216 – Custom Poker Chip Trays

Marc: The Wood
Whisperer is sponsored by
POWERMATIC and Clear Vue Cyclones.
Marc: On today’s show,
we’re going to make these
unique and elegant poker chip trays.
And, if you’re lucky, I’ll
even take this hat off.
Let’s shuffle and deal.
Voiceover: Hit it.
Marc: The trays are designed
to hold 20 chips per row
for a total of 100 per tray,
and if you open them like
this, you can actually get
200 stored in two trays.
And then, because we have
these nice little grooves
on the underside, you
can stack them fairly
conveniently, and they’re nice and stable.
Of course, when you’re
ready to go home with your
winnings, you could close
it up like this, and small,
rare earth magnets hold
everything together and you
can see that it’s rather portable.
You could see all your
chips through the holes.
All right, so it’s a
fairly simple project,
but before we get started,
I want to tell you
something about a give-away.
We’re very lucky to have
poker champion and TV
personality Phil Gordon
as friend of the show.
And, when I told him about
this project, he jumped
in and offered up some
of his DVDs for folks who
build the poker chip trays.
The first 10 people who
build them and send me an
email at [email protected],
I get to see
your poker chip trays,
you get a free autographed
DVD from Phil and out of
all the people who build a
poker chip tray in the first
month with the release of
this video, you’re going
to have a chance to win a
private poker lesson, a
one-hour Skype session with
Phil Gordon himself, to learn a little bit
more about playing poker.
So that’s pretty darn cool, all right?
Let’s jump into the project now, because
we have a lot of work to do.
This is the perfect project
for thick, odd-sized cut-offs.
I’m using a chunk of
figured maple and a chunk of
Australian Sheoak, given to
me by my buddy Joe Totten
Each blank is milled to one inch thick,
9 1/2 inches long and 3 1/4 inches wide.
I use the jointer to clean
up one face and one edge.
The planer, to mill the other face.
The table saw to get the width.
And the miter saw to bring
the blank to final length.
While I’ve got the stop lock
set up, I’m cutting a piece
of scrap to the same length
as my blanks and that
will come in handy later.
Now we need to cut a quarter-inch
strip from each side.
I want to keep the grain
aligned, so I’ll place some
numbers and marks on
the blank ahead of time.
Keep in mind, that if you
use the table saw to cut
these strips, you may
want to keep your blanks a
little bit wider to
accommodate the thicker blade.
I cut one strip from
each side of every blank.
Now, the center section of the
blank is a little bit rough, so
I’ll clean up each side and bring
it to a final width of 2 5/8.
The outer strips are rough,
too, so I’ll use the drum
sander to bring them
down to 3/16 of an inch.
If you build a support sled,
you can also trim these
up with a planer or just
give it a few passes with
a smoothing plane.
Now, with all these parts
cut, we can start to think
about drilling the holes,
and let me show you the
special bit that I’m
going to use for the job.
This bad boy is a 40mm
Bormax Forstner bit.
I like this bit because of
the particular design that
makes it cut cleanly and efficiently.
That’s really important when
we’re cutting through a good
thickness of material,
especially with a Forstner bit.
This is going to be
expensive, you can try other
brands, but make sure it
is a good-quality bit,
otherwise you’re going to
wind up over-heating it
and dulling it within the first few cuts.
And the size, 40mm, I
think, is a good way to go.
You can also go with 1
5/8, which will make a
slightly bigger hole, the
thing is, most poker chips
are about 39 to 40
millimeters in diameter.
So, if I start with 40mm
here, by the time I’m done
with the sanding, it
should be plenty big enough
for your average poker chips.
I’m not too worried about
it, and if you use 1 5/8 inch
as a standard size, you
should have no problem with
most of your average poker chips.
To make the drilling process accurate and
repeatable, I’m making a
story stick out of that
small piece of scrap that we cut earlier.
I start by finding the
center point, and then making
two lines on each side 1 3/4 of an inch
away from each other.
I extend each line with
a square and then use the
stick to transfer the
marks to one of my blanks.
With the blank pair clamped
together, I extend the
lines across the edge and
then head to the drill press.
It’s a good idea to
periodically apply dry lubricant
to the bit in order to reduce friction.
Now for the fun part.
Each blank set is drilled
with a bit located at the
center of each line, and
this is how we end up
with a series of half
circles in each tray.
Take your time and bring
the bit up one in a while
to clear the chips and let it breathe.
Each tray requires five
holes, so expect to make
a lot of shavings.
If you’re having trouble
locating the bit, try pressing
the center spur down with the motor off.
Once the spur makes an
indentation, keep the bit
down with the spur in the
hole, and then turn the drill
press on, just make sure
that the cutters aren’t
actually contacting the work
when you turn on the drill.
The end result should
look something like this.
Like I said, it’s messy.
Now for the strips.
It’s a good idea to
double-check which one goes
where before drilling the
next set of holes, which are
two strips edge-to-edge,
and use some masking
tape to hold them together.
Now you use the story
stick again to transfer the
drilling locations.
Back at the drill press,
use a one-inch Forstner bit
to drill a center of each line.
It’s a good idea to use a
wooden clamp to stabilize
the work piece as you drill.
To sand the trays, I’m
using a large dowel wrapped
in sandpaper.
Pencil marks on the surface
with help you gage your
progress, and because
sanding across the grain
produces a lot more
scratches, it’s a good idea to
sand up through 320 grit.
The edges are all eased by hand.
Don’t forget the outer strips, since
they need a little love, too.
I don’t know if you can
see it here, but I have two
small chunks of missing
material on my Sheoak tray.
Let’s fix it.
I start by squaring up the
affected area with a chisel.
I then apply CA glue and
drop in a small piece of
scrap wood that’s been sprayed
with quick-set activator.
Hopefully, I won’t glue
my fingers to the tray.
Using a chisel, I pare away
the bulk and then give it
a light sanding on all sides.
The final result is a
nearly flawless repair.
And no wood putty required.
Now we can do the glue-up.
Carefully apply glue to the center piece.
Squeeze out can’t be avoided,
but if you’re careful in
your glue application, you
can keep it to a minimum.
Keep in mind, the parts
are finished size at this
stage, so if should be
perfectly flush on both sides
after you apply the clamping
pressure, and this is
likely going to take just
a little bit of fiddling.
After the glue sets up a
bit, use a chisel to scrape
away any squeeze out.
Now it’s time to add the magnets.
I draw a center line on each
side for the quarter-inch
holes, and then head to the drill press.
Each hole is drilled to
a depth that matches the
thickness of the magnets, and the test fit
looks pretty good.
To help the glue bind to
the magnets, I’m roughing
them up with sandpaper.
Notice I’m sanding a pair
together, which helps me
keep my pole orientation straight.
Now put a pair of magnets into each hole
and then do a test fit.
Due to natural variability in
the process, you might find
that the lid fits better in
one orientation or the other.
If it does, you can arrange
your magnets so that
the two trays go together only one way.
I like to use epoxy to
glue the magnets in place,
and a toothpick works well
for applying the glue.
As you press the magnet into the hole,
expect a little bit of resistance.
The trapped air will
eventually come out and it will
bring some glue with it,
that’s why I like to use
a paper towel under my finger.
Let the epoxy dry over night.
Since the outer holes are
rarely perfectly matched,
I use the sanding dowel
to even things out.
Doing so will make some
of the holes less than
perfect circles, but if
the eye can’t see it, then
it’s not really a problem, is it?
While you’re at it, sand
the outside edges and
make them perfectly flush, as well.
Now, for the final time,
use that little story stick
to place marks near the
bottom of each tray.
Using a square and a
miter gauge, I mark the
center line of the bit on my insert.
I can then line up my blank
on the line for each pass.
The size of the bit isn’t really
crucial, it just needs to be
pretty large, and the groove
doesn’t need to be all that deep.
Be sure to use a clamp
here, otherwise you could
ruin your work piece.
A little sanding cleans things up nicely.
All outer edges get a nice 3/16 round-over
and then a light sanding up to 320 grit.
Now it’s time for the finish.
The finish I’m using is
lacquer, and I’m spraying it
with my Fuji HVLP Turbine.
If you don’t have and HVLP
system, this is a great
project for rattle-can
lacquer or poly from the
Big Box store.
The trays get a total of
three coats, inside and out,
with a light sanding in between.
Now this is one of those
projects that really lends
itself well to batching out,
and that’s a good thing,
because as soon as your
friends see this, if you’ve
got friends who play poker,
I can guarantee you’re
going to get a lot of
requests for these trays, so
make a couple dozen while you’re at it.
As far as the history of this
piece goes, I did want to
mention that it was the
subject of an article, in fact
my first article that
was ever published, for
Woodcraft Magazine back
in 2007, and I was really
surprised that they put it on the cover.
But the design itself came from a client.
I had a client contact me
back in 2006, asking to
make these trays, his
name was Chris Houmani
and I just want to thank Chris, because
if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t
have this design to play
with in the first place.
So I hope you build some
poker chip trays, get in on
get in on that Phil Gordon give-away,
and guess we’ll catch you next time.
Thanks for watching.
Voiceover: Welcome to
another exciting edition of
“Poker With A Toddler”.
Let’s get straight to the action.
You can just feel the
intensity in the air,
as the Spagnuolos consider their options.
Marc makes a small bet, and is called.
Mateo moves all in,
desperate move, looks like he
immediately regrets it
and storms away from the
table, ala Phil Hellmuth,
then he leaves the game
because he sees the camera.
And that’s how you play
“Poker With A Toddler”.

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