Like many gaming groups, our game takes place on a crappy old kitchen table down in the basement gaming room. I was pondering the water-damaged surface one night and had a great idea — make the table surface into a chalkboard!
They actually make chalkboard paint, which makes it incredibly easy to turn your gaming table into a chalkboard gaming table. The chalkboard surface is easily erasable with a chalkboard eraser, and you can always wipe it down with a damp cloth if you want to remove all traces of chalk.
We still use a battlemat for running D&D combat, but for looser combat systems, encounters where positioning is less crucial, and broad overviews (the city looks approximately like this, etc) the chalkboard surface works great. The gamers all love it ’cause they can can take notes on the edge of the table (or, in one case, denote the area of the table that belonged to them) for hit points, damage modifiers, etc. It’s also very popular for doodling.
And if you lean on the writing and get some chalk dust on your sleeve, it easily wipes off, unlike leaning on the battlemat and getting marker smeared on your work shirt. Soda spills wipe off easily (and wine spills, as we learned the first night we used it).
How to Do It
You can get chalkboard paint from your local hardware store in the paint section, or order it online. I used this stuff that I got from Home Depot, Rust-Oleum Chalkboard. It’s worth noting that you want to be sure to get latex-based paint for this (which this is).
You’re also going to need a latex primer. I used some old gray primer I found stashed away under the stairs, but regular old white primer will work just fine.
- Sand down the surface that you’re going to paint. Any kind of electric sander will really save your hide here. You need to sand the shiny finish completely off your gaming table. You’ll be able to easily feel the difference between the smooth shiny finished surface and your rougher bare wood sanded surface. Be aware that this will create tons of dust, so clear stuff out of the room first — or do like I did and toss a giant tarp over the table and do your sanding while crouching beneath the tarp.
- Vacuum or wipe all the sawdust off the table. Then get a damp rag and wipe it down to clear more dust, then do it again. You really want to have all that sawdust gone before you paint.
- Let the table dry off from your washing — this shouldn’t take long.
- Paint the table with a latex primer. This is important — you need to prime the bare wood before putting the chalkboard paint on. You can use a brush or a napless roller for this. Let the primer dry for a couple hours.
- Paint with chalkboard paint. I found that even the napless roller left a texture I didn’t like, so I ended up painting with a brush. Put it on thick — don’t let anything clump or pool, of course, but don’t paint it out all thinly.
- Use three coats. At least, this is what I did, to ensure I had a nice thick surface. You have to wait a good four hours between coats, so this is most likely a project that will take a couple of days (but only 10 minutes a coat).
- Let it dry. Once you have your three coats on, you need to restrain your enthusiasm and let the paint dry for a long time. The can recommends several days, and further suggests that you shouldn’t wet it for 7 days after painting. This makes this a good project to do in between weekly gaming sessions, provided you can rip it out the day after gaming.
The longest part of this was the sanding and dust cleanup, which took me around a half hour. Otherwise the painting was about 5-10 minutes per coat.
It’s worth noting that you may want to very lightly sand the finished surface with some kind of very fine sanding cloth if you want a smoother surface. I did not do this and the surface is a bit rough — but it works perfectly fine for our purposes and I’m probably not going to do anything more to make it smoother.
You can usually get chalk at your local big box grocery store — they have it in the kids school supply section and it’s dirt cheap. You can, of course, also order it online — which is what I had to do to get my chalkboard eraser.
All in all I’m loving the chalkboard gaming table. If any of you try out the same thing, let me know how it works out!