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Drafting Table - Plywood, MDF, Melamine, etc.

jtotherod's picture


I'm planning on building a drafting table soon.  I already have a design in mind but I'm having a difficult time deciding the material.

I will be covering whatever material I decide to use with laminate/formica.  I need a smooth and flat surface.  My issue with plywood is that I'm afraid of warping.  My issue with MDF is that I'm afraid the screws needed for the mounting hardware won't hold up.

So what would be your suggestions and do you have any tips for either material?


Drafting Table (post #190411, reply #1 of 9)

From my experience (B.C., Before Computers -- back when drafting was done with pencils on paper) the cheapest, flattest table top was a slab-sided hollow-core door.  I learned this from a drafting instructor in college.  It worked for him and, subsequently, for me.  The biggest challenge is not the table top but how to support it.  My instructor told me that when he was in school he put hinges on the bottom of the top edge and attached those to the wall.  He then used hinges on the bottom edge to attach lengths of 2x4s that braced against another piece of 2x4 attached horizontally along the wall. So whenever the table was needed, the top was pulled out from the wall until the 2x4s could be swung up and held in place against the wall. (I, on the other hand, designed and built a mahogany table to support the hollow-core top.  That was a bit of overkill, but it still works and looks beautiful after all of these years.)

Thanks Richard.  I've seen (post #190411, reply #2 of 9)

Thanks Richard.  I've seen the hollow core door tables and they work very good but I don't think they will work for my application.  I will be starting a Landscape Architecture program in August and the program is about 50/50 between computer and hand graphics.  The plans I typically work on are 36" x 48", so I need a pretty good sized table.  I have a small rectangular office space/room at my house and plan on building a custom L-Shaped desk.  I've used formica many times, so I'm very comfortable with the material and process.  I've attached a picture similar to what I plan on doing except I want to use a drafting style table against the back wall instead of a flat top.  I've just never built a drafting table(only countertops/desks) and having a hard time deciding on a material.  I would prefer MDF but I'm worried about stripping the screws out when mounting the brackets.  Thanks for your suggestion though, I appreciate that!

mobile-office-interior-0510-l.jpg67.48 KB

MDO Plywood (post #190411, reply #3 of 9)

Primed MDO plywood (both sides) runs about 68.00-3/4x4x8.  I've found the primed both sides (a smooth hard "paper" like "veneer") to be the most flat off the pile.  Primed one side usually has a slith bow in it-if your plans would work "straightening " it, you'd save 10.00 on one side primed.

Comes 1/2" also.

Less slippery than laminate-but quite smooth.  You'd have to deal with the edges.  Could wood edge with a lip if you intend to tip the table top.

If you use MDF, the plastic inserts (for the small screws) used with euro hinges on cab doors help prevent pullout.

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drafting table (post #190411, reply #8 of 9)

most offices no longer use the tables. I bought a nice electric lift table for cheap, My wife just finished designing a kitchen on it, and she is good aon the computer but likes drawing better, she taught Art and computer classes.

A 4 x 8 sheet of 3/4 melamine (post #190411, reply #4 of 9)

A 4 x 8 sheet of 3/4 melamine would make a very durable top--not as tough as formica, but, then, formica is meant for hard-working tops like kitchen counters.

You can edge it guickly and cheaply with vinyl tee molding using a slot-cutting bit in a router for the leg of the tee molding. Or, you could edge it with maple, oak, etc to match the wood used in the legs and underframe.

drafting table (post #190411, reply #5 of 9)

MDF, MDO, HDF, melamine. I don't think it matters, esp. if you're going to cover any unfinished surface with formica. You might have screw pull out issues with everything but the MDO, but you can work around that by gluing some wood reinforcement on where you need strong joints. All will be heavy. 

I prefer working on a table with a cover. I think you're less likely to get permanent impressions that affect line quality (esp if your work's going to be graded). When I worked in an aircraft plant many years ago, all of the tables were covered. Mine's K&E, linoleum (I think). It's 35 years old and still great. Checked for K&E covers and couldn't find any, but did find these. Looks like they're vinyl these days.

Don't use construction grade (post #190411, reply #6 of 9)

Don't use construction grade plywood, use cabinet grade and warping shouldn't be an issue. If you cover one face of the plywood with plastic laminate, you will have to do the same to the opposite face or it will curl. There is a plastic laminate backer sheet that is less expensive than regular PL. Most tables I worked on were plywood with a vinyl mat on the work surface.

Beat it to fit / Paint it to match

Sorry it has taken me a while (post #190411, reply #7 of 9)

Sorry it has taken me a while to get back here.  Thanks for all of the suggestions.  I like the idea of reinforcing the mounting areas with another layer.  I still am not positive what I'm going to do but I'm a few weeks away from building anyways, so I will probably see what all my options are at the hardware store.

I will definitely be using a cover on my table.  My school sells the Borco covers at a discounted price and I've heard good things about them.  Anyways, once again thanks for the suggestions.  When I finish the project, I will be sure to post to let everybody see.

I've used Melamine and plywood (post #190411, reply #9 of 9)

I realize this forum is over two years old, but I'm making my third drafting table and thought I'd give my 2cents worth ...for some reason, I've had a few friends want the same table I have. Works great for hobbies, as a large stand up desk, and yes, works as a drafting table. 

I've used melamine and plywood and have had better success with melamine. Not that I've had major issues with plywood, I just like the ease of dealing with the smooth melamine top ...and yes, I went with 3/4" cabinent grade plywood on the 2nd table I built.

I have an Neolt Lolly drafting table base and I've attached a 40x60" melamine top. No issues with warping and the table is solid (there are four screws holding the base of the table to the top). My original table is going on ten years and still flat with no warps and solid. If anyone is really concerned with warping, you can add a piece or two of angle iron and attach them to the bottom of the table. Be sure to attach where you won't hit your knees if your creating a table that you sit ...either chair or drafting stool.

Neolt still makes the Lolly base, but I found the last one on eBay.

The vinyl mat is the way to go - I still have the orginal as well.

Also here is an innovative way to install a drafting table/work surface: