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Build-Your-Own Painting Station

This article was originally posted by stgm on his weetoysoldiers hobby website.

by stgm

Like many hobbyists, I find myself in need of a mobile painting/hobby station from time to time. Some of us don’t have a dedicated spot we can claim for the hobby; some find that they do their best work in front of the TV; some want to “work” outside when the weather is nice. I’ve been thinking about getting myself some sort of painting tray that I can easily move around with me.


Games Workshop has such a product (called “Painting Station”) in their hobby supplies range:

… now this looks all very nice and handy, but the darned thing costs $40.00! Having learned the painful lesson my early adolescence (many, many years past now) that indeed, as my parents often told me, money does not grow on trees, I started thinking about a more affordable alternative.

At first, I thought about building something like that GW painting tray, using fiberboard. It’s cheap enough (2ft x 4ft x 3/8″ piece is around $4.00 at the local hardware store, which would provide more than enough material to build two such trays). But another painful adolescence lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not too handy with woodworking. So I hit the local craft stores, hoping that they might have some ready-made solution.


Success! I didn’t find any ready-made products, but found a few items that were ideal for what I had in mind, and once I got them home, it took me all of about 10 minutes to put together a painting station of my own.

Here are the components:

The main part is the ubiquitous 16”x20″ clear acrylic box frame that are seemingly available everywhere. This particular size cost me $12.99. If you have a Michaels craft store nearby, or have other craft stores that honor Michaels’ 40% off coupon, then the net cost is $7.79 (which is what it cost me). The two Sterlite flip-top containers were $1 each. So, the net cost for material came to $9.79.

Here is the frame with the cardboard backing removed:

… and this picture gives you an idea as to how high the sides are:

The acrylic frame used isn’t the thickest you’ll find, but it’s plenty sturdy enough for any hobby-related work:

I used a piece of styrofoam to get the Sterlite containers ready (more on the Styrofoam later):

This step isn’t necessary, but it might be helpful if you are not too steady with your hands. Using a word processing program, I made an empty table four columns by two rows, each cell being 1″ square:

I printed out the table, and cut it out and placed it on top of the Sterlite lid to provide guide-holes for drilling:

… and here is one of the containers with holes drilled for paint brushes. One hole in the middle row is larger than others, to accommodate an X-Acto knife:

Here is the brush holder in action. A piece of foam provides stability for the brushes and knife (you simply push the brush handle into the foam to keep it from moving around):

And here are two plastic water cups in the other container. The piece of foam behind them prevents the cups from being knocked about inside the container:

This photo shows the bottom of the Sterlite containers. You can file or cut away the “legs” and glue the containers to the tray, or drill holes through both the Sterlite and acrylic frame tray and secure both with nuts and bolts, should you desire to do so:

The Finished Product

Here is the finished product. It was cheap and easy to put together. I like the fact that the acrylic tray will make it easier to clean up in case of paint spills, and having sides will help tremendously when you are working/filing/cutting little miniature parts and accidentally drop them; I can’t count how many tiny pieces I’ve lost to the carpet around the workbench.

The great thing about the acrylic box frame is that you can cover it pretty much with whatever you want. Just cut it to size, and there you have it! Shelf liner to prevent sliding about (a great idea–thanks, Todd!), tiles to use as in-place paint palettes, a small spiral notebook to test paint on and drybrush preparation, etc. My one piece of advice would be to always carry it with both hands! The acrylic sheet used for the frame is not strong enough for you to hold with just one hand on one side, especially if you have water-filled cups in the tray. But other than that — enjoy!


After I posted the article above, I made some further “enhancements” to the tray, incorporating feedback received so far. The shelf liner we had on hand wasn’t non-skid type, but it did have some ridges to prevent free movement:

Using the frame inside print as a guide, I cut out a piece large enough to cover the tray:

That helped some, but I wanted to secure them further. I used some 1/2″ square poplar rods I had around to jury-rig a frame to hold the containers in place:

… and here’s how the finished tray now looks. None of the components are glued or affixed permanently — should you want to, you can of course do that.

This “enhancement” of course pushes the total cost of the tray somewhat, unless you should happen to have the liner and wooden rods around in the house. These are purely optional, of course!

More Enhancements

A couple of further modifications to the hobby tray. First, I’ve added a block of packing foam to hold various small and pointy drill bits, blades, pins, and other whatnots on the hobby tray:

For those of you who like to rest your wrists on the edge of the tray while painting or working on a miniature, an insulation foam tube (found in the plumbing section of your local hardware stores) works great:

This is a section cut from a 3/8″ core x 6ft. length of tube — $1.39 at my local hardware store for the 6ft. piece
This is a section cut from a 3/8″ core x 6ft. length of tube — $1.39 at my local hardware store for the 6ft. piece

Here’s a close-up of the tube. You run your hobby knife along the pre-almost-cut slit, and open it up completely.

… then simply push it down on the wall of the hobby tray facing you:

And here is the (currently) final configuration of the hobby tray:


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