FREE PROJECT: Game Table Trio

FREE PROJECT: Game Table Trio

Games, especially board games, are a great holiday pastime. This little table has three classic games engraved in the tabletops: cribbage, chess/checkers and Nine Men’s Morris, all in a small end table format. When it is not being used for gaming, one of the three tops can be flipped over and it will simply look like a small table with a smooth surface.

Changing tabletop on game table
Three separate game boards can be exchanged to suit the desire of the moment. The top board can be flipped over to expose a smooth, non-game table surface.

I routed the three game boards using a Shaper Origin (it’s a unique handheld CNC machine), but they are doable using “old school” methods as well. More on that at the end of this article.

Starting at Floor Level

Using a mortising machine to chop out table cross bracket
The game table’s legs are formed out of 2-1/4β€œ sticked up blanks. The author chopped the mortises for the cross braces before turning the legs round. It made the mortising process a bit more manageable.

I built the legs for the table first, choosing ash lumber that I surfaced to 13/16″. That allowed me to glue up three pieces per leg and make blanks that were 2-3/8″ square. I also left them longer than their final 24″ length. I then chopped mortises in the legs for the cross braces while they were sticked up and moved on to the lathe. Here, I turned them to cylinders with a rabbet at the top and a “foot” at the bottom.

Hand chopped mortise hole in table cross brace
A mortising machine makes short work of that task, but another option is to bore out the waste with a 1/2″-dia. Forstner bit and then chisel the ends of the mortises square.

I cut the legs to final length on a miter saw. I also cut the cross braces to width but left them overlong and set them aside for the time being. You can find all the dimensions and construction details for the table parts in the Material List and in the Drawings.

Turning game table leg on a lathe
Turn the legs to a basic cylinder and cap them with a small rabbet at the top and a 1″ long “foot” at the bottom. After each leg is turned and sanded, apply the first coat of finish while it’s on the lathe.

Next, I glued up the four pieces for the tabletop game boards, taking the time to “compose” the panels β€” trying to create pleasing grain patterns. Ash has bold grain patterns and can be very beautiful. Because I was working with the Shaper Origin and was frankly a total rookie with it, I made my top blanks 28″ square to leave some room for error.

Hand-guided CNC Router

Applying Shaper Origin tape to game table blank
Applying special adhesive-backed “domino” looking tape to the tabletop blank and the shop-made fixture that surrounds it on three sides is the first step in getting ready to use the Shaper Origin to machine the tabletops.

I’ve been aware of the Shaper Origin for a long time now, having seen one of the very early prototypes developed by some MIT students.

Shaper Origin screen scanning tracking tape
Once the tape is in place, scanning the workspace is the next step.

Think of it as a handheld router with a sort of GPS system that helps guide the bit. You do the driving, but the machine keeps you on the road.

Moving Shaper Origin across table with tracking tape
The workspace is recorded and stored in the Shaper Origin’s memory, and it uses the tape to locate itself on the workspace surface.

When you learn any new tool or process, there are going to be fits and starts, and that happened to me. At the same time, I was pretty successful using the tool, thanks to the support the company provides on their website (

Shaper Origin screen displaying cutting patterns
The designs for the games and the tabletop shapes were downloaded into Shaper Origin’s memory. These are then imported to get ready for cutting. These designs are free now at

We created our plan, sent it to Shaper to assist, and they put usable files into our ShaperHub™ portal.

We’ve created a video that demonstrates how I routed the games and cut the tabletops with the Shaper. Once I completed the tops, I measured to make sure that the dimensions of the cross braces were correct, then raised tenons on their ends and formed the half-lap joints.

Shaper Origin screen displaying cutting depth on game table
The woodworker tells the machine which bit is installed and inputs the depth of cut and where the cut will be made in relationship to the line: right on the line, inside or outside of the line.

After some final sanding and a dry fit to make sure the parts all fit together, it was time for assembly. I used shellac to build up a film coat and then a rattle can of clear lacquer as a top coat. Wax the surfaces to keep them from welding together!

Using Shaper Origin to make router cuts on game table tabletop
The machine will not allow the cut to stray from the line selected.

If you are not going to use a Shaper Origin (probably most or all of you), we have downloadable drawings that will give you the tabletop shape and the Nine Men’s Morris layout.

Cutting tenons on game table cross braces at the table saw
Cut tenons on the ends of the cross braces using a miter gauge on the table saw. Nibble away the waste, forming the cheeks and the shoulders in a series of cuts.

Rockler sells a few jigs for drilling cribbage patterns (#51133 is one of several) that you can select. If you want a checkerboard pattern, painting that pattern on the tabletop is a simple solution.

Cutting half-lap joints on game table support
In a similar way, mill the half-lap joints at the center of the cross braces.

But don’t stop there! The tabletops are an opportunity to put any sort of board game on the surface. Creativity counts!

Dry assembly of the base pieces for a game table
Be sure to dry assemble the table before gluing it up β€” it’s an essential step to test that all the parts fit together properly.

All in all, this was a fun learning experience, and the table is a little gem.

Click Here to Download the Drawings and Materials List.

Click Here to Download the Game Table Templates.

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