A club at uni has this great big old table. (about 1220mm by 2420mm). The club in question is the gaming club, so pen and paper RPGs, card games, boardgames, warhammer. fairly rarely models are assembled on it, so it it will get a bit of glue and paint, and maybe some knife work done on it. It also gets desktop computers put on it occasionally when the computer club has a LAN.
Biggest concerns are it getting dirty - greasy fingers, chips, soft drink spills,
and it being flat. It must be flat so dice can be rolled. (which makes planks kinda bad).

It was made by I don't know who over 20 years ago. The legs and framework are great, but the table top is chipboard which has become all flaky and bad. Someone decided to sand it down - which of course only made it worse. They wanted to take a wire brush angle grinder to it but I really think they are leaping from bad idea to a worse one.

The reason we can't simply replace the table top is that it was glued to the framework. With a lot of work it could be pried off (and a wire brush might come in handy then.)

But as a easier solution I thought we could just screw something on top of it. Leave the chip board in place, and put something over the top.

I'm not super experienced, done a little bit of stuff before. Here is what I'm considering:

  • 3mm MDF sheet

    • Pro: very cheap - just replace it when it gets ratty
    • Con: Scratch, dies to water
  • 3mm Masonite
    I've never worked with the stuff much, but as I understand it:

    • Pro: Tougher than MDF
    • Con: Similar vulnerability to water
  • 3mm Tempered Masonite
    I've never worked with this either, but as I understand it:

    • Pro: Really tough, and water-resistant
    • Con: Very hard to get.
  • 3 Ply

    • Pro: Not so vulnerable to water
    • Con: cracks and splinters
  • Pine planks

    • Pro: Not a particle board, can be worked with sanded etc.
    • Con: Comparatively expensive, require a lot more work

Are there options I haven't considered? The goal is to have something I can do in a afternoon, for somewhere under $100.

EDIT: I ended up using Tempered Masonite.

  • 1
    hardwood is best for a tabletop... Nov 20, 2012 at 14:31
  • 1
    Have you considered putting a surface treatment on your top material to deal with waterproofing? MDF with a good polyurethane or epoxy finish would be impervious to water.
    – mac
    Nov 20, 2012 at 17:14
  • @mac: I've read of those, never done much coating things beyond varnishing them, and that rarely. I have a tin of varnish, would that water proof it? or do i need special stuff? I guess if it works for MDF it would also work for Masonite too. Nov 20, 2012 at 23:55
  • @ratchet freak: is thin hardwood sheets an option? Can you write that up into an answer for me? Nov 20, 2012 at 23:59
  • I would not recommend MDF. Someone's going to cut into it with a knife sooner or later and then spill soda, and the MDF will disintegrate... Nov 23, 2012 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


Depends on what the table is used for. Given the description of wear, let's assume it's a college project work table, that needs to handle anything from homework writing, gaming, to x-acto knife cutting, to light woodworking, painting, etc.

I would suggest hardboard (aka Masonite). It ain't fancy, but it's cheap, widely available in 4 ft x 8 ft sheets (so no cutting required), and suitable for this level of usage.

You could glue it to the existing surface using regular wood glue, however you might think about instead just nailing it in using a lot of small tack nails; this way if the surface becomes too heavily marred, future maintainers could just rip it off and replace it with a new sheet of hardboard.

I use hardboard for surfacing my work tables in my shop. I generally throw a couple coats of polyurethane on top. I suspect you could use pretty much any sealant you wanted on it (or none!) If it's going to be used more for homework/gaming, and less for crafts, a hard coat might make sense.

  • Thanks I'll look into it. (I'll update the question with usage, you are pretty much correct) I'm leaning pretty strongly towards not gluing it - learn from my predecessors mistakes Nov 21, 2012 at 10:48
  • Wait, is hardboard the same as masonite? this seems to suggest it it: panel.com/uploads/whatisitcda0.pdf Nov 21, 2012 at 10:56
  • It could be the same as masonite. It's similar to MDF in that it's all 100% wood particles, so any woodworking tools would be fine with it. I've also seen boards that have rock/sand content, which would not be safe for tools.
    – Bryce
    Nov 21, 2012 at 11:09
  • Also take a look at butcher block
    – Steven
    Nov 21, 2012 at 16:34
  • @Steven: butcher block is completely unsuitable, my grandfather made my mother a table of it: looks beautiful, but took ages, and ages. and it has to be fairly thick doesn't it? Nov 23, 2012 at 0:01

You could use some laminate surface.

Melamine has very good protection on water, it's very easy to clean, is as flat as the surface and dice will roll as much as you want.

Plastic laminate with a wood edge has the same protection but it kinda looks like wood.

All you need is a lot of patience and contact cement.

If you want to use wood i would go with ply. I would countersink some holes and use screws, so it becomes removable.

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