Advice for selecting wood for my table project

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Forum topic by Chris Moran posted 11-08-2009 07:54 AM 3180 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Chris Moran

15 posts in 2544 days

11-08-2009 07:54 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

The first major project I really want to attack is to make a gaming table (as in RPG). The main features are that it’ll be hexagonal, have open pockets for holding books and other needed accessories (about 12×12x3), “cup holders/dice containers” and a “glass” (not sure if it’ll be glass or the more likely choice of acrylic or polycarbonate) inset top (etched with a gaming grid on the bottom, possibly lit form the sides of the glass).

I’m still working on designs on paper (I like drafting) and trying to figure out the details and how it will be constructed.

I would like the table to be on the heavier side, but it does need to be able to withstand people leaning on it, rolling dice, moving/dropping metal miniatures and standing up often rubbing up against it.

As for look, I want it to look more on the darker side. I know stain has a lot to do with that, but how important is the wood selection for that aspect?

My skill level is NOWHERE near my ambition. :) So, I worry about either working with tougher wood or spending money on a failed experiment.
I don’t want to spend a lot of money if I can help it. Perhaps if I pull it off quite well with good but cheaper wood, I could sell the original and make a higher quality wood based version, but I’m not clear on that.

So (yes, there was a point) I’d like some advice on what I how I should go about selecting the wood (or woods) I would use for this project. Many projects I see here seem to use all of the good stuff, but in table construction why mixes of nice and vanilla wood stock can be used and how (such as supports that aren’t seen or can be covered by veneer if viable)? After some research, I was quite blown away by how much stuff like maple costs. WAY out of my price range until I have some chops to back up the vision with.
Thanks for any advice/suggestions.

11 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3243 days

#1 posted 11-08-2009 02:39 PM

Chris, have you considered using oak as your wood of choice? Oak is relatively inexpensive, I just bought some 4/4 stock from my supplier for $2.00 a bf, it machines easily, is readily available and is hard enough to handle being a table top.

And if you want it on the darker side this is easily done with dyes or stains as oak is pretty easy to color. Here is a cabinet that is in the construction stage in my shop now:

As you can see this is going to be a dark cabinet.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View knotscott's profile


7146 posts in 2797 days

#2 posted 11-08-2009 04:00 PM

Walnut, mahogany, and cherry are typical darker woods, but those tend to be as expensive as maple, and sometimes more depending on where you live. Oak, ash, sassafras, and butternut are all less expensive woods that take stain well.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View a1Jim's profile


115177 posts in 2998 days

#3 posted 11-08-2009 06:45 PM

Sounds like a big project , I like wiping stain and it comes in some many dark shades .

-- Custom furniture

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 2580 days

#4 posted 11-08-2009 07:03 PM

Awesome project! Ol’ time D&D fun. I’m a big WoW player myself though family, jobs, and hobbies kinda puts it on the back burner nowadays.

I agree with Chris. Oak is good, relatively inexpensive, and easily found. It’s also a versatile wood for finishing, either dark or light, depending on your tastes. Likewise, oak plywood works well as a base, though a table may not need much of it, other than the top (trimmed in oak boards and you’ll never know that it is plywood).

I would fill the pores of an oak table top, maybe even with a light pore filler for a pickled look…nice against a dark stain.

Be sure to look at some of the projects here for inspiration. I recall some chess tables that really rocked my world!

-- jay,

View davidroberts's profile


1025 posts in 2907 days

#5 posted 11-08-2009 07:32 PM

Welcome Chris. Game tables are popular amoung woodworkers. Norm Abrams of the New Yankee Workshop built one a few years ago that was top notch. You can buy plans off his website.

On a more complicated piece that I want to look really nice, I prefer to use or modify a ready made plan rather than reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Norm covered the actual playing area with felt, I think red or green. So the material wood for the playing area could a lesser grade material, such as MDF, masonite, or 3/4” plywood. The money shot is the trim around the playing area that holds the chips and cups. For those areas I would select a wood that takes a dark, rich finish like Scottknots suggested, especially oak or mahogany. And I like agree with Scott Bryan that for the look and price, it is hard to beat oak, white first. Red is fine but you may want to fill the pores. I really really love white oak. Take your time on the miters to get them right, and cut them all at the same time once you get your setup ready. Don’t be afraid to make a shooting board with the proper miter angle to help make the angles near perfect.

On the finish a couple of words here, alcohol will damage a shellac. Oil/varnish goes on well, would probably stand up to abuse and is easy to repair.

My best advise is to start a blog series here on LJs, post pictures (we respond to pictures) , ask questions (we love to answer questions, haha), and have some fun. I’m looking forward to seeing your progress. Remember, it’s all about the journey. Don’t rush, take your time, and you’ll have a straight table. Get it, straight. Ok I’ll stop here.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View davidroberts's profile


1025 posts in 2907 days

#6 posted 11-08-2009 07:48 PM

Here’s some inspiration from a fellow LJ’er. Really nice.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View Chris Moran's profile

Chris Moran

15 posts in 2544 days

#7 posted 11-08-2009 07:59 PM

great responses so far people, thanks. I’m kind picky about these things, which is why I’m starting from scratch. There might be some major customizations that I doubt would be in common plans and the perfectionist in me won’t cut anything until I have drawings that tell me what I want to know.
Here’s an EARLY mockup… 1”:1’; scale made from cardboard and foam core.
Gaming table mockup

The legs are stupid… I’ll figure out them after the top design is solid.

Oak sounds like a perfectly reasonable choice.
What about inside the top? Parts that won’t be seen – supports/framing? Is plywood okay as a vertical support?

View Karson's profile


35032 posts in 3821 days

#8 posted 11-12-2009 03:49 AM

Popular is quite often used for under the cover wood. It’s a great hardwood and is easy to use.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Labappel's profile


7 posts in 2538 days

#9 posted 11-13-2009 06:01 AM

You can also check out this site for some tables.

Alot of them are ‘quick and easy’, but give some real nice ideas.

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3314 days

#10 posted 11-13-2009 06:06 AM

mdf and black paint

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Chris Moran's profile

Chris Moran

15 posts in 2544 days

#11 posted 11-13-2009 06:15 AM

MDF and black paint. Good one. I guess if I was making it for a gaming store or a dorm room, perhaps… actually, I’m sure that would look fine, especially if glossy… but I want it to look like “adult” furniture for young at heat stuff. ;)

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