Crafting a Game Table
A Diary of Conception to Reality
Special thanks to Rex for commissioning our very first gaming table build - your trust in us sparked this journey.1. Now is the Time
2. Drafting First
Demand. We have been approached many times over the last decade to craft gaming tables. It is the cornerstone of Game Night and an achievement held in high regard by many woodworkers. Historically we have been very hesitant to commit to large furniture - there are an array of potential pitfalls in manufacturing, shipping, and maintaining large and well used items.
Simply creating a one off gaming table is quite doable - the difficult part is the necessary experience in logistics and service that need to be present to support such a large product. We guarantee all of our products and have always ensured we are able to hold to our word in every design decision we make. We did not want to tackle such a large project until we were confident in every aspect of the process.
After observing a number of industry friends create tables (some with great success, and some with great failure) we have finally achieved a level of expertise that makes us confident in our ability to bring our first game table to market.
This is the story of that journey.
3. Proof of Concept
3d Modeling for the Win! With years of experience 3d drafting for our modeling and sculpture work this was an obvious place to start. CAD allows us to rapidly prototype and develop designs before touching a piece of wood, and raises any red flags before physical time and effort and spent.
Stability. We wanted to create a tabletop that shipped completely assembled. This would ensure we would be able to fit all of the components together, stress test everything, insert actual toppers, and guarantee the customer would get a 100% functional item. This should mitigate servicing and returns which is a top priority for this build.
Experience. We have a great team of craftspeople that are accustomed to manufacturing highly precise tolerances with ease. Over the years we have developed numerous ways to ensure a process is engineered to achieve the required precision. Our daily processes when creating gaming gear is a well oiled and efficient machine - we knew we could direct this expertise toward a gaming table with little friction.
Machinery. Design considerations allowed for production given existing machinery and technology in house. Creating tables needed to be a low investment initially until we could gain a better understanding of how to streamline and optimize the process.
Pricing. At this point in the process we have no idea what actual retail pricing will be. Hardware, board footage, and labour would all need to be taken into account before we could approach an informed decision on pricing. It is absolutely essential that pricing is a carefully considered aspect of business. At scale, bad pricing can make or break a business.
4. Small Prototype
Cutting. This is the part where we test cut major parts of the assembly for a dry fit and confirm that our in house machinery is up to the task. The images below are the very first materials that were cut for test assembly. (No problems so far).
Wood Species. All of our test materials are made in Cherry as it is widely available, relatively cheap, and easy to work with. To that end, our initial offering will likely be entirely in domestic wood species. This helps mitigate risk while we ramp up as errors in expensive lumber can be very costly. Exotic species also have different properties when milling and shaping so there is an anticipated learning curve as we progress. Slow and steady is the motto for this project. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
Leg Hardware. The largest hurdle in leg hardware is the requirement that the tabletop be fully assembled for shipping. Traditional table legs mate the tabletop and apron with metal hardware. Since our gaming table has an inset (or lowered) tabletop we are unable to use traditional hardware. As a workaround we are testing screw on table hardware that allow the legs to be attached to the top by hand. This no only makes the build process easier, it allows the customer to setup the table without any tools or complex assembly.
5. Full Size Table Milling
Bringing it together. The intent behind the small prototype was to test the theoretical fit, function, and profile of the table as a whole. The proof of concept held up and there are no major oversights in the design. Some minor assembly issues and dado measurements needed to be tweaked, but the general result was very positive.
Table bottom. The only portion of the table that is not hardwood is the bottom. For stability and accuracy we will use 1/2 inch sanded maple plywood. This is a much better choice when bridging a 4 ft gap as plywood is stable, durable, and will be supported by hardwood cleats. Since the intent is to ship the tabletop assembled we will likely utilize full sheets of plywood for the bottom.
Drop in toppers. The prototype is designed to feature drop in toppers. We were unsure about this choice initially as floating toppers seemed to be popular in the market, but had some complaints as they did not have an attachment point and tended to move when bumped. At our core we believe that gaming has to come first. A convertible dining table is a very nice thing, but we wanted to maintain the aesthetic and intent of this being a gaming table first. Drop in toppers are smaller, easier to fit, and less prone to warping.
Shaper. The new 3HP Shaper came in this afternoon. We will get it assembled over the weekend and get some test cuts done next week. All of the profile work done on the small prototype was accomplished with a dado blade. The lip edge profile was done on a router table, with an underpowered router. The 3HP Shaper will be able to eat that work for breakfast.
Public Interest. We are already getting some public interest in game tables (this page is currently not listed, but we will eventually make it public). We added a sign-up below to monitor interest.
6. Lining and Metal
Prototype Rail Glueups. The prototype table rails have been successfully glued up and fitted, and wow are they solid! This process gave us insight into the dimensions of the table legs and dado channels used for the glueup and fit. With some small tweaks we were able to ensure 1/8 in tolerances in the assembly process that will allow for very small measurement discrepancies.
Milling Long Lumber. Today we milled all of the Cherry for a full size 4x6 game table. The process allowed us to ensure all lumber length, cuts, planing, and accuracy are achievable with full sized lumber. One of the interesting parts of handling longer lumber is maintaining accuracy when cutting dados and channels. The new Shaper will be functional later this week and we will be using this as the first stock to process with our new toy.
Drop in toppers. The first toppers were processed and glued up today. The constraint in the process is the width of our planers - we have two Powermatic 15" helical-head planers which will restrict the maximum with of board that can be surfaced. For now toppers are planned to be around 12 inches wide.
7. Full Size Assembly
Lining Installation.. We swung by the local fabric store today and sourced some neoprene underlay and red velvet covering for the interior lining. We were able to adhere them together providing a very high end table interior. As an alternative we have also sourced pre-lined neoprene which should be in next week. We intend to fully install the lining before the table ships ensuring the fit is tight as a drum.
Metal Track Installation. We are using 1 in. steel for the magnetic tracks in the interior an exterior of the rails (wood glue is surprisingly effective in securing the metal!). We ran some pull tests with out existing magnetic Compatibilitiles and Drink Holders without any trouble. Each rail has a 1/8 in. channel cut to hold the metal, and a 5/8 in. opening for accessories.
Board footage and labor. The initial full size table is being constructed which has given us an accurate board footage estimate and loss figures. We should have a rough labor estimate later this week.
8. Rosettes and Other Trimming
Building a Real Table. Since the majority of the design specifics were handled during the small prototype build, the full size build is a duplicate of the same cuts and routes, but at scale. Handling larger boards can be challenging but with attention to detail the necessary accuracy can be achieved.
Glue for the win. When applied properly modern wood glue forms a stronger bond than the wood itself while allowing for the natural movement of the lumber. We have intentionally minimized the amount of hardware and screws in our table build in order to preserve the handmade nature of our craftsmanship. Each table is a one of a kind item built with extraordinary care by an experienced craftsperson.
Accuracy in Duplication. The best way to achieve conformity is processing the identical cuts on the same machine in sequence without modifying any parameters. For example, all of the magnetic rail cuts are identical to one face of a board. We ensure the settings are perfectly accurate on a test piece, then proceed to cut all of the boards in the build that require that particular cut. This results in conformity throughout. The same method is applied wherever possible especially with longer rail lengths.
Dry Fit. The best way to ensure accuracy is dry fitting all of the components together before finishing and assembly. Since our intent is to ship every tabletop fully assembled, we can guarantee accuracy and quality before the process is completed.
9. Full Size Assembly
Flourish. We wanted to add the Dog Might flourish to our projects, but didn't want to go over the top. We compromised on optional corner cap rosettes. These will add an understated classical theme to the table without being intrusive. this approach will allow us to offer a wide variety of designs or custom work where desired.
Speed Cloth and Leg Hardware. While waiting on our neoprene linings, we ordered some samples of speed cloth for the poker crowd. Large table feet also arrived, which look great and feel very solid. More updates coming soon!
Topper Fit. All toppers are dry fit into the table to ensure accuracy. In the photos below the toppers are dropped in before cleating to check measurements. They are then cleated with a dado cut for strength then glued and clamped.
Topper Cleats. Cleats are added support structures that run perpendicular to long spanning wood members to add strength. In our case, the cleats make the toppers more durable and also bridge the gap that enables the toppers to drop into the rails.
New Species. Since the fit is accurate and the components finalized we are able to start producing tables in new wood species. Huzzah! You can also see the typical waste materials from ripping the boards.
Hardware. Heavy duty leg hardware installed. Simply thread on the 3/8 bolt to fit with a neoprene rubber washed for added stability.
Coffee Table Size. This 2x4 ft. table in Black Limba has a surprising amount of character when presenting on a large surface. Still tweaking the leg height.
11. Sanding and Finishing
Documentation. Once the table build has progressed to finishing we are ready to produce a design document and train staff. Recording the build process also achieves a number of peripheral goals: reproducibility of the item, preventing 'generational verbal knowledge' roadblocks, and cementing and centralizing the production process.
Making a Calculator. With the magic of spreadsheets we can then take the desired final table dimensions, plug them into a calculator and generate a complete list of material requirements and sizes. This is incredibly useful in guarding against waste, and forces the craftspersons to plan the project accordingly. It also provides a very accurate estimate of board foot usage used in pricing the final product.
Correcting Human Error. The final step of documentation is walking a craftsperson through an entire table build verbally, while they follow along in the documentation. This question and answer process demonstrates any flaws, missed details, and helps ensure the docs are clear.
12. The First Finished Table
Sanding and Finishing. Building an initial prototype allowed us to see problematic processes in the crafting process. This becomes very apparent as the project approaches the final stages of sanding and finishing. At this point we observe any inaccuracies in the build, labor difficulties, sanding performance, efficiency improvements, and adjust the next build to be more fit. As a retrospective exercise, small tweaks made at this stage smooth out the build and save time and materials.
Next Up: Finishing! The first 3 tables will be finished over the weekend. Stand by for full product shots next week!
13. Proposed Wood Speceis
Final Assembly. Time to glue on the magnetic rails, add neoprene lining, install the top rails, and put on the rosettes. Doing this project with a 'slow and steady' attitude has been incredibly rewarding. I was concerned about the final assembly, but everything went together far more smoothly than expected.
The Final Product. Our first Cherry Gaming Table in it's native environment. Weight estimates are around 180 lbs. assembled. Very pleased with the overall quality and easy of assembly with this prototype. Might end up taking it home. Includes 6 drop in toppers, drink holders, game tiles, and opening 'key'.
14. Black Limba Coffee Table
Domestic and Exotic. The species below are on the short list for table offerings. They were chosen stability, availability, and natural characteristics. Most of them are shop favorites.
Domestic Wood Species. Cherry, Maple, Oak, and Walnut
Exotic Wood Species. Mahogany, Redheart, Purpleheart, and Wenge
Amazing Character. The first coffee sized table has been finished (4' x 2'),and it's a stunner. Black Limba is known for it's high contrast wood coloration and funky grain patterns. This one didn't disappoint.
The Table List
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