I have a soft spot for miniatures and a few years ago I finally decided I wanted to try getting into miniature gaming. I was able to cobble together a couple of games, but I had to try and find really short games or wait until everyone else would be gone for a few days so I could leave the game set up to play over multiple sessions (after work and such). The reason for this is that we have 3 kids who like to play with things. Don't get me wrong, I play games with my kids and I enjoy it, but there's times where a guy has to play a game that is a little more complicated than the kids can handle.
Last year we moved to a bigger house. Ever since the move I have been wanting a table where I could set up a game to play and leave it in relative safety for multiple days. Buying one is cost prohibitive unless you have a thousand or two dollars laid aside. $600 minimum. I am frugal. I have some woodworking know-how and tools. I decided to build a table.
Step 1: Planning
This project has been in the planning stage for over a year: kept changing the design again and again. I wanted something easy to make, with a vaulted playing area (like you're playing in a box), easy to take apart (at least enough to move it in and out of the house myself), something with secured legs that wouldn't be in the way of someone sitting, something a person could lean on, and something I could add to in the future (like cup holders). And it had to fit in the place designated for it.
I decided very early on the size I wanted: 3' x 5' playing surface. It was the design of the tabletop and how the legs would attach that kept changing. Some of the designs in my head made it to SketchUp. The design I used, I used in the most general sense, because some of the fun of using (almost) all reclaimed materials is keeping the building process open to improvisation. With that in mind, what another person has available to them might mean that some of my steps are unnecessary.
Step 2: Materials Acquisition
What luck! Someone threw some old sections of a corral fence in the burn pile at the dump.
Oh, hey! My wife thinks it's time to move out the train table I built for my son because it takes up too much space in the play room and he hardly ever uses it.
I've plenty of screws recovered from taking apart my salvage finds. And I've got some of those special IKEA fasteners left over from the time I turned my daughter's loft bed into a bunk bed.
In general, and depending on the size of playing surface desired, here is a materials list (what I used in brackets):
- the playing surface, something smooth and level (3' x 5' x 3/4" MDF)
- the side boards (two 2x4 x 63" and two 2x4 x 36"),
- two 2x4 cut to play surface length + twice the sideboard thickness
- two 2x4 cut to play surface width
- play surface supports (two 2x4 x 63", four 1/2" x 5" x 39")
- two 2" x 4" cut to play surface length + twice the sideboard thickness
- four 1/2" x 6" cut to play surface width + twice the sideboard thickness
- leg assembly (frame: 32" x 40" x 3.5", legs 2x4 x 29 1/4")
- two 2x4 cut to play surface length - somewhere around 1'6" or 2' [as long as table is 3' x 5' or larger]
- two 2x4 cut to play surface width - 8 1/2"
- optional 1" x 1" cut to play surface width - 11 1/2"
- four 2x4 cut to desired height of playing surface - playing surface thickness
- four 4" nails (or 3/8" dowel)
- screws of appropriate lengths
Step 3: Materials Preparation
When reusing materials, there is often some conditioning needed to make them workable. In general, they need to be taken apart, like those corral fence sections I found. Doing so, I found the 2x8 rails had the areas between the slats weathered to create a kind of wave-like pattern. The boards had also developed a curve that ran along their length.
To get a square cut when I ripped the 2x8s, I planed the non-patterned side (using my great grandfather's plane, which was awesome).
I trimmed the long edges of each 2x8 using my table saw, then I ripped them down the middle to create approximate 2x4s. These I cross-cut to the desired lengths. Finally, using the table saw again, I trimmed the pattern side a little bit, trying to keep the pattern but take off some of the roughness. These would be the sideboards.
The 2x4s that I chose to use for the supports under the MDF had a kind of "living edge" in that they were not square, but were the tree edges stripped of the bark. I accentuated these with a chisel, primarily to smooth out possible sources of slivers, but also to make a rustic style bevel on the same edge.
The former train table fit between these two 2x4s with 1-1/2" of space. This helped solve how I wanted to connect the leg assembly to the table top. More on that later.
Nothing special about the rest. Just cut to the lengths I wanted.
Step 4: The Table Top
If you haven't noticed, I am terrible at getting pictures all along the process of a build. I am too involved in the improvisation of materials and how to put them together while I am building. In other words, while I may have a general plan, I am changing it as I go as I find that I don't have one thing, but I have another and how can I make it work instead.
So you get a few pictures after the fact when I can take a break from the mental exercise and snap a few.
To describe the build:
I fastened the sideboards to each other using the IKEA bolt-into-metal-dowel fasteners and screws. I laid the MDF on some improvised sawhorses and cut it to fit inside the sideboard frame. As the frame was a little off kilter, I used some long clamps to press the sideboards against the MDF with enough pressure to keep it all flush.
With the clamps holding the MDF and sideboards where I wanted them, I cut, sanded, and fastened the 1/2" x 6" cross-members/playing surface supports at the ends and equidistant in the middle. Then I cut notches in the beveled 2x4s so they fit over the cross-members and I screwed them into place. Photos show the table top at this point (with clamps removed).
Note, the MDF is not fastened to the table top as I wanted it to be removable.
Step 5: Legs
The main reason my planning for this table took so long was my continued agonizing over how to attach legs to the table top without increasing the overall width of the table or just screwing the legs into the side like some kind of afterthought that's going to eventually work itself loose and cause stability issues.
It was at this point, after assembling the table top, that my wife said she wanted the train table gone. I took the top off the train table and removed the legs. Then I placed it in the game table (while the stain was drying; I know, that's bad form or something). And that's when the solution presented itself to me.
With the space between the train table frame and the inside width of the game table supports, I could cut the tops of the legs into kind of tenons (ended up being 7/8" thick) to fit between the two frames. The legs would be fastened to the train table frame. I then cut notches in the train table frame to accept the depth of the cross members so that it also acts as a support to the playing surface.
For each corner I drilled a hole through the train table frame, the leg, and into the table top. This hole accepts the 4" nails with just enough friction to snug up and hold the table top to the leg assembly. If nails prove too thin or something, I will widen it for doweling instead.
Step 6: Applying a Finish
Even the finish was left over from an earlier project. I stained the visible parts of the table top and sealed with a clear polyurethane. I didn't have enough to do the legs, but I will probably do it another time.
Step 7: Finished Enough to Use
Yes it is! Finished enough to use!
I have recently purchased some neoprene that will be cut to fit on the play surface. Maybe in the future I will cover that with microsuede. For now, the game in the picture is still in progress and I want to finish it before adding the neoprene.
Step 8: Spiffing Up the Playing Surface
I bought some 3mm neoprene from a fabric store in town. 3 mm is the minimum thickness recommendation from others who have done what I did. Buy a piece bigger than the surface you're looking to cover.
Easiest thing for me to do was to lay the fabric out on the floor (top side down), lay the MDF board on the fabric and mark out the edges with a Sharpie. With a good pair of scissors, I cut along my markings very carefully. I did try a knife first, but that made the neoprene bunch up, leaving a rough edge. Luckily, I was only testing it on an edge away from my cut marks, so I didn't ruin what would be the final product.
After cutting out the neoprene, I just laid it in the table on top of the MDF. It is so nice to play on and looks good too!
My image on this step was taken for use on my blog, on which I was talking about the game you see laid out.