I am a fan of hybrid projects, where you buy some parts and build other parts to make a Frankenstein-like abomination. Using this approach allows me to build more stuff and focus on the areas that might need more hands-on creativity. I am not suggesting that you should abandon your unique designs in order to make manufacturing easier (i.e. Design For Manufacturing), but if your design is flexible then you might be able to use off-the-shelf hardware in a unique way. Just remember that there is no shame in paying others to do something that might actually be cheaper than doing it yourself. That is just smart economics.
And so we get the IKEA hybrid play table. IKEA makes some great little play storage bin units that are functional, versatile, good looking, and fairly light on the wallet. You would struggle to build this out of solid pine for much less than you can buy it. So, unless you were building a ton of these for some reason, it really makes sense to buy. However, what I found to be missing was a large, indestructible top. I had the need for a table that was roughly 6’X4′ that could be used as a LEGO table, train table, whatever. I also want a lip on the table to keep the chaos off the floor. In addition, I wanted to build a little art table using the same parts, only this would be smaller and designed to fit along a wall.
I know from experience in my shop that the melamine tops are virtually indestructible, so I decided to go in that direction. I purchased one sheet of laminated melamine board from home depot and had them cross-cut to into two pieces (2’X4′, 6’X4′). The cut at Home Depot may not be as fine I what I can do at home, but the edges will be covered anyway. Besides, ripping the board nearly in half makes it much easier to carry. I picked up 5 (2X2’s) while I was there (the straighter, the better; if the stock is just terrible then you can always by 2″X4″ board and rip them straight).
I am lucky(?) in that there is an IKEA within driving distance so I picked up 4 of the TROFAST Frame w/ Bins and an assortment of bins to go with it. You should also pick up some floor protecting felts if you are placing these over hard wood floor as the IKEA cabinets are sold unprotected.
The 2X4’s will trim out the melamine to not only provide an attractive edge, but to also add strength to the top and to provide a lip that keeps toys from rolling off. I decided to leave a 1/2″ lip on the top, rounded over. The 2X4’s come rounded so this works out wonderfully. You could just create pocket holes in the melamine and then glue/screw the trim right to the edge of the melamine. However, I felt that this may not be robust enough for a bunch of kids pulling on it. So decide to “wrap” the trim around the top. This is accomplished by cutting a groove (aka: “slot”, or “dado”) in the trim that is just a hair wider than the melamine and to a depth of 1/3 of the thickness of the trim (1/2″). You can do this by passing the trim over a table saw (with a blade set at 1/2″ high) multiple times, moving the fence back a little with each pass so that you are cutting out a large groove to the desired width. You can also purchase a special blade, called a dado blade, that you can set to the desired final width and cut the groove in one pass. I recommend this method to save time, but it is not an absolute necessity (pick one up though if you ever plan to make cabinets. It is a massive time saver and will improve the accuracy of the cut!). Make sure you are keeping the 2X4 against the fence or the grooves won’t be straight. A feather-board helps tremendously. The trim will fit right over the edge of the top and will meet the next edge with a 45 degree miter. Because our grooves are 1/2″ deep, each piece of trim needs to be 2″ longer than the edge it will attach to (Trim Length = Trim Thickness*2 + Top Melamine Length – Groove Depth*2).
After all the grooves are cut, the ends are mitered, and the parts are sanded, go ahead and assemble. You will find that you may have to fight a bit to get the trim to get it to fit over the top if the 2X4 has any warping to it. This will straighten out, but you will have to be persuasive. A rubber mallet (or a hammer and piece of sacrificial wood) can help move things along. Once all the trim is attached, go ahead and shoot a screw through each corner, from the bottom and up at an angle to keep it hidden. You can leave the finish natural or add a simple wax or other clear finish. I found that the 2X2’s I used (white fir) matched the IKEA boxes almost perfectly, but your mileage may vary.
So now you have simple, inexpensive, cleanable work surface that your kids can start destroying. I set two of the IKEA boxes up in the playroom with and placed the top so that it bridged to two. This left space underneath for storing toys that did not fit the bins or to use as an impromptu fort. You can secure the top to the base by shooting a screw up from underneath.
For the art table, I went ahead and placed two of the boxes facing in the same direction with a large gap between them. Using the table to bridge the two created a desk. This design is very flexible in term of the actual length of of the desk. In my case, I only needed to overlap the boxes by about a foot or so, leaving plenty of the box tops exposed to be used as additional storage. The white chair is also from IKEA and fits perfectly.
So there you have it. An afternoon’s worth of shopping, cutting, and assembly to product two unique little play/work areas. Now if I can only find a way to make sure the toys made it back to the bins.
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4X8′ Melamine, divided
5 X 2×2″ studs