Articles - Portable Modeling Table
10/20/2005
A local model railroader was looking for a small table that would help him with his small modeling projects. Things such as changing couplers, cleaning locomotives, etc. Using some left-over wood, I built this table for him to fit his dimensions. There were several design criteria. One was that, sitting on a chair, his legs can slide under the table. The second criteria was that the table needed to have "walls" around three of the sides. This helps in preventing small parts from rolling off the table. Overall dimensions are flexible and were determined based on available space and material. The required clearance under the table needed to be 24 inches (61 cm). This was determined by sitting on the chair and measuring from the floor to above the legs. I added an extra inch to be sure. The table's main box height was 4 inches (10 cm), so the legs needed to be 29 inches (24 + 1 + 4). The edges around the top of the table were made to be 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall. Any height will be do, but aesthetically that looked the best. The following drawing describes the vertical dimensions of the table. The table top itself was a 3/4" piece of plywood.
Portable Modeling Table
The width and depth of the table were arbitrary, but we settled on 30 inches (76 cm) wide and 21 inches (53 cm) deep. This makes for a nice table for doing small projects, while not taking up too much space in the room. As can be seen here in the top-view drawing, we decided to use 2x4's for the legs. This makes the table heavy, which is what we wanted.
Portable Modeling Table
The side profile is shown next. To make the table look a bit more appealing, I chamfered the front corners of the top pieces. Since the table will be in open view in the room, doing a bit extra to make it look nice is worth it, in my opinion. For the actual model I also curved the top chamfered corner.
Portable Modeling Table
A 3-D model of the final table is shown below.
Portable Modeling Table
To build this table to the exact dimensions I described above, you will need the following:

four 2" x 4" x 29" legs
two 3/4" x 4" x 30" plywood for long, bottom sides
two 3/4" x 4" x 19.5" plywood for short, bottom sides
two 3/4" x 3" x 19.25" plywood for short, top sides (chamfered)
one 3/4" x 3" x 30" plywood for long, top side
one 3/4" x 21" x 30" plywood top
wood glue (Elmers' yellow)

This is a fairly simple project, if you have the tools. I used my table saw to cut all the plywood to size. For this project we used "furniture grade" plywood with Birch veneer. Next, I cut the 2x4's to length, selecting the best part of the wood for the legs. We bought the highest grade 2x4's. The first step in the assembly was to glue the bottom, 4-inch tall pieces of plywood to the bottom of the table top. Securing the parts with clamps and letting them dry for thirty minutes took care of that step. Since unsightly counter-sunk holes were not desired, we made the decision to simply glue the 2x4 legs to the inside of the box. Make sure to align the legs as shown in the drawings above to maximize the clearance under the table for your legs. Again, clamping and letting them dry finished the bottom half of the table. Before gluing the side pieces I chamfered their front, top corner at the table saw set at 75 degrees. Next I found a small round lid to a bottle and marked the curve along the top corner. I used a disk sander to sand away the top corner until it matched the round curvature that I marked on the sides. After gluing and clamping the three top pieces, the table was ready.
Portable Modeling Table
This is a simple and handy project. If you prefer to have nicer looking legs on the table, you could substitute 2x2 solid Oak for the 2x4's. Another idea I had after I completed this project was to use the router to make a small groove along the front edge of the table top. This would help in keeping things like wheels and springs from rolling off the front of the table, while not really interfering with the accessibility of the table. Finally, one other idea might be to install caster wheels under the legs to make it even easier to move. The table could be stained or painted to finish it. I would recommend painting at least the table top, work surface. It needs to be a color that doesn't obscure things like black plastic wheels, metal springs, white styrene, etc. Staining the table top will probably make it hard to see parts.
Portable Modeling Table