There’s one thing that every tabletop gamer would love as a gift, a fancy gaming table. It’s not usually something you’d probably think is attainable, but every once in a while, the gaming gods will smile on you. That’s what I thought had happened last Christmas, but it was just the start of a much bigger experience.
My roommate, Scott, and I host Both Down, a Blood Bowl podcast. We’ve been friends for a long time and after his divorce, I ended up moving in. Since then we’ve played many games of Blood Bowl as well as many, many, many other games on his rickety dining table. It was never horrible, but more than once, the discussion popped up about how a new/better table would be more conducive to better playing experiences.
Last year, I was looking around at Craigslist and saw something awesome. A guy was moving and couldn’t take his game table with him. Four foot by four foot with a removable top that revealed a sunken in area with fabric that was perfect for gaming. If you’ve looked into game tables before, you know the basic idea. It had places for cups, looked to be decently made and best yet, he’d be happy to deliver! The cost wasn’t horrible, for what it was, so I decided it was an opportunity I had to take. I knew Scott wouldn’t be happy with me spending hundreds of dollars on him for a Christmas present, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. At that point, it was more a gift for him, myself and anyone else playing games at our place.
I scheduled with the guy to deliver on a weekend that Scott was going to be away at Wizard’s Asylum, the local game store that he works part time at, helping out with a Magic tournament. Things looked good, we’d have a new table just in time for Christmas and he was going to be thrilled. Then, as these things tend to go, the Craigslist guy vanished. He stopped replying to texts, didn’t answer his phone, didn’t call back after leaving messages. All that work and planning, for nothing.
That weekend I was less than happy. I didn’t mind if he wanted to keep it, but to just not reply and not notify me? That was unacceptable. In my excitable state, I decided that I didn’t need that table. I figured that my Dad has all the tools needed to make a table, so I was going to make one better and cheaper! One of those things ended up being true anyway.
I researched online and found the same basic plans that the Flake had used. A thread on Board Game Geek had plans for the table and said it would only cost $150. That seemed the best design out there and as I read comments, I realized a lot of people had been using it to good effect and had made some great tables. Step one was complete. (If you’re interested in the exact thread, click here)
Step two was to make sure that Dad was on board. My whole life, my Dad has done word work as a hobby. Growing up, half of our garage was converted to be his work shop. He always had stockpiles of wood on hand and had more money in his tools than in anything else. When I was around 10, we built a shop for the side of the house and made our back deck. Not just a flat deck, but a very large deck with railings and a pitched roof. I was confident that he could definitely make one, but he was 79 years old, so I had to make sure he’d be OK with doing it still.
Giving Dad’s age doesn’t really do him justice. He’s more active, in better shape and does more than most of the people I know still. He goes to conventions with his wife and creates and sells Steam Punk items. They go to Society for Creative Anachronism events, Renaissance fairs, Scottish clan events and etc etc etc. I checked and he was more than happy to help, but help was the optimal word. He wasn’t just going to do it, I had to go out to his house (2 hours away from me) and do the brunt of the work.
With the plans in hand and the commitment of my father, I presented Scott with a copy of the plans for Christmas and got a very confused response. I then explained what the plans were and told him to make any changes to them that he wanted and we’d be sure to implement them. He tried to tell me that he didn’t need it and to not bother, but at that point, I’d made up my mind to get it made.
The initial idea was to get it made in middle of January, but due to my Dad and I’s schedules not syncing up and then him having Knee surgery, it meant that I didn’t make my way out to his place until the middle of June. Middle of June… Oklahoma… working mostly in a shed without air conditioning. This was not the best idea.
I went out to my Father’s and spent the weekend. He had already gotten the plans with the modifications specified and made a list of what was needed to build it. He already had all the equipment, so it just came down to supplies. We double checked the list and headed to the local Ace Hardware.
Due to him doing all the shows for his Steam Punk side business (Steaming Stiches is the name if you’re interested), Dad had a trailer that allowed us to get everything we needed. If you end up wanting to do this yourself, make sure you’ve got some sort of truck or trailer access. Makes things much easier than trying to fit everything into a small car.
We got to cutting, organizing and getting ready to put everything together. Measure twice, cut once. Then realize you forgot something and go back to the store. Then a blade breaks and you go back to the store. Then you run out of glue and go back to the store. The moral is you can never be too prepared. You will be going back to the store multiple times.
With it being almost 100 degrees before noon and working non-stop since about 8, we decided to go grab lunch on the way back from picking up additional stuff. My Dad lives in Elk City, Oklahoma. Not the biggest town in the world, but surprisingly a lot of places to choose from when you want to eat. We decided on Mexican (probably not the greatest of ideas for lunch in over 100 degree heat, but we were really hungry and he said it was good). This was easily the best decision all day. The place was called Pedro’s and it looked insane, but the food was great and the serving size was ridiculous. We got fajitas to split and despite working up a massive appetite, we still took home half of the order.
Back to the grind we went and we finished day one with the bottom and the base for the top done. It was a long day of work, but it honestly felt great. We accomplished a lot and spending time bonding with my Dad is never a bad time.
The next day was Father’s Day, so I took Dad out to a nice breakfast and we got back to work on the table. We made the supports for the top, cut things to fit together nicely and made the boards to place in the top. 5 boards make up the top, with the idea that the small one in the middle will have a hole in it that you can pull it out to remove the others. Not the best way in the word to do things, but it works and it’s what most people used.
The day ended a little early as I had to get back home that evening so I could get to work the next day. One weekend down and it was mostly put together. It looked awesome. Just had to come back the next weekend to sand it down, fill some holes and stain it. Should be no problem.
So there was a problem. The boards we got for the top decided they wanted to warp. They ended up warping so much that they were unusable. This was going to replace the kitchen table, so it had to serve as one. A bumpy, uneven kitchen table would not work out. My Dad mentioned that there are pressed boards that are made of lots of thin boards, glued together and then pressed. They shouldn’t warp and would be uniform. A trip to the store commenced and I had 4 new boards to bring with me as I went back.
That weekend, with the table looking mostly done, I was hoping it would go pretty fast and wouldn’t be as bad. It ended up being worse than the previous weekend and gave me a real appreciation for how much work it takes to get things just right. That was the weekend I learned to hate filling and sanding. Filling holes with wood filler and then sanding everywhere and repeat until good.
Another over 100 degree day and in the shed sanding. It was slow going to get everything smooth. Going over places once, twice, three times. Working on trying to make all the edges perfectly lined up. Trying to get all the sides flat and not bowing out. Making sure all the joints and holes get filled enough to end up making a smooth surface. This was horrible. Banging nails and putting things together, it’s hard, but at the end of the day, you have what looks like a table. Doing all this and at the end of it all, you still just have a table. Nothing looks different. It’s completely different of course and the end product would be craptacular if none of this took place, but it’s a little disheartening to say the least.
The next day made up for it though. The stain was put on and while it was repetitive and grueling and it was still way too hot, the end result looked good. Really good. I did as much as I could that day and then took off. The middle was left untouched since we’ll be putting something down on it.
While I was gone, my Dad went back and sanded some places where the stain didn’t take (pretty much where I sweated on it as I was doing it. Did I mention it was hot?) and re-stained the areas. Then he messaged and let me know that while better, the new top boards weren’t perfect. They were bowing too, but hopefully once inside, they’ll acclimate and flatten out. Not much to do about that, but good news is it makes it easier to take the pieces off the top! We couldn’t do the trick with the little middle piece, so a little unevenness ends up working out for the better.
After having to wait for everything to dry thoroughly, we brought it to my place and got it into the house. That only left one final step. The previous table had used a fabric for the bottom of the gaming area, but everyone online said that Neoprene was a much better solution. Neoprene is essentially the same material that they make into mouse pads. It’s rugged, easy to clean and bouncy which cuts down on wear and noise. Once the roll came in, we just had to cut it to size and place it in. With it in place, the table was now complete.
In the end, the table ended up costing about the same as the Craigslist one (if I don’t include gas, taking my Dad out to eat while I was at his place and the neoprene) and it took much longer to get, but all told, it’s a better table and I got to make it with my own hands and spend time with my Dad. It ended up not only being a gift for Scott, but a gift for all three of us.
If you’re able to make one on your own or with the help of friends or family, I highly suggest doing so. Not only will you be able to customize it to your own specifications, but you’ll also be able to show off and take pride in your new centerpiece.
This final picture is showing a great mat that our friends at Maelstrom Gaming Mats made for us to support our podcast. A great neoprene pitch showing off our logo for the Both Down Podcast. Just had to share since it’s so awesome.