I've been getting back into miniature war gaming, and have also recently moved into my own place! Now I have space to make a real gaming table. However, my place isn't that big, so the table still needs to be portable, and easy to store. We will make a table frame that can sit on top of an existing table (or be balance on a box, or balanced between four chairs...) that will allow you to have a proper gaming surface. You can either use this table top as a flat surface for board games, or get some terrain and use it for war gaming.
In this Instructable, we'll be going over how to make a modular gaming table top. The goal of this Instructable is to create a table that gives you the maximum number of different layouts, all while taking up the least amount of space. Before you get started, read through the entire Instructable and make sure you have all the parts that you need so that you only need to make one trip to the hardware store! I made at least four trips because I kept thinking of different ways to do things, and different pieces to add.
We'll cover the design of the table top, assembly of the frame, then a way to make it even more storage friendly. I've got a second Instructable that you can find HERE that will show you how to make modular terrain tiles that you can use with this frame.
Let's get started!
Step 1: Design
The design stage is extra important because once you figure everything out, the hardware store will usually cut your wood for you. If we can make a good list of pieces we need, once you buy all the wood you can get it cut, then take it home and assemble!
The first thing to decide is how big your table is going to be. Mine is 6ft by 4ft (72 in x 48 in), and I'm making a series of 2ft by 2ft terrain boards that can be swapped out. You can also decide where you want to put the cross beams, to best support the foam tiles. You can either use six tiles, and play a full 6x4 game, or you can use four tiles and play a 4x4 game, centered on the table. Both options work, but depending how you make the support bars underneath the table the foam tiles will either be more stable or more wobbly. My table has the beams set up so that playing on 6x4 will be more stable, since that is what we play most often. I'll show you both versions. Later we're going to cover how you can make the table fold in half. If you have a good enough saw, once the table is complete you can literally cut it in half, if you don't then you need to account for the joint when you're determining your vertical cross beam measurements.
The second thing is finding what wood you will use to make the frame. I found some pieces that were 3/4 in by 1.5 in, and 3/4 in by 2.5 in. Knowing these dimensions are crucial for getting proper dimensions. NOTE: The label at the hardware store said this wood was 1 in x 2 in, and 1 x 3 in. Measure the wood to know exactly what it is, don't trust the label.
To start, we'll make the outer border. Since we want the inside measurements to be 72 in x 48 in, we need the border pieces to be bigger. To start, we need two wide pieces (2.5 in) that are 48 in long. If you want the tiles to sit a bit looser inside the frame, you can add ~1/8 in or so. I wanted my tiles to wedge into the table, so I cut it at exactly 48 in. Below that, we will attach a thinner piece (1.5 in) to make a ledge to rest tiles on. These pieces needs to be 46.5 in. 46.5 in because it is the 48 in width, minus the two halves (0.75 in each) of the long edges. These pieces create the short edges of the table. The long edges need to be cut at 73.5 in. This represents the 72 in inside measurement (again, add ~1/8 in if you want some wiggle room), plus the thickness of the wood (3/4 in) on either side. You need two wide pieces (2.5in) and two thin pieces (1.5 in), all cut at 73.5 in. See the picture for a close up of the joint, so you get an idea of how it goes together.
Horizontal Cross Beam
Now for the hoizontal cross beams. If you're making the table supports for six tiles you need two (since they rest on the edges). If you're making table supports for four tiles, you need three horizontal bars. If you're planning on cutting the table in half, use two thin pieces of wood (1.5 in) rather than the wide piece for the center (which would mean you have four horizontal bars). Cut these horizontal bars to be 46.5 in, same as the bottom of the short edge.
For the vertical cross beams, you need a bit more complicated calculations. I'll break it into two steps, one for six tile support and one for four tile support. We will use the wider wood (2.5 in) for these cross beams as well.
For 6 tile support:
The table has two horizontal cross beams. To start, we need to imagine the table as three equal sections of 24 in (since it is 72 in total) The first section needs to be 22 in. This is because it is 24 in minus the 3/4 in sticking out on the bottom of the short end, minus 1 1/4 in which is half of the horizontal cross beam. 24 - 0.75 - 1.25 = 22 in. The other side of the table needs a 22 in piece as well, for the same reason. The center piece is 21.5 in, which is 24 in minus two halves of the horizontal cross beams, 1 1/4 in each. 24 - 2 * 1.25 = 21.5 in.
For 4 tile support:
This table has three horizontal cross beams. We need to imagine the table as four equal sections of 18 in. The two outer pieces need to be cut at 16 in. This is because it is 18 in minus the 3/4 in sticking out on the bottom of the short end, minus 1 1/4 in which is half of the horizontal cross beam. 18 - 0.75 - 1.25 = 16 in. The two inner pieces are 15.5 in, which is 18 in minus two halves of the horizontal cross beams, 1 1/4 in each. 18 - 2 * 1.25 = 15.5 in. If you were planning on cutting the table in half, it's easier to save the inner pieces for later. They will be just under 15.25 in (18 - 1.25 - 1.5 = 15.25 in), depending on how big the hinge gap is. Get them cut at 15.5 in, and adjust them later with a hacksaw. The measurement they have to be depends on how you attach the hinge.
Now that all our pieces are accounted, for, this is the final shopping list
For the border, we need:
2 x 73.5 in by 1.5 in
2 x 73.5 in by 2.5 in
2 x 46.5 in by 1.5 in
2 x 48 in by 2.5 in
The horizontal cross bars
2 (or 3) x 46.5 in by 2.5 in
The vertical cross bars
2 x 22 in by 2.5 in
1 x 21.5 in by 2.5 in
2 x 16 in by 2.5 in
2 x 15.5 in by 2.5 in
Now you're ready for a trip to the hardware store to get your wood cut! You can also buy a 4 ft x 8 ft sheet of MDF (or plywood) to act as a base. If you want your table to eventually fold in half, cut it into four pieces. Two pieces 3ft x 4ft, and two pieces of 1 ft x 4 ft. You can use the 1x4 as edging for a four tile setup.
Step 2: Make Frame
By now you're got your wood from the hardware store, and are ready for assembly! The only tools you need for this step is a drill for pre-drilling the screws, and a screwdriver. I used #6 wood screws, with a 1/8 in drill bit in my dremel. I mostly used 1.5 in screws, except when screwing in the horizontal cross bars I used 2 in screws.
To start we will assemble the outer border. First we'll do the long edges. You need your four pieces that are 73.5 in. Line up the wide piece with the thin piece to make an L shape. The wide piece sits on top of the thin piece, make sure that the back of the wide piece is flush with the edge of the thin piece. Screw them together with at least three screws (don't forget to pre drill). One screw in the middle, and one a few inches from either edge. You can add extra screws if you want it extra solid, and if you're planning on cutting the table in half use two screws near the middle. Repeat for the other side. Second is the short edges. Take the two 46.5 in pieces and two 48 in pieces. Make another L shape, and ensure the back sides are flush. However, this time the edges won't be flush, make sure there is a 3/4 in overhang on either side. Again, use three screws (middle and near either edge).
Once you have your four L shapes, you can assemble them into a frame. See the picture #1 for how the corners fit together. Use two screws to secure on either side. Outer border complete!
Horizontal Cross Bars
Next is the horizontal cross bars. Measure and make a mark so that the center of each cross bar is 24 in from either end, and from the other bar. That is to say, make sure they are evenly spaced. Pre-drill holes straight through thin piece (1.5 in wood, bottom of the long edge L shape) so that you can screw the cross bars in from the outside (Picture #3). Picture #4 shows the cross bars attached.
Vertical Cross Bars
Finally, the vertical cross bars. You'll want to make a mark on the center of the horizontal cross bars, as well as the center of the vertical cross bars to ensure everything lines up (Picture #5). To make assemble easiest, pre-drill on the vertical cross beams themselves. To pre-drill on the vertical cross beams, you need to drill two holes at an angle (Picture #6). These can then be screwed into the outer border (see the screw in picture #5). Repeat for all your vertical cross beams (on both sides!) and that's it!
A final step is to add feet. I noticed that the frame would not sit flat on my dining table, it has some wobble to it. If all your wood pieces are perfectly flat, joints are perfectly flush, and the table top underneath is perfectly flat then theoretically there shouldn't be any wobble. But, since nothings perfect, we can add feet to prevent the wobble. I saw a foam cable cover at the hardware store and used that, though a pool noodle cut in half would work as well. Cut small strips (3 - 6 in) and glue (hot glue worked nicely) them to the bottom of your frame (Picture #8). These will lift your table slightly, and cushion any imperfections in levelness to keep the table more solid.
And with that, your table frame is complete! You can stain it or paint it or finish the wood in any way you like. With your MDF (or plywood) sheet, you can have a basic flat battlefield, or board gaming table! See HERE for instructions on how to make modular gaming tiles.
Step 3: Make Table More Portable
Now that we have a 6x4 beast, it would be nice to shrink it! We're going to add a hinge in the middle so that the table folds in half.
We will need a big piano hinge, four suitcase latches, and two more thin (1.5 in x 3/4 in) pieces that are the short length of your table (in this case, 46.5 in). Cut the piano hinge to be the same length. Mine was slightly longer (I cut it to 48 in) and the overhang on each side was super annoying. Better to cut it slightly shorter then too long. Remove the center vertical cross bar so that we have space to put the hinge in. Save this piece, we'll use it again.
Screw the hinge to the two thin (1.5 in) pieces of wood (Picture #1). You don't need to use every screw hole, I alternated on each side so that when it folded in half the screws didn't crash into each other (Picture #2). Once the hinge is attached to the wood, we can attach this piece to the main table.
On the outer border, make a mark on either side of the table that is centered. This is where you're going to cut the table in half, but don't cut yet. Line the hinge piece (with the wood) up on either side of the marks (Picture #3). Screw the hinged wood onto either side of the table the same way you attached the horizontal cross bars (Picture #4). Once that's attached, you can cut it in half (Picture #5). I used a hacksaw to cut it down right to the hinge, and when my saw hit the hinge (my hinge was extra long) I stopped and folded the table in half to break the last little bit of the wood.
Now that the hinge is attached, we're going to reinforce it with a vertical cross bar on either side. Measure the distance from the horizontal cross bar to the hinged wood. Cut your vertical cross bar to size, and reattach it on either side (Picture #6).
The last step is to attach the suitcase hinges. Put two on either side to hold the table open (Picture #7), and put the other two further towards the ends (Picture #8), to hold the table closed when its folded.
And that completes our final step! The table is now complete, ready for both gaming and storage.
Step 4: Conclusion
In this Instructable we covered how to make a gaming table top that can be used for a variety of battle fields. We covered the design of the table so you can customize it to your needs, the assembly of it, and a further modification to make it more storage friendly.
Check out the next Instructable, that will teach you to make the modular terrain tiles that you see in the pictures! Find it HERE.
I'm gearing up to release a load of Instructables on a bi weekly or monthly basis. Some are bigger then others. I have over a year's worth of Instructables I want to make! They are related to gaming, electronics, 3D modelling, and robotics! I even have some large collections I want to make (10+ Instructables). For now, follow me to stay tuned with all the cool new projects that are coming down the pipeline!