Custom Poker Chip Trays

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.

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, 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”.