A picture of the finished table (click to see a larger image). I put the tiles on the surface randomly; you're more than welcome to search for words that may have come up serendipitously. In early 2002 I completed a LEGO project that also used many, many letter pieces.
Scrabble sets are often given as prizes at tournaments; small prizes for things like highest scoring game, highest scoring play, and so forth. After a while players run the risk of getting a closet full of these games.
This got me thinking about what I should do with extra tiles. A friend of mine suggested covering a tabletop with them.
That seemed like a good idea, so I started putting all of the extra tiles to the side, figuring that one day I would have enough to cover a table.
About this time I also started thinking about building a whole table for a screened-in porch I recently completed at my house. I wanted a large table -- heavy duty -- and something with a large surface, like 3 feet by 6 feet in area.
While contemplating it, I thought, "well, why not cover it in Scrabble tiles?" It's not like this table was going to have to be ultra fancy or anything. It was meant to be a game table of sorts; outside (or on the porch) for its whole life. Scrabble tiles would kind of fit the 'gaming' theme of the table, and if something went wrong with the tile project, no big deal... I wasn't planning on seating heads of state at this piece of furniture.
Eighteen square feet is a large area to cover in Scrabble tiles, however. After about a year of competitive play, I only had a couple of extra Scrabble sets (100 tiles per set). I was going to need a lot more.
I didn't want to start buying tiles off of eBay or something. Nor did I want to buy extra sets of wooden tiles directly from Hasbro. The whole point to this tile project was that I'd be using tiles that would otherwise go unused... I didn't want to actually buy the silly things.
So, at tournaments, in addition to hoping that I'd win a Scrabble set here or there, I started casually asking friends if they had any extra tiles they could donate to a project I had bouncing around in my head.
I'm not the only player whole has a lot of extra tiles. Most players I mentioned this to were more than happy to mail me extra tiles. I can't remember everyone who has given me some so far, but Don Palmer, Jim Pate, Wanda Tumlin, Rich Moyer, and Alan Whitman come immediately to mind (if you know you've given me tiles in the past and want to see your name listed on this page, just send me an email).
The 2002 Nationals in San Diego also helped some as there were hundreds of deluxe Scrabble boards provided by Hasbro, but again, all of the wooden tiles with those sets were ignored. I got about 7 sets' worth there.
By late 2003 I now had a couple large jars full of tiles (one with dark, 'deluxe' tiles, the other with light 'standard' tiles); probably at least a thousand of each.
Still, I knew I was far short of what I would need to cover a 3'-by-6' tabletop -- the top of a table that I had not even started building yet... I was beginning to wonder if this would ever really happen.
Then one morning I was sitting in my sunroom looking at an old piano bench that I was currently using as a plant stand. Years ago I had found this bench discarded, and while I had no piano at which I needed to sit, I picked it up and had since used it to display LEGO models, plants, or whatever.
It was rather beaten up, however. I had never tried to refinish the bench or anything (you can see where this is leading...).
The light bulb went off in my head. Instead of embarking on a huge project (the large table), why not start small? I could cover the top of this bench first. It was only about 3 square feet in area. This would allow me to experiment with the whole adhering-Scrabble-tiles-to-a-tabletop idea on a small scale before completely screwing up on a grand scale.
I decided to see if I had enough dark tiles to cover the top.
Barely. That innocent looking little bench top required 697 tiles.
Six hundred ninety seven! I had fewer than 200 dark tiles remaining when I finished laying the needed pieces out. I was glad to have enough to do this small scale project, but then it dawned on me just how many I would need if I ever did want to cover the larger tabletop: over 4400 tiles.
And it turns out collecting the tiles is the easy part. Sitting down and actually gluing the darn things to the surface takes a long time. 697 tiles was certainly manageable, though quite monotonous... a few thousand tiles? Hmmm...
Anyway, over the course of a couple of weeks I refinished the little bench, put all of the tiles on it, and coated it with several layers of polyurethane to help protect it and seal it against moisture (which would cause all of the individual tiles to expand slightly and buckle).
As an added touch I used old Scrabble racks as a decorative trim around the outer edge of the table.
In the end, it turned out to be a fair success. The tiles are not exactly uniform in size, so there are slight gaps (as well as a not-quite-smooth surface since the thickness of tiles varies some as well). But considering that I'm just going to be using this to have a place to put houseplants, I think it will do.
Now, if anyone would like to send me more tiles so I can (maybe) build that large table, let me know...