For a while, I have been interested in the game of Cornhole and making a few sets for Family. In case you don't know, it consists of 2 boards that are placed 30 feet apart that you toss bean bags at.
I created an instructable last year on a set of custom bean bags for a board set I made. I promised an instructable on my style of boards as I don't make them like most. I also only make one set a year it seems.
The general design of a cornhole board consists of a plywood top, with 2x4s running down the sides and 2x4s on the front. The board is screwed down on the top and screws are driven through the sides making a frame. This works well and is functional for the game. Most people like this simplicity and leave it at that.
Being a wood worker by hobby, I have the tools to make it a bit better, hiding the hardware where possible, squaring up the boards for tight seams, and mitering the corners to never show end grain.
Here is how I build a set of boards.
Step 1: Gathering Your Materials
- 1 sheet of Birch plywood, cabinet grade, 1/2" thick
- 4 - 2x4x8's Make sure they are straight and not twisted or cupped
- 4 bolts - 3 1/2 inch x 5/16th
- 12 fender washers
- 4 Acorn nuts
- titebond wood glue
- General Finishes Exterior 450 satin (top coat finish)
- Painters tape - Frog tape - green not yellow
- paint or graphics
- Table saw to cut the plywood - A circular saw may be used instead. I used a Kreg jig on a circular saw
- Router with bits
- Compressor and air hose
- 18 gauge Finish nail gun
- Kreg jig
- Hole cutting bit
- Drill press with 5/16th inch bit
- mounted Belt sander
- Band Saw
- Miter saw
- Power drill
- Orbital palm sander
- HVLP paint gun for finish
- Paint brush
- Speed square
- Framing square
- Tape measure
- Safety glasses
- Hearing protection - plugs or muffs
- Nitrile gloves
- Dust collection system
- Good shoes to protect feet
Step 2: Rough Cutting Pieces
The overall dimensions of a Corn hole board are 24 inches by 48 inches. The back of the board is also supposed to be 12 inches off of the ground when the legs are extended.
To get the final dimensions correct, I oversize the boards to begin with. Once I plane them down and square them up, this ensures I am not short on the final sizing.
The side 2x4s I cut to 50 inches, the front and back, to 26 inches and the legs to 15 inches.
The top I oversize by about an 1/8th of an inch for width. Unfortunately, unless you buy true American made plywood from a woodworking store, you cannot get plywood that is over 4 feet wide. That makes adding an 1/8th inch to the length rather difficult. So for this project I did not use the specialty plywood as most wouldn't be able to.
I do own some plywood though that is 1/2 inch wider as it is cabinet grade plywood but I digress.
The rough cut pieces can now be squared up as you will see in the next step.
Step 3: Squaring the 2x4s
When you get a 2x4 from the Hardware store, they have run it through a mill process to take it down from the rough cut to a usable 2x4. It is actually 1 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches. You lose 1/2 inch on the processing. But this is still rather rough for a finished project. It works great in walls, but doesn't look so smooth in detail work.
To remedy this, you can plane down the board by another 1/4 inch to square it up and smooth it. Plane both sides evenly meaning don't take one pass off one side and 5 off the other. Do 2 and 2 or 2 and 3 if needed. You also need to plane all boards at the same time and flip each one just like the others to ensure an even plane on all boards at once.
From here you have a fairly flat level boards, or you should. But the boards faces are not necessarily square to the sides. This is where a jointer comes in. With your planed side against the jointer fence, take a pass or two off one side to square it to the face.
Now you may be thinking, why don't I just flip the board over and joint the other side. Now I have 2 square sides. You do and you don't. You have two sides that are 90 degrees square to the face of the 2x4s. but you may not and probably do not have 2 square sides that are perfectly parallel to each other. For the fun of it, I did this to see how far off a normal 2x4 can be. On the corner once mitered (we will get to that), the corners meeting up were off as much as 1/8th inch. Quite a bit when trying to level the top of your board.
So instead, set up your table saw to 3 1/4 inches. put the jointed side against the fence, and square the opposite side to the jointed edge. You should now have 4 squared sided although the ends may not be squared to the board completely. That is why you left the boards long so you could fix this next.
Step 4: Creating a Mitered Joint for the Ends.
At this point, you are making your final cuts to the boards for length.
Set your Miter saw to 45 degrees and make a cut off of one end. Keep the blade as close to the end as possible so you don't cut too much and end up short. A fine tooth blade here is important so you don't end up with tear out on your finished piece.
Now measure 24 inches or 48 inches respectively per board and mark the end. You want the corners to meet at 24 inches wide and 48 inches long. Ensure you are cutting the correct second angle and repeat the process on the other boards.
Don't glue them together and nail them in place just yet.
Step 5: Legs
The legs are next. Square up one end with the miter saw.
Now find the center and measure down 1 1/2 inches and mark that point.
Measure off of the squared end and mark 13 1/2 inches with a speed square.
Set the miter saw to 30 degrees and take make the cut with the blade set to the edge of your 13 1/2 inch line. The blade should cut through your line making the shorter side 12 inches and the longer side 13 1/2 inches.
Next draw a half circle with the center point at the 1 1/2 inch mark you made. Use a compass here if you like, or find something that has a diameter of 3 1/4 inches. A small peanut butter jar lid worked perfectly for this.
Cut the half circle shape a bit before your line with a band saw and finish shaping to the line with a mounted belt sander.
Knock down the hard edges on the 30 degree cut with some sand paper or a very light touch on the belt sander.
Drill through the mark you made with a 5/16th inch bit on a drill press to keep it square to face of the wood.
Step 6: Preparing the Rails and Stiles
In order to avoid any surface damage to the top, I chose to go with pocket screws from underneath. This meant predrilling the pocket holes with a Kreg jig prior to assembling the frame. The rails and stiles need to be drilled deep enough to accept 1 1/4 inch Kreg screws (course not fine) without going through the surface once fully set.
I set the Kreg jig up for this and tested on some trial pieces to get the depth right. I then marked each board 2 inches in from the ends and every 5 inches after that. There ends up being a 4 inch spacing in the center of the 48 inch rails, but that is ok with me. With this jig set up, you need to mark top and bottom of the board. The top goes down when putting the board in the jig. I screwed this up the first time. Luckily I was able to flip the board end for end as it was an end piece and not a side piece with the pivot hold drilled.
The holes for the legs to pivot on now need to be drilled. Using the same 5/16th bit on the drill press, the holes were drilled 1 1/2 inches up from the bottom and 3 1/2 inches from the end of the miter. This leaves me with 1/8th to 1/4 inch of space above the rounded top of the legs to move freely instead of contacting the bottom of the plywood.
Once all drilled and any burrs sanded down, the frame is ready to be assembled. Mark what is the top and what is the bottom. Also, make sure the holes you drilled for the legs are both at the same end of the board assembly.
The most secure way to secure the corners would have been to used Biscuit joints and clamps. I don't own a Biscuit jointer and as the sides are painted anyway, I opted to use 18 gauge finish brad nails instead with a Porter Cable nail gun. The corners had glue applied to both sides, were held together and nailed. The nail holes were filled with wood filler and sanded smooth.
A framing square was used to check to ensure the pieces were indeed square once nailed and glued.
Step 7: Preparing the Top
The top board needs to have a 6 inch hole at the top. This hole is centered on the board from left to right and down 9 inches to center. This means the top of your hole is at 6 inches and the bottom is at 12 inches, hence 9 inches on center.
There are many ways to cut this out. You can use a compass, draw the hole and cut it our with a hand jig saw. You could own a 6 inch hole cutter. You may even set up a jig and cut it out with a router ( I did that before and it was more work than I found it was worth)
Or you can cut it out with an adjustable circle cutter drill bit. It is best to do this with a drill press. My drill press was not deep enough to do this though, so I used a hand held cordless drill and took my time.
I put both top pieces together so I could drill them both at once. I held them with a few clamps, then put two screws through the part of the circle that would be cut out anyway to hold them secure. I marked my center point to drill, tested on a trial piece to ensure I had 3 inches radius making a 6 inch diameter circle, and set to work. I then drilled a little more than half way.
I flipped the piece over and drilled the rest of the way through. This left me with two perfect circles, that I just needed to lightly sand smooth on the edges, with no break out points or chips in the wood.
Step 8: Attaching the Top and Squaring Up
Once the frame is completely dry, the top can be attached.
As I always paint the underside as well to help weather proof it, I dry fit the pieces together, marked the corners, then put masking tape down where I wanted the paint to end and the clear coat to begin. It is much easier to do this now while the top is still not attached.
Now put a ring of glue around the edges of the plywood where the frame will sit and put it down. Screw in the corners first squaring up as you go. You should have about 1/16th of an inch on the sides exposed due to the slight oversizing. This is supposed to be here.
Work your way in with the screws keeping it tight to the top board. The screws will try to push the board away at times. A clamp here can help with that if you want. Hand pressure seems to work just fine in my case.
There are 30 screws that attach the top. These screws compliment the strength the glue will have as well. You should end up with a very secure top to frame with no surface damage. If you really like, you can fill the holes underneath with the specialty plugs they sell. I like them left open so you can see the strength and it gives a bit of an industrial look to the board. Just my opinion.
Once the glue has dried, the excess 1/16th inch (which will invariably fluctuate, hence why you did it) can be routed off. Using a router with a flush cut bit, clean up the edges. This should give you a perfectly smooth transition between the frame and top.
Step 9: Sanding and Paint Prep
The surface of the board should not need sanded. The cabinet grade plywood comes with an already very smooth finish. If you want to lightly sand the surface, use an orbital sander with a fine grit paper, 120 or higher. I have done it both ways and I don't know if it makes a true difference. .
The sides will need lightly sanded with an orbital sander to smooth out any raised grain or marks left from the build.
At this point, all sawdust needs to be removed. Using a tack cloth wipe down the entire surface to rid it of any dust.
Depending on your surface design, you may not need this next step.
I like to outline my boards with a 3/4 to 1 inch strip all the way around that connects to the frame color paint. This is personal choice but what I do. I outline the surface with frog painters tape to protect the center as I want the grain showing for this particular board set.
Step 10: Paint or Graphics or Both.
There are two camps here. Team Paint and Team Graphic. Both are good and both are wanted or needed for specific board designs. I will outline both.
Lets start with graphics as that is what this current set of boards is. If you are only painting, then skip this step if you like.
To begin you need to choose your graphics. I had mine created at a friends graphic shop. This set is for a cousin who owns the business with the logo pictured.
Sort out how you want your graphics placed, set them in place, take a picture for reference, then take them off and put them up for now.
You need to paint first.
Paint the frame and legs with several coats of the color of your choice. I use a Sherwin Williams black enamel as it holds up great in weather and use, and it makes a beautifully smooth looking finish.
I tape the edges where I want the paint to stop. I like clean lines on the surface as well as the back. Using Frog tape helps for no bleed through. I highly recommend it.
Once your paint is dry and tape removed you need to clear coat the surface.
Graphics do not like to stick directly to wood, even when the dust is removed. Some spot on the wood will just want to pull up and bubble. So put a clear coat down on the surface with the HVLP spray gun. This will give a nice even coat. I use General Finishes Exterior 450 Satin. It is expensive, 66 dollars a gallon, but it is UV protecting, mildew resistant, and doesn't leave a super slick surface, but smooth so the bags do slide.
If the wood soaks in all of the coat you may need a second coat prior to putting your graphic down.
Once completely dry, put the graphic back in place, tape in place using a tape designed for fresh paint like frog tape, and then apply. (read an article on how to apply graphics before you do this. It will help)
From here you are going to need probably 6 more clear coats to get the thickness of the clear coat right and to help smooth the surface so you can't really feel the graphics. You should sand between coats with a a fine sand paper like 400 or 500 grit, or steel wool etc. Use a tack cloth to clear off the sanded bits. This knocks down any bubbles that may be there. I wait until two coats are over the graphics though before sanding them. I also ensure the finish is not too hard by spraying again after 3 or 4 hours, vs a day, which is still plenty past the timeframe for drying and recoat. Be careful sanding over the graphics.
The underside of the boards should be sprayed with at least 2 coats to seal the wood completely.
Step 11: Paint.... No Graphics
The purist will say no to graphics and only the best boards are hand painted. Well I created a set for myself doing this method too.
The sides and back need coated to protect the wood as well, not just the playing surface. I started with these first. and coated them in my base coat. After getting the thickness and coverage I needed, I moved to the playing surface.
The surface was painted with a primer first, the design drawn on with a pencil /projector, and then painted to the specs I wanted. A ton of tape, time, and paint later, the design was finished.
To ensure a good playing surface and to protect the paint, the surface was clear coated with 4 layers of the exterior 450 to level out the paint lines and give a solid coat of UV and water protection.
Lots of pictures of the process.
Step 12: Attaching the Legs
Attaching the legs seems self explanatory but I use some washers to help get a bit smoother of a rotation on the legs. The rotation down is supposed to be easy and smooth but not just fall into place. I tighten down the bolts until the legs hold themselves up but rotate easily when pushed.
So you put the bolt through the outside in, 2 fender washers next, the leg, another fender washer or small washer, then the acorn nut. See pictures. I used 2 legs for reference pictures to show how they go together and also to ensure I had the thickness correct.
By putting 2 washers between the boards, it also ensure that I won't have issues with the paint trying to stick to itself.
Acorn nuts are used on the inside as an added finished look to the assembly. They are not required but look nice to me. Locktite or something similar can be used to fasten the nuts if you like to ensure they won't come off.
When done, stand your board up and you should be set to play.
Step 13: Final Thoughts
You don't have to be a wood working expert to make something great, just a little time and effort put into your design goes a long way. Have pride in your work and make something of your own that you can be proud of.
Homemade boards are better than buying a set at a store any day. They are more secure and stout and will hold up to playing for years to come.
You only need 1/2 inch ply for the playing surface. 3/4 inch will just make the boards heavy and not really any better.
There are a 1000 ways to customize your boards. Do what you like. They are for you and if you think they are awesome, well they probably are. There are 3 sets of boards posted here I have created for family members.
If you want to see some Custom corn hole bags, here is a link to a set for my boards and how to make them. Mario and Luigi Corn hole bags
Good luck with building your own set and post some pictures if you do.
If you have a suggestion on an improvement, feel free to say so. I am always looking for ways to improve a design.
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