My friend, Jim, and I have recently started an ambitious project to reproduce Harry Truman's Poker Table. Actually, we are making two reproductions. One will end up in my home, and the other is being donated to the U.S.S. Iowa battleship restoration project. It will become part of a special lounge on the ship that will be open to donors and for special functions.
I first saw the poker table a few years ago at "Truman's Little White House" in Key West, Florida. As a woodworker, it immediately captured my full attention. What is unique is that the table is built in seven "segments." Even the pedestal base is seven-sided. (Why seven? That's the most players that can play seven-card stud with a full deck of cards.) Many of you will immediately do the math in your head and understand that 14 angles don't divide evenly into a 360 degree circle. To make everything fit is the challenge. As we build, I will update you on how we are working to achieve the precision required in our home shops.
The original table was built by civilian carpenters contracted by the Navy. Truman's "vacation" home while he was President was the Admiral's quarters at the Navy base in Key West. The President asked for a poker table, and the Navy built it for him. There were actually two tables built. One was on the Presidential Yacht. That second table was given to an aide of President Kennedy when the Presidential yacht was decommissioned.
I was able to take detailed photographs and make measurements of the table last summer in Key West, which I will share as I update you on the progress of building the table. I will attempt to show you the original, and our version of the components as we build them.
The table has seven "stations" with chip holders bored and slotted into the table, along with cigar ashtrays at each station set into recesses in the table. Also unique is that the center felt circle is an insert. When removed, it reveals a felt-lined "dice pit" for playing craps and other dice games, as shown at left.
We started with the top "rings" which are four laminated layers of mahogany, 52" in diameter and totaling 3 1/4" thick when glued together. Each layer is built by cutting seven angled sections. We started our journey with a miter saw, but discovered quickly that a power miter saw is simply not precise enough to close a 52" diameter circle of seven pieces.
Our solution was the table saw and a sled that we could adjust accurately. Ironically, we ended up fine-tuning the sled with playing cards to achieve the accuracy we needed. The seven ring pieces are butt-joined with biscuits. In the background of the photo below, you will also see a special assembly table we constructed to handle the clamps necessary for gluing up the rings. It reverses from a flat top with holes in it, to a set of 2X4s, set vertically to allow clamping all the sections and shapes involved.
We made a circular template for pattern routing the final rings. We close-trimmed the rings with a jig saw, and then did the final pattern routing.
When we had the ring sections routed, we glued them together in four layers.
The bottom ring is narrower and required a different template. This creates a recess for fastening the top ring to the pedestal assembly, which I will show in future posts to this forum. We have many more challenges ahead, including the boring and shaping of the chip slots and finding or making brass cigar ashtrays to match the originals. All of that in future posts!
Dave and Jim
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