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The $1 Gaming Tray

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26 July 2001page first published

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A couple of weeks ago, luis on the Warhammer Ancients mailing list wrote:

"I find using cookie sheet trays in conjunction with magnetized-based figures a fast and quick way of moving figures off the table. Just load the figures on the cookies sheets and set them on the next table, bingo! I spray painted the cookie sheet green. My wife is still looking for her cookie sheets."

That got me thinking on this whole subject of gaming trays. What's a gaming tray for? Some common uses are:

  • a place to sort out miniatures prior to play, putting various units on different trays
  • a place to collect "dead" figures, rather them letting them stacked here and there and perhaps get mislaid
  • a temporary holding area for figures waiting to be painted

What a gaming tray isn't: a permanent storage solution. (You'd probably want something with a lid for that.)

When you're looking for good gaming tray material, what you need is something that is sturdy enough to hold the weight of your figures, that has a flat bottom so that the figures won't fall over, and raised sides so that the pieces can't easily fall out.

You can find lots of plastic trays in the discount stores, but I don't find them practical except for very light-weight armies (i.e., plastic). I found that the Yankee One Dollar Store chain was selling cookiesheets for $1.00 USD, but (in my opinion) the shallow sides only work well for "low" figures (1:285th scale or naval).

The $1 biscuit pan

The product I finally chose for this project was the GS E-Z Baker Biscuit Pan, produced by the G&S Metal Products Company in Cleveland, Ohio. It's selling at Dollar Tree these days for $1.00 USD. It measures 11" x 7" with a 1.5" side, has a bottom that is almost flat, and is made from what the manufacturer calls "heavyweight steel."

The manufacturer recommends washing the pan before cooking anything in it. I didn't plan to do any cooking, but I did want to paint it, and figured it might have some oily residue from the manufacturing process - so I washed it, and dried it thoroughly.

I decided to paint the pan, partly because I was afraid it might rust if I didn't, and partly because I thought I might eventually paint up trays in different colors for various purposes. For this project, I went with Krylon brand High-Gloss Interior/Exterior Paint - Emerald Green Gloss. (I went with gloss on the theory that gloss paint would hold up better to scratches and nicks.) Green is a good color, since it is color coordinated with "grassy" terrain.

the finished tray, showing (left to right) 28mm, 6mm, and 15mm figures

This was a pretty easy project. I just spray-painted the pan green, which took a few coats until I thought it looked good enough.

the finished tray, holding 28mm, 15mm, and 1:300 scale figures

The only real problem I had with this project was that it's been dry and windy this year where I live, and it seemed that no precautions were sufficient to prevent various grains or specks of dust from landing in my freshly sprayed paint. Oh well. Some specks I cleaned off, sometimes requiring another coat of paint to cover where the paint flaked off; others I ignored...

close-up of gaming tray

I'm curious to see how long the paint job holds up, particularly when I stack the pans between games. (A convenient way to store them, but if you're shopping at the discount stores, make sure you buy them all at once - because as the stores tell you, they don't promise to have more when they sell out of what they have now, and you might not be able to buy matching pans later.)

Steel trays work great with magnetized bases. In my case, I use steel bases, so I may eventually line my trays with magnetized rubber sheet.

I'm also tempted to try other colors - black for starships, grey for Germans, brown for Russians, red for the dead pile (or red for Russians?), blue for naval, sand for desert fighting, white for winter battles...