The Adventures of Kat & Dan™
The Poker Table

Or, how we turned $200 into a casino-quality piece of furniture

It all started with water damage.

Our old dining room table was awesome. We loved it. Removable leaf, gorgeous wood, great design. And then there was a leak in the apartment roof that we didn't know about, but it wound up destroying the finish. We didn't want to get rid of it, so we lugged it around to the next two places we lived, and Kat swore she'd refinish it herself. This is the kind of thing Kat is often likely to say.

When we moved into our current place, we decided to use its spacious two-car garage as a game room, since we needed to put those arcade machines somewhere. The table, we figured, would act as the centerpiece so we could host board game nights and game shows and murder parties and what have you.

Then we both got the poker bug and heard about Jeff Croft's website that showed how to make your own Texas Hold 'Em table. He already had an old table lying around so he converted it, using plywood and some gear from online casino supply stores. It looked gorgeous and, as such projects go, fairly easy to replicate.

Hmm, we said. This is the kind of thing that we are often likely to say. We placed some orders from and, and within a week, we had our own table.

The pictures tell the story. Well, actually, the captions tell the story. But some of the pictures have spots on them from the sawdust that got onto the lens, so I guess that tells part of the story, too.

We made our first mistake in picking the raw materials. Neither of us actually printed out Jeff Croft's article before going to buy wood, so we guessed at 1/4" plywood for the base. Way too thin--and we didn't realize this until we'd walked the 8'x4' beast home in high winds. Kat said that as she watched the wind push me from behind, it looked like a piece of plywood was sneaking down the road. The right size was 3/4" and that's what we ultimately cut.

Mistake #2: The power tools weren't charged, though they claimed to be. This set us back several hours while they juiced up.

Who needs fancy calculations? Kat stole some tie-down string from IKEA that morning, tied it to two pencils, and drew a half-circle on the wood so we'd know where to cut the edge of the table. Then she drew it again, having made mistake #3.

The saw kept jamming and making horrible burning smells, so I resorted to judo chops. Turns out we had completely the wrong kind of sawblade for working with plywood. That's mistake #4, so if it's okay with you, I'm not counting any more.

Kat didn't wait for the cuts to be finished before she started sanding the bits that were ready. "I wanted to have one thing work the way it was supposed to," said she.

With the delays and return trips to the hardware store, it took literally three times as long as it should have to get to this point, but we were happy with the results. The curve isn't smooth, it's more of a series of straight lines, but sanding made it better and it will ultimately make little difference, since it will be covered. Ultimately our table measured a little over 7 feet by 4 feet, which should hold at least eight guests and all their money comfortably. That's Kat sweeping off the sawdust, of which there was oodles.

This is why it didn't matter how smooth the edge was--the Padded Perfect Rail, which is essentially thick pipe insulation, would ring the whole table. We couldn't resist a sneak peek of the final look.

Kat had always planned to get some 1"x2" bits of wood to attach to the underside as "stoppers" so when the poker top was placed on the old table, it wouldn't slide around much, if at all (and really, it shouldn't with normal use). Engineering exactly how to do that led to some minor conflict (basically, I didn't understand her idea) but, as usual, Kat knew best. We measured with the top in place, then marked the proper areas with blue tape and planned to hammer in some wooden struts later on in the process.

If you've ever been to a real card room or casino, the felt has a springy feel to it. To get that, you need padding between the wood and the felt. We went with 1/2" foam from one of the casino stores, which they conveniently sell in one giant rectangle. This made it pretty easy to cut to fit. We've heard that you can use carpet padding too, but if you decide to do this, do not skip this step--it's easy and feels awesome.

Get some 3M spray adhesive. Spray the the tabletop. Spray the foam. Wait until they get "aggressively tacky" then smash together. I have never had a problem being aggressively tacky.

The casino store had a selection of about seven different colors of felt, so we chose burgundy. Naturally, we received pine green instead. Kat got them to send a replacement immediately but once it came, we liked the feel of the green stuff better. The extra stuff will get used in our weekly game at work.

Kat got the kinks out of the felt before we started attaching it. And it's worth noting that it's not felt at all; it's velveteen because "craft felt" pills like crazy and ceases to be a smooth surface very quickly. Some places use synthetic suede, too. But it's worth the $35 to get something that isn't garden-variety felt.

The electric staple gun is so easy, you can use it upside-down with your eyes closed. Kat can, anyway.

Suddenly, the thing really started to look like a poker table. We used about 150 staples because, why not?

Kat trimmed the felt before I went nuts with the staple gun again. The leftover will be used for chip-trick practice.

Here's where Kat's idea about "stoppers" came into play. Stable but removable--mission accomplished!

See that gap in the rail where the dealer sits? Oops--the rail was a few feet shy. We've since ordered a little more rail and patched it in. The casino place also sells little adhesive vinyl pieces for covering the seams, so now it actually looks almost intentional. But as far as we were concerned, this was the proverbial final table.

The table can seat nine players plus the dealer, but they'll be a bit squished. Seven's a better number--and it leaves room for these cool little $10 tables Kat spotted at IKEA. There's a strict "no drinks on the felt" rule, so four of these little things positioned around the table work perfectly.

Not counting the tools or the drink tables, it cost a bit under $200. Geeky dealer not included.

Three coin-ops, a MAME machine, a mini-fridge and a stereo...all we need now is a cover charge.

The Adventures of Kat & Dan™ continue in...

The Ghostbusters Proton Pack (1999)
Edge of Darkness (1993)
Halloween (annual)

More coming soon!