (remember that the armrest is 1/2" bigger than we actually want on the inside, so this overhangs the inside playing area as well). I used the circular saw to trim away this excess, leaving a little bit left. Then I glued and clamped the armrest onto the riser wall. Once that was completely dry, I used the router with the flush bit to trim off the last bit of excess to ensure that the armrest met the riser wall perfectly (this helps account for any fluctuations from warped riser wood and a non-square frame).
I originally planned to have slide out cup holders under the table. I was going to put 2 cup holders in the same "drawer" in the middle of the 6' side of the table. The cup holders I found are about 4" in diameter in order to accommodate larger mugs, soda bottles, and pint glasses. These large cup holders made the drawer around 11" wide, plus mounting hardware. I decided that this was too big of an obstacle for people/legs to be placed in the middle of the side of the table, so I nixed that idea. I am now leaning towards making individual cup holders that will hook over the armrest and are thus not permanent.
With the table top construction done, I sanded it all down before staining and urethaning the top.
Step 4: Assembling the Table Base
The base was determined to be 2'x4'x25" high. For structural integrity, I wanted the center pieces to be solid and not butt jointed together. So, I cut a 3/4" slot in half of the criss piece, and another 3/4" slot in the cross piece. I also wanted every piece to slot into a shallow channel at any butt joints if I couldn't use screws (I didn't want to use screws on any visible face because, even with wood filler to hide the screw heads, you can still tell they are there); the top and bottom of the side pieces are screwed and glued, so I didn't make a slot for them in the base or top. Lastly, I used 3/4" plywood in the base. This is all probably best explained by looking through the photos.
This might be a good place to point out two things about the shallow channels that I cut:
- the plywood was slightly warped, so some of my channels ended up being wider than 3/4" to accommodate the slight curve of the piece I was trying to slot in.
- when I cut the slots in the top, I did not go all the way to the edge. Since I cut the slots with my circular saw, and I didn't go all the way to the end, the slots had a slight ramp up at the edges that followed the contour of the saw blade. In order to flatten out the channels, I used my 3/4" chisel to remove the remnant "ramp" material.
With the crisscross design, and the two end panels, I had an I-Beam structure with an added cross in the middle. I figured this would provide the best support against the table tipping when someone leaned on an armrest. I ended up making the top piece quite over-sized; large enough to meet up with the 3' cup holder supports that I installed but abandoned later on.
To keep all the screws hidden, I only used screws from underneath the base into the I-Beam wood structure, and from the top down into the I-Beam structure. You can see the number of screws used one of the photos of this step.
Also, in planning for the shelves, I made a template for the shelf pin holes. To mark where each hole was to be drilled, I aligned the same edge of the template to the bottom of each base piece that was to have shelving pins and then used a transfer punch to mark the hole locations. With the template out of the way, and before assembling the base, I drilled the 1/4" holes at each marked location. I figured that it would be easier to drill the holes before assembly so that I didn't have to crawl inside a shelf cubby with the drill later on. Also, for the middle wall of the base, I drilled the shelf pin holes all the way through, instead of trying to offset the holes on each side of that piece. Although I was happy with this, I didn't put a scrap piece under the side when I drilled the first set of holes, and the back side "blew out" and left a splintered mess. Note to self, and you, dear reader: put a scrap piece of wood under the piece you are drilling all the way through. I did this for the rest of the holes, and I had much cleaner holes on both sides. For the outside walls, you don't want to drill the shelf pin hole all the way through, or you would have holes on the outside wall that you can see. I just put a piece of masking tape on the drill bit to mark the hole depth (less than 3/4") and stopped drilling when the tape reached the wood surface.
The last thing I did was add trim to the exposed edges of the plywood. I decided that all trim would just be 3/4", and not oversized like a lot of bookshelves that I own, because I don't like it when I try to pull a game off of the shelf, and it hits the overhanging trim; to get the game out of a full shelf, I had to remove other games so that can slide the game I want over a bit to clear the overhanging trim.
This last step is where I kind of cheated on my rule of only using hand-held power tools. I went to a friend's house to borrow a table saw and I cut some 3/4" oak into 5/8" strips. I am not sure I could have done that with just my circular saw. You can probably just buy trim, but I had a piece of the 3/4"x4"x6' red oak lumber left over from a mistake I made earlier on. I did have to nail the trim onto the based to hold it long enough for the glue to dry. since I don't own any 24" clamps. I then used wood filler on the nail holes once the glue was dry.
Once the construction was complete, I sanded everything down before staining and urethaning it all.
Step 5: Putting It All Together
And Two Shall Become One
After the table and base were stained and urethaned, I moved the table into our basement. Since the base of the table was only 25" tall, it fit through the door frames just fine when turned sideways. The top was harder, even though it was only 4.25" tall, because it was actually heavier than the base, and a bit more awkward due to its 6' length.
Once the pieces were in the basement, I installed carpet glides on the bottom of the base. Then, once turned upright, I placed the table top on top. Once again, I countersunk a bunch of screws from underneath the table top to attach the two pieces. Here is where I think the extra 2x4's from the abandoned cup holder drawers came in handy. Instead of only being able to screw the base into the 3 cross pieces of the table top frame, I was able to add several more screws into the cup holder support strips (see the first photo). I think I ended up using one screw every 5". No glue was used here, as I want the ability to separate the pieces to get it back out of the basement in the future.
Test Play and Final Adjustment
My son and I tried a quick game of Castle Panic once the table was ready. This worked pretty well, except some of the cards were a bit hard to pick up from the hard table surface (with the inset playing area, we couldn't slide the card to the edge of the table to pick it up). I went ahead and ordered a sheet of 3mm neoprene with a blue nylon fabric attached to one side (akin to a computer mouse pad); I got a sheet of 50"x80" from Foam Order because they only sell full sheets or half sheets, and the half sheet was too small. This has a firm, but slightly giving playing surface that made it easier to pick up cards. I think that we will continue to use this, as it also deadens the sound of rolling dice.
Once the neoprene mat was installed, we loaded our board games on the built-in shelves of the base. Now, all of our games are in one centralized location, and if a game happens to run long (past someone's bedtime), we can leave it out to continue another night.
Project Time Commitment
All in all, this project lasted about 9 weeks from start to finish. But, I didn't work on it anywhere near that total time. I probably got 3-4 solid days work done on it over a couple of weekends, the rest was a couple of hours here and there. Of course, 2 weeks of this time was just the staining and urethaning, as I waited a day between each coat to let it dry.
Since I abandoned my original design for cup holders, I had to come up with something else. However, I really wanted to get the table done before the weather got too cold to stain and seal in the garage. So the cup holder solution is now an afterthought. I am considering making cup holders that hook over the armrests that can be used only when needed. This gives the flexibility of putting them anywhere along the armrest, so it doesn't matter where someone ends up sitting. Also, this keeps them out of the way of the player's knees! I have a mock-up photo at the end of this step of what I am thinking. I think I will try to glue a thin layer of cork on the inside edges of the "hook" so that the armrests don't get scratched.
Thanks for taking the time to read my instructable. I hope it was thorough enough for you to follow if you decide to try your own hand at making one.