Monday, December 26, 2016

How-to: Under-bed Play Board

Happy Holidays everyone! This year, for Christmas, I undertook my first real woodworking project- meaning one that starts with boards and ends up with something that actually feels finished. My son is nearing the magic age of three when choking hazards become less of a problem and toy franchises really start vying for his attention. In preparation for this transition, I built him a play board that could serve as a base for train sets, LEGO, car tracks or really any sort of world-building toy.

I had a couple of these when I was a kid, but they were much simpler... just single sheets of decent quality scrap wood. I wouldn't say I was excited about having them, but I recognized their invaluable utility. I wanted to provide something similar for my son, but I also felt like taking it to the next level.

A board like this can also be useful for gamers in need of a stowable play surface. The 3ft x 4ft board I built is a little too big to easily cart around, but would still be handy for those without a good playing surface.

When I was finished, I posted pics to my Facebook page and immediately started receiving comments asking for instructions on how I built it. So, here they are. If you have a little one with a penchant for building toys, a board like this will serve you well.

What you will need:


  • Power driver with screw and drill bits
  • Rotary sander
  • 60 grit sanding disk
  • 100 grit sanding disk
  • 220 grit sandpaper
  • Hammer - If you have a compressor and nail gun, skip this and just use brads
  • Compound miter saw - a hand saw with a 45 degree jig would also work just fine
  • Clamp-it Assembly Squares x4
  • 5 ft Pipe Clamps x4 - use whatever length of pipe fits your project
  • Scrap wood for clamping
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil


  • Project Board - I used 3/4" pine in prepackaged sizes.
    • 2 ft x 4 ft (one board)
    • 1 ft x 4 ft (one board)
    • You can also use good quality 3/4" plywood cut to size. Birch ply would be a good choice. I went with boards because I just needed a 3x4 surface in the end.
  • 1 1/16" x 1/2" trim cut to length - the trim I used was hemlock with a rectangular profile and a simple round-over on one corner. I actually looked for just a rectangle but couldn't find it. The important thing is that I wanted it to stand about 1/4" taller than the surface of the board.
  • Wood Glue - I used Tite-bond II (blue label)
  • Finish nails - again, if you have a nail gun, just use that
  • Drawer pulls x2 - make sure these can be mounted from the front. Also a good idea to make sure they have a round profile in case you step on them in the middle of the night!

 Constructing the board:

  • Cut or glue the board to size.

    • If using plywood as the board base, simply cut the board to the size you want
    • If you need to glue project boards together, spread a bead of glue along the edge to be glued and clamp the boards together with your pipe clamps. Don't forget to put scrap wood or another buffer between the clamp and the project board to avoid denting the surface. Leave the glue to set for 24 hours

  • Cut the trim.

    • Cut your trim to length and miter the corners to 45 degrees with a miter saw or hand saw and jig.
  • Once the glue has dried, sand the project board with the 60 grit sandpaper to knock back any glue leakage, or misalignment in the boards. This should even the board surface out nicely.
  • (optional) apply a thin coat of glue to the end grain of any boards and let dry. The end grain soaks up glue, but this initial coat will seal the end and help when you glue on the trim… I didn't do this, but the trim is still well secured.
  • Attach the trim - This may be easiest with someone to assist
    • Glue the trim around the perimeter of the board. Apply the glue to the board surface since you want the trim to stick up above the top of the board. Don't forget to glue the surfaces of the miters so they stick together
    • Align the trim one corner at a time. You want the bottom of the trim to be flush with the underside of the board and for the corners to join together evenly.
    • Clamp the trim in place using the Clamp-it corners and pipe clamps. This is where it is really helpful to have an extra set of hands
    • Once everything is clamped and aligned, nail the trim to the board for added strength. A pneumatic nail gun with is the easiest way. I didn't have one, so I pre-drilled some holes with a 1/16" drill bit allowing me to tap in the finish nails without disturbing the alignment of the trim.
    • Let the whole thing dry for 24 hours
  • Sand everything smooth

    • Unclamp everything and use 100 grit sandpaper on your rotary sander to further smooth the surface of the board and to knock back any misalignments on the trim. Don't forget to do the underside! I also used the sander to round the mitered corners on the trim.
  • Before: I did not do the best job lining up the corners
    • Use 220 or other fine grit sandpaper to finish the trim. I ran the 220 grit sandpaper along the top edges of the trim and along the outside face with particular attention to the corners. This knocked off any splintery bits and really smoothed out the rounded corners to a nice finished texture.
  • Screw on the handles - I just made sure they were evenly spaced from the center of the board at a distance that felt good. NOTE: You may want to use longer screws than came with the drawer pulls. You want to make sure they go all the way through the trim and well into the board. I just used some of the screws from my IKEA wall mounting screw kit.

And that's it! The assembly for this project really only takes an hour or two. Most of the time is spent waiting for glue to dry. Because my tiny workshop in the garden shed is unheated, I ended up needing to take over the entire craft room to make sure the glue would cure properly. If I can wrestle the board back from my son for a bit, I may hit it with a few coats of polyeurethane to seal the wood, but it's wonderfully usable as is!

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