Building the Tabletops


This post is all about woodworking. この投稿はすべて木工について。

Finished products

Tasha’s tables were designed to fit MFG cooking units in a central recess. The design makes for an awkward gaming surface. I decided to take the opportunity to build custom table tops, purpose built for board gaming.


The table tops have three main features: felt for picking up cards and sliding pieces around, raised walls to keep dice and pieces from falling on the floor, and third they are built from cedar making them lightweight and easy to remove and store. The last was a bit of serendipity. I chose to build them out of cedar to prevent problems with seasonal wood movement. I hadn’t thought about the weight difference, but was very grateful for it once they were completed.


I’m an amateur woodworker, and am very much still learning, but I decided to take on the project myself after discussing the details with a sashimono woodworker who lives in the village. I don’t have many power tools, only a drill and a circular saw in fact, and when I started I didn’t even have a workbench or a toolbox. So there were a lot of steps to reach six completed gaming table tops.


Getting help from the little one

First I made the design and measured the existing tables to the millimeter. Then I bought the lumber, and built the bottom frames that would fit the existing tables precisely.


Fence for circular saw to make long straight cuts on plywood

After I cut all of the plywood boards I realized I could have saved myself a lot of energy in making insets for them had I cut them to a larger size and just stacked the pieces like a sandwich. But the cuts were made, so I was committed. In this step I had to build a circular saw fence to make straight long cuts with the circular saw.


Then began the real challenge. Table frame-sized miter joints. Many gaming table-tops I’ve seen avoid this by making square corner pieces. I am however a woodworking masochist. I do almost everything the hardest possible way. I was considering taking them to someone with a miter saw to cut them for me. And I probably should have. But I didn’t. Instead I bought a miter box and built a shooting board and cut them as best as I could with a handsaw and did what I could with the shooting board. Shooting 4×7 cm end grain is not easy though, and the results were no-where close to machined miters. Before reaching the end of this step I also made a toolbox, a workbench, a bench hook, and another shooting board.


To make up for the imperfect miters and also to add necessary structural integrity to the joints, I chose to make butterfly keys. So I built a jig for cutting the keys and built a test joint. It split when I put it together. But it looked cool enough to make me try again, taking what I learned from the initial failure. I used the split joint as an opportunity to test an interesting mistake correction technique I learned when I was back in the USA last year. Filling the split gap with saw-dust and superglue. It worked beautifully, giving me the confidence to move forward with making 24 of these highly difficult joints. That process took the most time, but it was very rewarding when the upper frames came together in the end. For this step I also had to build a special miter holding jig to keep the pieces perfectly aligned while I laid out the cut lines for the butterfly keys.


After that I cut insets into the lower frames, fit and glued the plywood into place, then measured overhang and laid out the placement of the top frames. I did not glue these together, because I wanted to be able to remove the top frame for re-applying felt if or rather when it became dirty or picked. So I used six screws. I could have achieved it with some complex joinery, but by this point screws seemed like a welcome short cut.


Next I painted the bottom frames and varnished the top frames, then I cut felt to size and glued it on with a spray adhesive made for applying fabrics to wood or plastic. After a little bit of adjustment for one table that didn’t fit as perfectly as it should have, they were done. It took me about five months from December to the end of April.


Author: Mark

English teacher and board game cafe owner living in rural Japan.