The Playing Surface

Building the Playing Surface Hardware Store- 1st run for materials

I went to Lowe’s and bought the first set of materials.  I hesitated to buy everything in case I screwed something up and was left with a bunch of materials and tooling that I didn’t need.  Please click Materials Trip One for what I bought.   For the playing surface material, I wanted to go with a maple butcher block (like the professional tables).  However, purchasing multiple, pre-made blocks would have run me around $800.  The alternative was gluing maple boards together myself and then taking it to a woodshop for planing which seemed way too ambitious and expensive… not to mention these surfaces need special climactic adjusters.  I easily passed on the butcher block and went with Dave’s method of using MDF, which does not warp or bend with climate/temperature changes. The most significant purchase was the MDF.

Fortunately Lowe’s carries 3/4 inch thick MDF in 8 Foot by 4 Foot.  I had hoped to build a 22 foot, regulation shuffleboard, but to avoid making a lot of cuts myself and joining three pieces of mdf, I decided to go with a 16 foot long by 20 inch wide shuffleboard.  This kept things easy b/c I didn’t need a table saw and Lowe’s was able to cut one piece of MDF into two pieces that were 8 foot by 20 inches.  By joining the ends of the two pieces together, I had a 16 foot by 20 inch playing court.

Overhead Dimensions

With a 16 foot long court, I had my concerns about gluing the ends together.  Even though I planned to reinforce the underside of the court with pine boards & leftover mdf (following Dave’s guidance), I still felt that the seam would be real weak and may split while moving.  So, I decided to use a tool called a biscuit joiner to join the two pieces.  This felt pretty ambitious b/c not only did I not own this type  of tool, I had never heard of it.  Unfortunately, none of the hardware stores in town had this available for rental.  After mulling over it for a couple days, I decided to pickup a biscuit joiner at Home Depot for a little over $100.  I was pretty unhappy about dropping an extra hundred on a tool that would be used very infrequently, but the thought of the court cracking in half while moving it scared me enough to pull the trigger.  I also grabbed some #20 Biscuits that fit in the slots after you make them. You’ll also find that biscuit joiners are referred to as amp-plate-joiners.

Joining the MDF

The sawhorse stands that I bought to keep the wood off the ground worked well, but the long pieces of mdf would bend in the middle when they were propped up.  To make sure that they were fairly flat and the ends were flush, I put some paint paper down on the floor and laid the mdf boards on top with the playing surface facing down (good time for knee pads if you have them).  After repositioning the board ends a few times to find the two ends that joined most closely, it was time to make the biscuit join cuts.

Biscuit Joiner Practice Cuts






Basics of a Biscuit Joiner (skip if you’ve used this tool):  When you want to join the edges of two pieces of wood together, this tool can help you create a much stronger connection.  Start by connecting the two edges and making sure that they are completely flush.  Using a pencil and straight edge, draw 12″ lines across both pieces of wood where you’ll eventually join the wood (keep the lines at least 3″ apart).  For the 20″ width boards, I drew four lines for four biscuit joints.  Separate the pieces of wood and you should have 8 lines to help you make your 8 cuts (4 cuts per board).  Do a practice cut on a scrap piece of wood (you’ll probably have to adjust the height of the Biscuit Joiner to make sure the cuts are in the middle- see picture for cuts at varying heights).  When the settings for the tool are correct, make the 8 cuts in your two pieces of wood.  After you have your cuts, take some dry biscuits (do not glue yet) and fit them into the cuts.  Then join the edges of the wood together to make sure that the connection is flush.  Pull them apart and apply a thin layer of glue to each edge.  Liberally apply glue inside the eight cuts.  Before joining, apply more glue, covering the biscuits, and shove them in the slots on one piece of wood.  The biscuits will expand quickly, so after they have glue on them, try and complete the join in under 5 minutes.  Once the glue covered biscuits are in the slots on one side, join the other piece wood.  Unfortunately, with such large pieces of wood, you can not use a vice or clamp to tighten the connection.  I had a lot of trouble with this b/c there was a small gap between the boards.  I ended up starting over after one failed attempt (prying the glued, expanded biscuits out was a challenge, so I won’t make this mistake again).  The second time I butted the far end of one board against the wall.  After completing the biscuit join, I went to the far end of the other board and lightly tapped it 20-30 times with a mallet.  This was definitely not the best method and the boards were not perfectly seamless, but for a beginner I was happy with the result.

Reinforcing the join

After the join, I wanted to further reinforce the connection by screwing some pine boards into the back of the two pieces of MDF.  The pine boards were 1 inch thick and the MDF was 3/4 inch, so I used 1 and 5/8″ screws.  If I could do it over, I would have used slightly shorter screws.  Even though they were shorter than the pine + mdf, it was very close.  I was worried about them popping through the other side of the mdf (the playing surface), so I didn’t screw them down super tight.  It didn’t seem like a problem at the time but when I eventually flipped the assembly over to expose the playing surface, and got out my level, it wasn’t level throughout.  If the underside pine rails are used to support the weight of the shuffleboard court, they need to be even and flush or else the surface is uneven.  Definitely a stupid mistake and I had to go back with shorter screws to get them flush. I screwed in the pine boards .5 inch from the edge of the MDF.  Once the pine boards were screwed in, I used the leftover piece of MDF to reinforce the middle (shorter size screws).

The join was secure, so I flipped over the boards to expose the playing surface.  The seam was close to true, but not perfect.  It also had some of the painter’s paper stuck to it from the glue.  I decided to first sand down the seam with 220 grit paper and the Bosch random orbital sander that I’d just bought.  This evened it up pretty well and got rid of the paper.  I then generously applied wood filler into the seam and smoothed it out with a knockdown knife.  After giving it an hour to seal up and dry, I went over it with the orbital sander and it turned out very smooth.

Rough Join after sanding

Overhead of joined MDF

After wood filler






Another issue showed up on the edge of the playing surface.  Apparently when I flipped it over, I knocked off a piece of the edge of the mdf (see picture).  Fortunately, I had the missing piece and could fit it back into place.  It didn’t fit in flush, so I actually had to further dig out the hole with a knife and carefully cut the piece with scissors for it to fit in well.  I then glued it in place, waited 10 minutes and went over the top with the wood filler and knockdown knife.  After drying and sanding, it turned out very smooth…  crisis averted.

Ding filled and sanded

Ready for Paint






Painting the Surface

At this point, it was time to paint.  Being an amateur, I didn’t feel confident enough to try and cover the MDF surface in any sort of wood flooring.  For looks, this would have been preferred, but it seemed like it would take a lot of precision cuts and I doubted my ability to pull it off.  So, after some inspiration from Gary, I decided to include additional scoring for Curling (blue and red rings that look like a target).  With the Curling theme, I went with a hi-gloss white paint to give the effect of ice.   I first tried the paint color with a couple coats of polyurethane on the extra mdf I had to test out the look.  I was satisfied and after wiping down the sanded court with paper towels, I proceeded to paint the entire court with the white paint. I did the first two coats of white paint back to back.  Then I waited 2 hours and did a third coat.  Once the paint was dry,  I did a light sanding with the orbital sander to smooth out the paint imperfections, which worked surprisingly well.

First Coat

3 coats complete

Light Sanding






Painting the Curling Rings

Now it was time to mark the scoring.  i started by marking the shuffleboard lines in pencil.  I did this so that I could position the curling rings to look good with the shuffleboard lines (no weird overlaps).  I penciled out the three shuffleboard lines at 6”, 12” and 36” from each end of the board. The next step was applying the curling scoring.  I cut a big piece of the brown painter paper and put it on the playing court.  The playing court is 20″ wide and I decided to leave an inch on both sides of the rings, so the diameter of the outer ring would be 18″.  From the inside out, the diameter of my circles were 3″, 8″, 13″, 18″.   I didn’t have a protractor or compass on hand, nor did I think they’d be big enough for these circles.  Shamefully, I started raiding my cupboards and measuring various coffee cups and bowls to find some that had these diameters.  Fortunately, I found some that were pretty close to the 3″ and 8″ circles.  After tracing those on the paper, I grabbed some dental floss and tied one end around the tip of a mechanical pencil.  Then, holding the other end in the center of the circle, I was able to carefully trace out the 13” and 18” circles.  This took a couple of tries with some erasing to get it right.

20" x 20" Paper

Diameters measured

Tracing the curling rings

Rings complete






To create the stencils, I placed the paper on a scrap wood backing and carefully cut out the rings with a razor (n.b. keep your non-cutting hand above the razor at all times to avoid cutting yourself). After cutting out all of the stencils, I lightly sprayed the back of them with some repositionable adhesive spray.  I used this to create a sticky side that would adhere to the board and keep the spray paint from creeping under the stencils.  First I carefully put two stencils down- the outer stencil and the ring where the inner white circle would eventually be.  I also placed paper down on all surrounding areas to limit any stray spray paint from getting on the court.  I sprayed my blue paint over the top (very thin coat) to create the blue ring.  I let it dry for thirty minutes and then did another coat. After the second coat, I immediately peeled up the stencils.  First big disaster…. despite the spray on adhesive, there was significant bleeding under the stencils.  This was really frustrating and would take some time to fix.  I think my major mistakes were spraying on the paint too thick and not using plastic acetate for the stencil.  I think the plastic would have created a better seal (some edges of the paper unstuck after getting wet from the spray paint).  The other issue was that a faint blue mist appeared fairly far down the playing court.  I think I did a decent job protecting the area around the circle, but I had walked around the stencil, spraying all parts from different angles.  By doing this, a light mist of spray traveled down the length of the court.

Curling Ring Dimensions

First stencil painting

Blue mist of paint down the board

Bleeding edges under stencil






I repeated this process, with the stencils for the red ring and then repeated on the other side. After the curling rings were dry, there was pretty bad bleeding on all the rings, although the first side was much worse then the second.  Not to mention I tried painting a black shuffleboard line using masking tape as a stencil…  this had bad bleeding as well. Originally I had targeted to complete this project in one weekend, but the painting issues blew my schedule.  Painstakingly, I went back with white paint and a small brush to paint over the edges that bled.  This was a long process with a lot of wait time for drying, not to mention I do not have a  steady hand.  I did two coats of white on all rings.  Because of some mistakes with the white, I then had to do the same on the blue and red (I sprayed the paint into a small bowl and then used the small brush to apply).  I knew that a shoddy paint job would bother me, so now was the time to clean up the edges as much as possible.

Bad Bleeding on Side 1

Even the test line bled under masking tape

Curling Rings after touchups






After a couple rounds of white, red and blue to clean up my mistakes, the curing rings were finally done.  I was fed up with spray paint at this point, so instead I bought a small jar of hi-gloss black paint to do the shuffleboard lines and numbers.

Painting the Shuffleboard Lines/Scoring

The lines were pretty straightforward.  The original pencil lines at 6″, 12″ and 36″ were still there, so I just put blue painter’s tape on either side of those lines and painted them black.  The paint didn’t stick very well, so it took me five coats for each line, but the drying time was fast (30 minutes), so I was done in a few hours.  Unfortunately, I had bad bleeding of the black paint under the painter’s tape.  The bleeding was much worse where the lines overlapped white paint as opposed to where the lines crossed the red and blue rings…  Seems like the white paint was the true culprit this whole time.  I put some more tape down over the black lines in order to clean them up with white paint.  After a few coats of white, I pulled the tape up.  In general, the lines looked good, but some of the black paint peeled up with the tape.  I grabbed a black sharpie and cleaned up gaps, wishing I had just used this in the first place.

Shuffleboard lines- first coat

Three coats- not sticking well

Black lines complete







For the scoring numbers, I found a font (MS Mincho) that I liked in Microsoft Word and printed out numbers that were 1.5 inches high (I believe the font size that I used was 175).  I then thoroughly taped this piece of paper to wax stencil paper and proceeded to cut out the numbers with a razor.  This worked okay, but there were many jagged edges on the stencil.  I knew that if I painted over them, the numbers would come out sloppy and uneven.  Instead, I used the stencil and a pencil to trace the numbers onto the board.  Then I used the black sharpie to go back and fill in the tracings, smoothing out the jagged edges.  After getting all the numbers down, I was really happy with how they came out and they were much easier than I expected.

Razor number cutouts on stencil paper

Numbers traced in pencil- starting to fill in with Sharpie

Numbers & Lines Complete







Overall, I had expected to spend a few hours painting all the scoring.  It ended up taking around 20 hours of painting over the course of a week to get everything right.  I would seriously rethink this if I ever were to do it again.  For Gary’s DIY project, he used Sharpie markers for the curling rings and shuffleboard scoring.  I don’t know how this would’ve worked on my painted mdf, but it sounds like a much better method.  Also, if you’re doing shuffleboard scoring only (no curling), you’ve got a lot less to worry about. I was feeling good about the progress at this point and decided to let everything dry for a few hours before applying any polyurethane (polycrylic).

Applying the Polyurethane

I bought the wrong kind of poly (oil-based) considering I had painted the surface white.  Apparently oil-based poly will yellow/amber over time.  The other drawbacks to oil-based poly is it takes a long time to dry/cure and oil is more difficult to work with and clean up.  Water based is supposed to be just as good, but just takes more coats.  Minwax makes a water-based polyurethane and something very similar called Polycrylic.  After doing some research I decided to go with the Ploycrylic because it dries really fast, is very easy to work with and can cover a wide variety of difference surface types (water-based, oil-based, latex based paint).  I wanted a fast drying time because my basement is pretty dusty and the longer it took the poly to dry, the more dust would settle on it. The application process was tedious, but easy enough.  I used a standard wire paint brush to put on the first three coats of poly.  I started out by painting long strokes, left-to-right, down the length of the board.  This made it tough to consistently apply even amounts of poly with my strokes and get total coverage.  During later coats I changed my method to use short strokes, up-and-down, across the width of the board.  This made application of the poly much easier and more consistent.  Despite most of the advice I’d read, I did not sand after the first coat.  With all of the scoring paint, I was worried about sanding through the poly and taking off the paint.  I applied two light coats and one heavier coat before sanding.  The polycrylic dries so fast that I did the first two coats back to back (no wait time) and the third coat after an hour of wait time. After the third coat, I used the random orbital sander on lowest speed, with 220 grit paper to lightly sand the surface and even it out.  Despite trying to keep the sanding very light, there were a couple of paint issues where it seemed the sander made its way through the coats of poly.  This was pretty frustrating because I assumed 3 coats would be more than enough of a layer to protect the paint.  After searching online for people that have used Polycrylic to make their own bags/cornhole game, 5+ coats before sanding is highly recommended to not screw up decals or paint underneath…  at least I’ll know for next time.

First light coat of Poly

Sanding after third coat of Poly- a couple divots in the paint

10 coats of Poly







The rest of the Polycrylic process was applying three heavy coats, followed by light sanding, until I had about 10 coats on there (wait at least 30 minutes between coats).  That many coats may seem excessive, but the Poly wasn’t going on very thick and I was also trying to even out brush strokes. The final treatment was a light coat of spray on Polycrylic.   I used this to smooth out the brush strokes left from before.  Fortunately, it evens out the glossy surface really well.  Against the directions on the bottle, I had to hold it about three inches from the surface while spraying.  Any further away and you end up with a bumpy mist on the table instead of a uniform liquid.  I also used a similar application method to the paint brush, going up and down across the 20″ width of the board.  One bottle ended up being the perfect amount to do one coat on the 16 foot playing surface (I ran out right at the end).  After all the poly was applied, I waited 24 hours for everything to dry/cure. After drying, I rubbed some automobile turtle wax on the playing surface (not recommended b/c although it did polish the surface nicely, it left some permanent streak lines in the surface).  I probably should have used real shuffleboard paste polish wax to avoid the streaking, but you can’t really see them unless you’re looking for them.  Before dusting the surface with shuffleboard powder/sand, I applied a light layer of silicone spray.  I opted for some generic automotive silicone spray instead of the shuffleboard specific stuff because it was a lot cheaper. Overall, I’m not sure it’s necessary, but it definitely speeds up the pucks. It comes out pretty oily and doesn’t completely dry, but I gave it 30 minutes before spreading the Speed 1 Sun-Glo powder over the entire board.  Of course, it’s best to have the box completed before spreading the sand/powder so that the silicon beads don’t get everywhere. But, I was anxious to try out the table and make sure that the shuffleboard pucks would glide across smoothly. Fortunately, the surface came out great and the pucks fly down pretty fast. I was even getting some drift from the outside to the inside. Commercial boards also have this feature so that when gliding pucks get close to the edge, they slowly drift back toward the middle of the board. I wasn’t sure how to replicate this, but it turned out that the reinforcement I did on the underside distributed the weight lengthwise, along the sides of the MDF. This created a very slight concave effect that was a nice, unplanned benefit. With the playing surface complete, it was time to move on to the next step: The box…

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