View Full Version : Choosing the right type of wood - help!

Caitlin Black
01-21-2016, 12:49 PM
So, I've never actually been in this part of the forum, but I find myself with a question most likely to be answered by someone in here. Basically, I want to choose the right type of wood to make a make-shift table/desk top. And by "make", I mean simply, "Buy a piece of wood and sit it on top of a keyboard stand I already own." No actual making involved, I'm afraid.

I would just go and choose something that was the right size and leave it at that, except for the part about it sitting on top of a keyboard stand, which looks approximately like a 3D X. The 4 tips of the X stick out forwards and backwards, to balance the stand on the ground, and to give enough balance for the keyboard itself. (If it's not apparent, the keyboard in question is the musical variety, not what I'm typing on right now. :))

So basically, I want a piece of wood that is sturdy and won't bow (there's no direct support in-between the 2 top-most tips of the X), while at the same time it can't be so heavy that it might overpower my keyboard stand, which appears to be made of a hard plastic, or possibly a light metal.

What I want this for is simply to have somewhere to paint miniatures. Anyone familiar with Warhammer 40k will know what I'm talking about - small models, except some of them are about fist-sized, and the larger ones tend to be made of metal. Plus I'd need a small pot of water and paints and etc. So the wood very much cannot bow, as directly underneath is a power strip, a guitar amp, and carpet.

Anyway (and sorry for the ramble...), which wood would be best to use? I don't want to spend a huge amount of money, and frankly, I don't really care for wood appearance-wise, but I'm not going to bother with plastic, and metal would likely be more expensive, heavier, and with the added bonus of possibly cutting me.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me with this!

Caitlin Black
01-21-2016, 12:52 PM
(And apologies to any offended wood-lovers. It's just my personal preference, not a universal judgement in any way.)

01-21-2016, 12:54 PM
What I want this for is simply to have somewhere to paint miniatures. Anyone familiar with Warhammer 40k will know what I'm talking about - small models, except some of them are about fist-sized, and the larger ones tend to be made of metal.

If you can't get any help here (I'm no help - sorry) you might ask the people at your local Games shop. They do this stuff in their parents garages.. ;)

Caitlin Black
01-21-2016, 02:14 PM
I'd be more inclined to ask someone at the hardware store, to be honest. :)

01-21-2016, 02:17 PM
I'd be more inclined to ask someone at the hardware store, to be honest. :)

Okay, but they'll think you're weird....

01-21-2016, 06:24 PM
I'm not the woodworker in the house--he's sanding at the moment--but I think there are a couple of things to consider here.

How large a surface do you want/need?
How much weight can the keyboard stand take? Keyboards don't weigh much, right? I suspect this is going to be the limiting factor. You might want to literally weigh the keyboard and make sure whatever surface you buy or craft weighs about the same.

Decent-looking solid wood is both expensive and fairly heavy. Soft woods like pine weigh less than hardwoods like oak or ash. Raw wood will not be free of splinters nor will it look good until you sand and finish it. (Neither of which is difficult, but it does take time and effort, even if you just paint it.)

Plywood with a hardwood veneer--a thin layer on one or both sides--is cheaper and can be made to look good when sanded and finished, but its edge will show that it's plywood unless you buy trim to cover the edge. This is getting expensive.

Plywood without a pretty veneer costs less, but it's not pretty enough to finish as wood. It will only look decent when it's sanded and painted or otherwise completely covered, and there's still the edge issue.

Depending on the size you need, I'd consider plywood shelving that comes pre-finished. It may be laminated to look like wood, over plywood or particleboard, or laminated in black or white, or it can be solid wood and priced accordingly. Widths rarely go past 14 inches, and narrower is more common.

Other options I'd consider would be repurposing the top of a funky or ugly coffee/end table by removing its legs, or seeking a piece of glass with a finished edge, maybe even lifted from a cheesy patio table that's rusted out, if the stand can take the weight.

Caitlin Black
01-22-2016, 06:40 AM
mccardey, I'm fine with people thinking I'm weird. Probably because I *am* weird. But the hardware store folks would probably have a better idea about the pluses and minuses of different types of woods than the game-store folks. :)

Maryn, yes, keyboards don't weigh much. The stand takes the current keyboard with no problem at all. As for the wood hints you've included... Hrm. This is seeming a bit more work than I'd originally hoped for. Like, I'd want a nice big rectangle of wood - about half the size of a 6-seater dining-room table, maybe? - without having to join different pieces together or sand/paint. (Yeah, probably being too idealistic/hopeful there...)

That is an interesting idea with re-purposing something else, though... I'd already looked around the house, and there was nothing suitable. There *were* a few bits of wood-like material in approximately the right size, but they were so thin that I could make them bow with just my little finger. Couldn't find anything else that would be useful. However, when I went looking for legitimate tables/desks in store (or online stores), I hadn't considered just yanking the top part... Might be something to look into, especially as in the cheap stores here I could get an entire desk (albeit not suitable as a full piece) for fairly cheap, and possibly cheap enough to make it worthwhile.

I'll also probably check out the grandparents' garage for anything suitable. :)


01-22-2016, 06:52 AM
As someone who worked in a hardware store we wouldn't think you weird.

What about melamine (over a particleboard core)? Has a white finish, easy to clean. You can get iron-on edge banding if you want the edges to look pretty. It is on the heavier-side. I've use 3/4" to build bases for my bird stands. It's readily available at any of the big-box hardware stores in the US. Not sure about outside the US, but it's used a lot in ready-to-assemble furniture.

01-22-2016, 08:36 AM
I'm not sure of the dimensions of 'half the size of a six-seater table', I work on a 16"x 28" school table, 1/2" plywood on tubular steel legs, solid like a rock. Or a card table, standard size, about 3' x 3'? It's plastic, but has a wide edge, so it's stable - some of the plywood tops are only strong enough to hold a deck of cards and a couple of beers.
If I were starting over, I think I'd go with a sheet of glass, especially for painting and modeling. Glass doesn't stain, and is easy to scrape paint off, even if it's dry, which means a) your eye isn't confused by old colours, and b) you could use the tabletop itself as a palette, if needed. Old table tops, or windows would be a source, but if you use window glass, look for 'tempered' glass, which won't break into jagged glass daggers.

The big factor is that keyboard stand, it's strength and size. For strength, put some kind of a surface on it, and pile stuff on it until you get nervous, or just before the stand fails. Then weigh the 'stuff'. I suspect the surface itself will weigh more than anything you'll put on it while painting, but best to be aware of the limits, for the day when you decide to pile all of your paints and figures on it at once.
Size (or proportions) of the base is vitally important. You can work off a tiny area if you have to, but you cannot safely put a top on a base that is much wider than the base. (Too tippy.) I'm envisioning a keyboard base as sort of narrower than it is long? In which case, especially if it's light weight, you don't want to go much wider than the legs of the base. One day, you'll accidentally apply pressure to a corner, and the whole thing will tip over. In addition to a surface that doesn't bend under weight, you want a surface that's squarely over it's center of gravity.

Caitlin Black
01-22-2016, 09:02 AM
Kitkit, I've never heard of melamine, but that doesn't mean much, as I've never had a reason to look into different woods before. I'll look into it, though, thanks. :)

Frimble, the keyboard stand's top rails are about 25" apart, and 16" deep. The stand itself is adjustable as to angle, which then affects distance between the rails. I would be looking at a bit of wood about 30" or so long by about 20" or so deep... The exact measurements could vary, but that's an approximate. The stand's bottom rails are also affected by the angle adjustment, but will be at the same distance apart as the top rails, I think (the pivot is pretty much dead centre in the X shape).

I'm not too sure about using glass. I had kind of assumed it would be more likely to break in the centre, as opposed to wood bowing, if the weight on top of it was too much. And yeah... Broken glass is something to avoid, for sure. I'll have to look into piling stuff on top of the stand, but not right now.

01-23-2016, 09:15 PM
Cliff, I'd leave the keyboard stand alone. It sounds too flimsy. I dont know your area, but just look for a cheap but sturdy card table. It folds for minimalist storage and will be plenty big and strong enough. Big Box stores, budget outlets, hardware and home furnishings stores, thrift stores, and places that sell used office furniture should have something useful.

Palettes: I wrap old cutting boards with plasticized butcher paper and secure with double sided tape on back. And I let them dry out in groups and reuse them until they are too goopy. Then I can peel the paint off and use that in projects (I work with acrylic paint.) Glass or plexiglass work too, but you'll waste time cleaning them (sharp razor scraper + alcohol or thinner fumes + getting clogged sinks if you use hot water.)

Caitlin Black
01-24-2016, 05:06 AM
Mmm, well, the problem with using a table of some sort is twofold. First, I did originally think of using a table in that spot, but I literally couldn't find anything with the right dimensions (not even close) to both fit in that small spot in my bedroom *and* allow my guitar amp to sit underneath. Which leads to problem #2, which is that I know myself - if something needs to be set up and then taken back down each time I want to use it, I won't use it. The case in point is the keyboard itself. Before I reduced my possessions and rearranged things, my keyboard and stand lived under my bed. I didn't use it at all in, oh, about 3 years. Since setting it up, I've used it numerous times.

And yeah... The reason I don't just find some sort of safety cover (a sheet of plastic-ish stuff or whatever) and paint on the actual kitchen table is because of a cat that likes to jump up and get all up in my business, who happens to shed year round and has white hair.

In any event, I'm beginning to question whether I should even bother with this right now. Not because it's a challenge finding the right solution, but rather because there's a very good chance I won't actually do much painting, especially if I wind up back at Uni this year.

We'll be visiting the grandparents today, and I'll still check their garage for anything that might be suitable, but otherwise I might give it up as a bad idea.

01-24-2016, 05:12 AM
mccardey, I'm fine with people thinking I'm weird. Probably because I *am* weird. But the hardware store folks would probably have a better idea about the pluses and minuses of different types of woods than the game-store folks. :) That's true enough, but I remember trying to get stuff like this together when my son was young and in hospital and just trying to explain Warhammer led to some awkward moments. Painting of miniatures had them totally flummoxed.

Mind you, that was back in the 1990s. It's probably all common knowledge now.

ETA: :Hug2:You're my kind of weird

01-24-2016, 05:39 AM
If you're not fussy, particle board or plywood ought to do just fine. But if you're like me and lean on your desk from time to time, you might want more support at the base. Which has nothing to do with the top, of course. But just sayin'. And it never hurts to ask the folks who sell that stuff for a living, like the other folks said.

Caitlin Black
01-24-2016, 06:05 AM
Mmm, yep, I do lean on things from time to time. Especially when painting miniatures in the past - I found that the only way I could do the fine details was to steady my hand by leaning my wrist on the table I was using.

And mccardey, I probably wouldn't even mention Warhammer to the hardware store people. I mean, they'd be able to answer my questions without needing to know exactly what I was using it for. Perhaps just mention, "Oh, a few kilos at a time on there, but I wanted it to be sturdy enough for more than that, just in case."

Anyway. Thanks to everyone who's responded. I'm leaning pretty heavily towards just not bothering. This all spawned from a sudden urge to paint minis, and then trying to figure out how I could make a space in my room for that... I don't get that urge very often.

01-24-2016, 11:46 AM
So the size of the frame, and your proposed top, is slightly larger than what I've got. Plenty large enough. (Actually, I'm remembering that I got my start on one of those cheap metal folding 'TV tables', and it was adequately sturdy.) Check out what's at the grandparents', and keep an eye out for something suitable, because it might be like the keyboard: if it's easy to swap out the keyboard for the painting surface, you might do it more often. If it only takes a few minutes to set out the paints and figures, a half-hour here and there is useful time. Especially if you have to let things dry at intervals.
At the very least, check out the weight-bearing capacity, so you'll be ready if something turns up.
One last thought, if you run across an inexpensive wooden serving tray, it might be perfect. Close-ish to your desired size, sturdy enough to hold coffee cups etc, and with a lip around it, and handles. You could take it off, cover it in plastic wrap, and put it back under the bed, with the latest project on it, between sessions. Most of the ones I saw in a quick browse (Okay, Walmart) were a little small but under $25. I assume that used, or from a discount place, would be cheaper.

01-24-2016, 11:59 AM
I'm not exactly sure what you need, but perhaps some shelving flats or sanded project panels will work. They're typically rather small and thick enough to support a good amount of weight, between 1/2" to 3/4". Most hardware stores carry these; the shelf layers can be found in the organization area where the pieces are laid out like the boards and brackets. Project panels (or sometimes called craft boards) should be in plywood, and they're rather small pieces so they're easy to spot.

01-24-2016, 12:07 PM
One last thought, if you run across an inexpensive wooden serving tray, it might be perfect. Close-ish to your desired size, sturdy enough to hold coffee cups etc, and with a lip around it, and handles. That's exactly what we ended up with. $15 from KMart and I think he still uses it for - I dunno, something.

Caitlin Black
01-25-2016, 07:27 AM
Mmm. I'll consider those options. I will admit that I've kind of soured on the idea. In fact, I just realised that I would have nowhere to keep the minis which were in-progress. My collection (about 25% unpainted still, after all these years) lives in boxes in my wardrobe. So actually taking them out, finding the right minis, and then putting them back again later? I highly doubt I could be bothered. And yeah... The plan *had* been to keep the keyboard set up, on top of the piece of wood or whathaveyou, and just remove the keyboard quickly when I wanted to paint.

Mrph. There are just too many red flags here. I also didn't find anything suitable at the grandparents' place.

So... Thanks for all the suggestions, but I think I'm officially pulling the plug on this idea.

01-25-2016, 09:07 AM
Oh, well. You have to do what works for your current life. Still, when at some future time you do want to bring out the minis, at least you've got ideas to start with.
(And, regarding boxes - are these their original box-set boxes, or more like random boxes with figures dumped it? If so, you might want to look at something like those small plastic chest-of-drawers stacking boxes. Meant for office and art supplies, the drawers are a couple of inches high, so you could separate the figures by theme, or army or stage of painting, to make things easier in the future. And, you don't have to do it all at once, you could do a box at a time.

Caitlin Black
01-25-2016, 12:30 PM
Basically they are just random boxes of the shoe-box variety. And unfortunately, some sort of art-supply storage set would be an issue, because I simply don't have enough space. Like, the minis are in boxes, so that part could be replaced, sure - but then there are some other things in that (small) part of my (small) wardrobe.

But you're right - if I come back to this idea in the future, I'll at least have figured out what I'm up against. Frankly, I don't think it's going to be viable until I get my own place, at which point I'd be entirely prepared to have a decent setup in the garage. I don't drive, so yeah, if I had my own place with its own closed-off garage, that'd be the perfect place for painting. :)

01-25-2016, 01:04 PM
Even if you don't get a place with a garage, at least get a second bedroom, or a den or storage room, etc. If you don't drive, holding out for a garage might limit your choices.

Caitlin Black
01-26-2016, 05:37 AM
Ah, well, where I live (South Australia), enclosed garages are pretty common, and wouldn't add much to the price of the house. It's not a guaranteed thing, for sure, but I'd say it wouldn't be too difficult to find a place with an enclosed garage.

The second bedroom, however, was already on my list as a music room. (Guitars, drum kit, keyboards, with room to move, jump around, and add things if I want.) ;)