DIY Performance Table by Evan Reynolds

The following article was written by fellow magician Evan Reynolds. This article was also featured in Vanish Magazine for magicians.

Performing Table Design

I do a lot of birthday party shows. I normally use a suitcase style table, and it’s wonderful. It has been a workhorse. But now I have a smaller car. It’s nice but my suitcase table no longer fits unless I laid it down its back. And furthermore, the suitcase table is heavy – it’s 45 pounds when empty, and once my show is loaded, it’s quite difficult to carry around. And when I get to a birthday party and have to climb stairs – that was getting ugly.

So I had two problems. My table was too big, and too heavy. But I loved having a table that carried all my stuff AND served as a performing table with lots of storage.

So I decided to design and build my own table. I’ve gone through three iterations so far. All of them have their advantages – and all of them are really easy to build. One involves nothing more than sticking on Velcro and using an iron. The other two involve a drill and a screwdriver, but if you plan carefully that’s about the only tools you’ll need. And the next plus? The last two tables have a built in sound system. It’s cheap, easy to operate, and there’s nothing to plug in. It’s not a big system – but it’s perfect for a birthday party.

I’ll point out the advantages and disadvantages as I go as well as the things I’d do differently next time. But the key to all this is to think about what you want out of the tables and then modify them. Make the tables bigger or smaller, add shelves, add compartments, and make it what you want. And then go to JoAnne’s and get some nice boxes/art storage bins. They go in the table beautifully and store your smaller magic props wonderfully while looking great.

Evan’s Crate Table

This table is very light, and VERY easy to build. If you can stick on some Velcro you can make this table, and if you can use an iron it will look great.

The basic idea is simple. I have three crates. I carry all of my props and supplies in the crates. When I get to the show I stack the crates on top of each other then I drape some fabric over them and I’m ready to go. That’s really it. The advantages? It’s really easy to build. It’s cheap. And the loads to carry in and out are REALLY light.

To implement it, I went to Ikea and got three of these crates. They are $10 each, hard sided, and stack well on their sides. Any crates will do, of course, you just need ones that you can turn on their sides and stack up. You’ll also need sticky back velcro. But – while these crates work? If I was going to do it again, I’d find sturdier ones. Those crates break over time.

To build this just stack the crates on their sides. That’s it. You have a very useful performance table. I originally tried bolting them together, putting Velcro to hold them together – but as I played with this, I found friction was enough. Nothing else was needed. So just stack them and call it done.

stack

To make them look pretty, there are several options depending on your crates. You may just be able to spray paint them. I chose to cover mine in fabric, which is much easier than it sounds. Measure the height of the stacked boxes, and length of the sides and front. Go to a fabric shop and get fabric that size. If you get it a few inches wider a seamstress can hem it for you, which will make it last longer and look a bit nicer. Alternately, I used a “fabric fusion” tape to hem it. It’s a ribbon, you just fold the edge of the fabric over the ribbon and iron it, and you have a nice hemmed edge. This is easily available from any fabric shop.

There’s also iron on Velcro. This makes it easy to attach the fabric to the table. Velcro with a sticky back can go on the crates, and iron-on Velcro can go on the fabric. Make sure you use the loop Velcro on the fabric, it may well save you some trouble later as the hook Velcro can catch on things, possibly including the fabric when you fold it up.

For the top, you can cover it in fabric as well but I just laid put a closeup mat over it. You can get those in any size so get one that you can cut down to fit your top.

So to recap. I spent about $60 total. I have a table that splits into three sections. It’s easy to transport, and light to carry.

And there is even another advantage – you can mix and match the crates. If you carry four or five crates, then you can just choose which three you’ll assemble for the show. This lets you carry multiple shows easily. Alternately, you can have one crate with all the items that need resetting, and have multiples of those – so that you can reset each item at home, and then during the day just use a different crate each time and not worry about resets.

If you need a taller or wider table just find crates in the size you want. My boxes don’t have lids but a sheet of plastic draped over the top will keep dust out in the garage, or rain out when carrying them in to a show.

cardTableTo get the crates into a show, I just carry them in, I haven’t attached wheels or tried to use a dolly. It takes me two trips. But they are light enough that it’s quite easy. That leads to the next issue – when carrying them in, they are loaded with the opening up. But setting up for a show, I want the opening on the side. I have found that two crates actually holds my entire show, so the third crate is empty. So when I’m at a show, I just move the things from the second box into the empty box, the third box into the second box, and that makes it pretty easy to transition to the side. It leaves a few things that I put on the floor and then back into the third box, but is a pretty easy transition. I have considered cutting an opening in the side of the crate so that they open on the top and the side, but haven’t done so. That would make it even easier, as then I could just carry them in and stack them – and I could even cut out the side, leave a lip, and have an insert that acted as the side while they were in the car but could be removed at a show.

It’s easy to make, cheap, and extremely versatile. I used it for quite a while – but in the end, the crates I used were too breakable, and I got tired of having to move the crates onto their sides. So I designed a new system.

But this one – I have a small flat table on a tripod. When I do small shows now, I have the top crate and the fabric drape from this table. I put that on the flat table on the tripod – and I have a nice looking table, it’s got a big compartment to hold things, and it’s perfect to perform on. And the tabletop comes off the tripod and the two can go into the crate – so I can just carry a single crate to a show, and it ends up becoming a full performance table.


tables1_4

What would I have done differently? Again, get sturdier crates – though at $10 each, I’m not going to complain about my Ikea crates. But read down to the fabric covers I did for the third table – THAT’S the biggest thing I’d have done differently. On the other hand – this fabric was far cheaper.

Evan’s Stackable Table

I decided to build a second table that had compartments for my stuff, didn’t weigh too much, and fit in my car. I liked the crates, but basically decided to build my own crates that would allow me to just carry the show in and plunk it down, without having to turn the crates on their sides. This design also owes a lot of inspiration from my Lefler Suitcase Table, though as you can see it’s quite different. I also decided since I was going to build my own table, I’d make compartments for some of my props.

Before you read this, let me emphasize that this is EASY to make. If you can be nice to the guy with the saw at Home Depot and if you can drill some holes, you can do this.

stacktable
See the line running sideways in the middle? This is two crates. They just sit on each other. I carry one in from the car and plunk it down, then I go get the next. Remember that side table above? I used it in the show – and the tabletop doubled to make the bottom crate foursided:

insidecase

(Also note the bottom crate has no top. It doesn’t need one as the top crate does this – adding a top would be adding more weight.)

This was my first attempt to fabric cover a table. I wanted the inside and out covered, the outside for looks and the inside so my props wouldn’t get scuffed up. The sides that face out are OK, but as you can see it gets ugly inside the table. I’m OK with that. No one sees it. And see table 3 for what I did next there, a custom fabric drape makes the outside look sharp no matter how clumsy a job you do covering it.
So how do you make this? Well, first you have to plan ahead. A sheet of plywood is 96×48 inches. So draw that out. Then figure out the measurements of the table you want. That tells you the size of the pieces. Draw that into your picture, trying to line things up to make it easy to cut up that piece of wood. Then go hand that sheet to the guy at Home Depot and ask him to cut up a piece of plywood for you. He’ll cut out all those pieces and it’s a lot, so be really charming. But they have never minded when I’ve asked – though I make sure to be pleasant about it. This is also why preplanning is important. Unless you have a saw at home (or a friend with a table saw) you’d better plan it out right.

My diagram follows. But … go measure your props. How tall do you want each one? Is this going to be tall enough to fit your props? How high do you want the tabletop? There’s room here to adjust the measurements to make a table that’s just the right size for you. Just remember when you figure height to leave room for the wheels, as they’ll raise the table several inches.

chart

Take this diagram to home depot. Find a sheet of plywood – I use OSB, which is basically wood chips glued together. It’s inexpensive, and while it doesn’t look great I cover it so that just doesn’t matter. (I’ve had friends insist OSB falls apart when it gets wet when I told them this. So I soaked some pieces in a bowl of water overnight to find out. It didn’t weaken at all. Therefore I will continue to go with the less expensive OSB.) Use ½ inch thick plywood – the pieces I am measuring are sized to account for that thickness.

Cut the two horizontal lines first, meaning you’ll have three pieces – one that’s 24×96, one that’s 13×96, and one to toss. Out of the first, cut out the two A pieces and the G piece, then the one inch high strip (part of which you’ll need!) Everything in grey I didn’t use, though I did cut it into pieces I could fit in my car and brought home for future projects.

This makes the two parts of your crate table.

TOP CRATE:
A – 24×13 – the top and bottom
B – 13×10 – the two sides
C – 10×23 – the back
D – 1×23 – a strip to put across the front to help things stay in place

BOTTOM CRATE
E – 13×17 – The two sides
F – 23×17 – The back
G – 24×13 – The bottom
H – 5×23 – a strip across the front to hold things in place

You’ll notice this doesn’t include the extra pieces you can see in the picture above that hold my props in place. That’s what all the scrap wood is for. If you plan it in advance, have the home depot guy cut them out for you. If not, befriend someone with a saw.

Assembling this is easy. I used a drill and drywall screws. I also have what’s known as a countersink drill bit. This drills a hole for the screw (without that the wood might split) and then also digs out a little hole for the screwhead, so it ends up flush. Really you just have to place the pieces together, drill the holds, and screw them together.

For both crates, in essence you’ll lay the bottom down, put the sides on top of it, and put the back between the two sides. Then lay the top over it all. The trick is just getting the corners right – find something square and use it to get your pieces lined up right. Just take your time, it isn’t hard.

For wheels, get casters from Home Depot. Get ones that aren’t too small so the table rolls comfortably and bolt them to the bottom. Look for locking washers when you bolt them on – they’ll help prevent the bolts from ever loosening up. There’s also stuff called threadlocker which is like a glue that does this – just be sure to get the removable version.

Be careful when placing the wheels. When I first did this, the table kept wanting to tip over. The reason was that there was too much weight in the back – the version here is what I came to as I played with this. It moves the center of balance so that it’s not so tippy. If yours still ends up tippy add some weight to the side that it falls away from, and it’ll steady out.

WANT A BUILT IN SOUND SYSTEM?
I wanted music in my show. But I didn’t want to worry about plugging things in, I didn’t want more to set up … so I decided to build a sound system into my table. And what I came up with has been working FANTASTICALLY well. This is for a typical birthday party – not for a large show – but to put music in a living room? It’s perfect.

I bought a little speaker. I have a ST Audio TruSound speaker, it’s battery powered and has great sound. Any speaker will do, just make it small, battery powered, and with sound you like. Put it in the corner of the top crate and cut out a hole the size of the speaker. Mine is round, so I used a hole saw – it’s basically a type of bit for a drill that can cut large holes. That’s IT. You’re done. In a show, lay the speaker in front of that hole so it can play music though an acoustically invisible space, plug an iPod into it, and lay the iPod on top of your table. Or get a remote control for your iPod. It all works.

When you get to the show, then, you just have to place the speaker in that corner (feel the fabric and you’ll feel the hole), plug in the iPod to it, and you’re done setting up your sound system. It’s easier, faster, and cheaper than any other sound system I’ve seen marketed to magicians and it performs perfectly.

COVER THE BOXES WITH FABRIC
This leaves you with two boxes. I covered them inside and out with fleece. It looks nicer on the outside, and on the inside I wanted my props rubbing against nice soft fleece, not rough OSB wood. I’ll be honest. Covering the boxes with fabric is HARD. I really didn’t like how this set of tables came out. I did it again for my next set of tables, and I wasn’t too fond of that either. But I did have an idea I like that made it not matter. As is, my best advice is to get some spray adhesive, go to youtube and look for “cover boxes fabric” and watch a few videos and then just do the best. Then read what I did to table 3 to cover up any ugliness.

Also note that covering the boxes with fabric covers up the hole for the speakers. No one can see it, but the sound goes straight through. You can feel it easily with your fingers though if you ever doubt if you’re putting the speaker in the right spot.

THINGS I WISH I’D DONE DIFFERENTLY
This table worked great for me for several years until I went to the next table I’m about to describe. I just relied on gravity to hold it together – I’d carry them in, place the top crate on the bottom crate, and they stayed. But if it was a long walk to the show, I’d put the two tables together and wheel them in. That was always a pain, the top table will slide off the bottom while you push. If I was going to do this again, I’d add pegs to the bottom table and matching drilled holes in the top table, so that once they were placed together they’d stay. There might be better solutions, but that is the one thing I’d highly suggest you think about if you build this table. Other than that, I loved this table. But I improved it anyway.

Evan’s Name Recognition Tables

nametables

There were two things that drove me to redesign the tables. First, I didn’t really think my fabric covering was professional looking enough. And secondly, I was thinking about something that happens a lot. People will tell me about this GREAT magician they saw. So I’ll ask who he was and they never know. Therefore it’s a safe assumption that later they won’t remember my name either.

There’s theory about sticking your name into your set so that all pictures of the show have your name in them. But how do you do that without looking tacky?

I answered both of these with my Name Recognition Tables. Which is a fancy way of saying I built two tables, printed up my posters on fabric, and covered the the tables with that. Now my sloppy job of fabric covering is invisible, and every picture people take not only has my name in it (twice!) but it looks SHARP.

This table has the same built in sound system. One box is a cube, and one has a shelf. I’ve also found with the fabric drape you can use the floor below the table – look above, you can’t see anything I’ve put on the floor behind the drape.

inside2

Note the sound system. It’s just placed in the corner – right in front of a hole in the wood that’s covered with fabric. So when it plays the sound isn’t muffled at all.

So again, the concept was really simple. Build two cubes. Cover them in fabric as best as I can. Put them on tripods, and then get a fabric drape. The drape gets my name into every picture, and it also covers up my sloppy fabric covering job and leaves the tables looking pretty professional. From the front anyway.

THE TABLES
chart2

Do the same as before – go to Home Depot and have them cut these pieces out of ½ thick OSB. Just make the length cuts first, and then cut out all the pieces. Cut the bottom into smaller pieces so you have some scrap, or make some duplicate pieces just in case. This makes two tables, one of which has a shelf.

A – 15×18 – the top
B – 15×18 – the bottom
C – 16×18 – the back
D – 1×18 – stops for the front
E – 14.5×16 – the sides
F – 15×18 – the shelf
G – 14.5×2 – shelf braces

For the both tables, this just makes a cube with an open front. One one cube, but the two shelf braces on the sides – just screw them to the side walls right at the bottom. The shelf will then just sit on them – you can lift it up or out if you want.

Put the D pieces on the bottom front of one box, and on the front of the shelf on the other box. That way if the box tips forward, things hit the stop instead of sliding out. Then just assemble it following the instructions for the previous table.

Then you need a tripod. Put the box on a chair, stand in front of it, and decide the perfect height. I had trouble finding a good affordable tripod. I settled on getting a Third Hand Tripod from Rockler.

It’s a great price and will work great, you just need to add a metal bar to it. But then I found some used tripods on the internet and used those instead. If you get a used tripod, it will probably be too high – but if it expands, just pull out the expanding pole and then cut the remining pole to the side you picked. I used a miter saw, I advise finding a friend with a power tool for that part.

If the tripod comes with a mounting base you’re set – just play with it before you screw it in, and find the center of balance for the table and put it there. I just held the table with one hand until I found the spot where I could hold the table without it tipping over. That’s where to put the mounting point.

THE DRAPES
First, get an image. It should be about two inches LESS wide than the front of the table. I highly advise working with a graphic designers on this. You don’t need a full poster like I have – even your name in a nice logo font with some design elements to spruce it up will do.

Once you have an image, measure your table. You want top of the table to the floor for height, plus an inch. Then measure the three sides (left side, front, right side) for the width and add an inch. That gives you a bit of fabric that’s the right height with half an inch all the way around extra. That half an inch is just enough to hem the fabric – just get hemming tape, fold it over, and iron it. That will keep your edges clean.

Send that to www.FabricOnDemand.com. They not only printed it up for me nicely, but since it prints larger than I needed, they printed a cut line to help me cut it out. I had trouble figuring out the layout, so I ordered it centered – but they emailed me to check the proofs, and I talked to them and we moved it up higher and that’s when the cutline got done. I recommend either doing that like I did or else call them. Either way.

The fabric ended up costing me about $60 per table or so. And in person? It’s fantastic. They did a brilliant job.

Things I wish I had done Differently

Well, honestly, so far I’m DELIGHTED with these tables. If you look at them in the picture, though, they are a bit tilted – the tripods I got used just do that. So I’ve got a spade drill bit the same size as the pole and am going to drill a hole in a block of wood and attach that to the bottom of the table. Then I can slide the pole into that and have a more secure mounting.

That puts a block of wood in the center of the cube so I can’t put it down anymore. So I’m adding some wood to the front and back to match, just a 1×2 piece of wood running the length of the cube. Adding the whole pieces of wood to the front and back also gives me the ability to add a little servante to the front of the cube – and a little shelf sure would be handy.