Lego Tilt Table


January 24th, 2011

One of my all time favorite toys as a kid were Legos. I actually kept my set of Technic Legos all through the years and recently my three and four year old discovered them. They have a set of basic Legos but they really like playing with daddy's "special" Legos when they get the chance.

The Old Lego Table Tray

Over the years I found the best way to build with legos was to dump them all on a tray where you could spread them out to make it easier to find the parts. I had an old checkerboard/backgammon table that I had augmented with duct tape for this purpose. The duct tape made the rails around the board higher so the legos would not slide off. One corner of the table had an open pocket that made it easier to dump the Legos into a storage container when it was time to put them away. 

That table was about two feet square and had a lip of roughly a half inch. With the kids and their vigorous searching for parts the duct-tape, backgammon table was not doing a very good job of keeping the parts off my workshop floor so I decided it was time for an upgrade.

New Lego Tilt Table Materials

The original table was roughly 28" square. I thought that as long as I was putting together a new table I would make it bigger since there were now three Lego builders in the house. The most commonly available size of plywood larger than my makeshift table was standard 4' x 4' sheets, which seemed about the right size to me. I went over to Menards to see what they had for plywood. I looked at some Oak panels but they were upwards of $30. The best price point I found was a 1/2" thick birch sheet for $10.

The most important feature of the table was the rails around the edge that keep the Legos from spilling onto the floor. I kicked around buying some of the more expensive 1" x 2" select pine boards but I ended up getting some cheaper 2" x 2" furring strips instead. The furring strips were $0.97 each for a eight foot board.

The downside of using the cheap boards was you get what you pay for. Of the 50 or so in the pile only a few were relatively straight with no cracks. The boards are meant to be used behind finished wall so I would imagine the lumber yard doesn't really worry about how they look. I really only need half the boards to be straight and since they were so cheap I could afford to buy twice as many. That allowed me to use only the straight, clean peices of the furing strips for the rails of the lego table.

Lego Table Design and Assembly

I thought I wanted a complete four by four feet area for the table but once I got the plywood in the basement workshop I knew it was a bit too large. I ended up converting the square to an octagon to make it more manageable. For a four foot square piece of plywood I found that if I cut the corners at 20 inches it roughly worked out to make all eight side equal. I had a square with a 45 degree edge that made this part easier.

To make the rails I employed a miter box. My original plan was to use 45 degree cuts to fit the rails to the plywood table top but after roughing out the boards I didn't like how it looked. I could make the rails work with 45 degree cuts but each adjoining section of the rails would be different. I did a little rummaging in my workshop and I found a miter box that happen to have 22.5 degree slots. That was exactly what i needed to get the rails to fit around the plywood base.

Theoretically all the rail pieces would be identical if I used 22.5 mitered corners. Rather than making all the rails sections at once then hoping they would fit together at the end I cut each part to fit as I worked around the table. That allowed me to adjust each rail pieces as I went along to make sure they would fit well together.

Since the rails were made out of 2" x 2" it was easy to screw in drywall screws from the bottom side of the plywood without worrying about spitting. For added bracing I pre-drilled some holes and pounded in 2" finishing nails through the rails.

Another key feature of the Lego table I wanted was an easy way to dump the parts back into a storage container. For that purpose I made one of the rails hinged. One end of the rails was attached to a stationary rail, the other end had a locking pin. To allow the hinged rail to fold up I cut both ends of the movable board at 22.5 degrees just like the corners. This mad the gate functional and also kept the style the same as the rest of the rails

To make sliding the Legos off the table easier I put together a table base that allowed the table to tilt up at an angle. I used some 2" x 3" boards and two long quarter inch bolts to fashion the hinge. On the opposite side of the table away from the hinge I added a flip-up support that would hold the table at an angle during Lego clean out, then rotate back down when not in use. I also added some leftover caster wheels I had to make sliding the table around the basement easier.


To finish the table I did the usual: thorough sanding with fine sand paper, a wipe down with a damp cloth, application of whatever stain I had left over in the garage, then finally several coats of sealer.

For the stain I happen to have a full, unopened can of Minwax Canadian Maple stain left over from a previous project. I thought I would have enough stain to do two complete passes over the whole table (top and bottom) but the can ran out after a second coat of the top of the table

I did the stain job in my driveway to make the clean up easy. I let the stain dry out overnight before applying the sealant: Helmsman Spar Urethane Clear Gloss. I basically went through the entire can of sealant also over two coatings of the table. 

Again I did not have enough sealant to cover the bottom of the table. My line of thinking was nobody was going to look at the table from the bottom and I could always finish it later.

Action Photos

The table works rather well. The finish lets the parts slide on the table really well. The hinged rail section make it easy to move the parts to a storage bin.

The table was large enough to handle lots of Legos so I ended up adding a center rail. On one half of the table I keep all my Technic parts and on the other side the kids have all the basic set Legos.