Scrabble

This page describes the process of making the hand-made Scrabble board I gave to my wife for her birthday.



Limitless possibilities

The project started with a length of Brazilian Cherry hardwood.
 

Frame Beginnings

I've never made a frame before. It took a number of tries but I got the rough cuts for the frame edges completed.
 

Frame Test Assembly

Not bad for my first frame ever. The corners fit together perfectly. A little more sanding and she'll be ready to go.
 

Frame Glue-Up

Gluing the frame together. Ashley complained later that evening about the crap she had to scrub off the counter not knowing it was actually glue from her future gift.
 

Board Layout

I had to re-create the entire board in vector format to get an accurate size for the frame. I couldn't find anywhere online that someone had already done this.

I had to re-do this each time I changed my mind about the board size as simply scaling the items didn't give me accurate measurements.

I ended up re-doing it 5 times and it took about a dozen hours to complete. Most of this time was in the late evening while Ashley slept next to me in bed. Every time she would roll over or start to wake up, I'd have to hide my screen and pretend to work on something else.
 

Silhouette Cameo Die Cutter

I had to recreate the value spaces because the Silhouette Studio software does not import any format my vector programs export. The cutter is amazing, it adds registration marks to the design so you can print on your inkjet and then feed the paper back through the cutter so it can accurately cut the pieces around your printed design.
 

Test Cuts

First test cut of the value spaces. I had to buy a separate cutting mat because anything you cut leaves marks on the mat. If I had used Ashley's mat, she would have seen the designs I was cutting out and might have realized what I was doing.
 

Test Cuts

The test cuts still on the cutting mat. The mat is sticky to prevent pieces from moving while cutting. New mats are extremely sticky and can rip the paper when you try to remove it. You have to stick the mat to a fuzzy blanket a few times to reduce the stickiness.
 

Unstuck

A pile of the test cuts. The mat was still too sticky so the test cuts curled when I tried to remove them.

I had to use the blanket to reduce the stickiness some more but because we live in a house full of cats, this also required me to remove all the hairs that got stuck to the mat.
 

Value Spaces

A pile of the completed cuts of all the value spaces. When creating the dark red and blue pieces, the black registration marks were not able to be picked up by the Silhouette because of the dark paper. After much trial and error I ended up printing out the design on both white and colored paper and then cutting the white registration marks and taping it over the colored paper so the Silhouette would read the white marks and cut the colored paper.
 

Blanks

The pile of blanks spaces. I opted to glue these on the board as well instead of having just printed squares.
 

Layout

The start of laying out the spaces. I used the scrap from the blanks as a guide. The Silhouette will cut a maximum of 12" and the board was 13.25". I had to layout 90% of the board and use a second layout grid to finish up.
 

More Layout

The layout in progress with a few of the value spaces. As I glue down the value spaces, the guide is getting pinned underneath them.
 

Made to Destroy

Because the guide is pinned under the value spaces, each piece of the guide had to be cut out to be removed.
 

Glass & Matting

A wonderful woman who was a great help to my endeavor. I met with her about my project and she offered some advice on the frame construction. She let me know her schedule so I could return with the finished frame so she could cut the glass and matting. When I returned, she cut the mat and the glass while I waited and made sure everything came out perfect.
 

A Little Perspective

A perspective shot of the board to show the raised tiles. I love the lack of reflection from the Masterpiece glass.
 

Tile R&D

Because the top of the board is glass, I needed a way for the tiles to "stick" in position. I decided to put magnets under the board and put metal rods inside each tile. I setup my Dremel, drilled a few test holes and tested various metal inserts to hold the tile to the board.
 

Magnet Holes

After testing the metal inserts, it was clear the magnets below the board were not powerful enough to attract the metal through the board, glass and wooden tile. I attempted to drill a secondary hole next to the first in order place a magnet inside the tile but the two holes causes issues with the tile.
 

Blanks

I created strips for the tiles. It's easier to punch and finish the wood before the tiles are cut.
 

Doing a Jig

I know it's a hand made project, but I wanted to try and get the tiles as perfect as I could. The punches were slightly out of line on some of the tiles but for the most part, the jig performed well.
 

Punch Tests

Testing the punch letter positions. The value punches were a tad larger than I had wished and the 1 and 0 punches didn't line up automatically.
 

Assembly Line

As there are two size punches, I had to create two punch jigs. This allowed me to quickly punch the letters and values in the proper locations repeatedly.
 

A Bit Punchy

It took a while to get the punches setup but once everything was aligned, it went quite quickly. There needed to be a gap between each tile to accomodate the width of the saw blade (called the "kerf").
 

Magnet Holes Take Two

After the failure of the first magnet tests, this seemed like the only option. The magnets will be visible on the backside of the tiles which is less than ideal but it fixes the issue of trying to drill a wide hole and then filling it.
 

A Helping Hand

I owe a HUGE amount of thanks to Jason Nemec for taking time away from his family to teach me the finer points of finishing techniques, for helping when time ran short, and for providing tools and supplies so I could finish the project at home.

I literally could not have done this project without him.
 

Tile Wax Inlay

Jason mixed up some black dye with some crystaline wax to fill in the letter punches. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the actual wax inlay process or how badly I did at removing the excess wax afterward.
 

Opposites Attract

Because I now have to put magnets in both the board and the tiles, I have to make absolutely sure they are glued with the proper polarity, otherwise tiles will pop off the board instead of stick. To do this, I had to mark one side of EVERY magnet.
 

Hammer Time

Once all the magnets were marked, I had to hammer them into the tile strips. Some of the magnets mounted perfectly flush and some stuck up. There were a few holes that I had to re-drill. Once the magnet was in the hole, there was no way to remove it without destroying the tile.
 

A Bit Sticky

In order for the tiles to line up under the squares properly, I had to make a grid of where to glue the magnets. This isn't 100% accurate.. but hey, it's hand made right?

By the time this process was done, my fingers were so sore because the excess glue kept adhering them to the board and magnets. The tweezers were only for placement, I had to use my finger to hold it until it stuck (because magnets kept sticking to the metal tweezers).
 

Magnetic Army

Completing this step gave me a real sense of accomplishment. It didn't take that long to do, but the finished board felt like I was finally making real progress with the project. The completed magnet board has 225 Magnets.
 

Finally Framed

The last step for the frame was a final coat of shellac. I used a pizza box as a drip tray.
 

A Point of Disaster

After having finished the board and doing the final shellac coat, I put everything together and started to insert the point tabs. The point guy is just like a staple gun except it shoots out the side and fires small tabs with a shart point on the end.

I pulled the trigger on the gun... the force of the gun was so extreme, the frame blew apart. The glue broke on all four corners. Despite this complete disaster... the day before I was to present the gift to Ashley, I had to finish inserting the points as they were required to hold the board in position. I then had to sand and re-glue the corners, re-clamp and wait for it to dry. The next day (day of presentation), I had to sand the glue that squeezed out and re-shellac the frame.

Ultimately everything
 

Alphabet Soup

After all the sanding, shellac and wax coats, I was finally able to cut the tiles into individual squares. Some of the squares were not perfectly cut so I have to do some final dimensioning on the sander later.
 

Tedious

Each tile had to have all 6 sides sanded. This was a very tedious process but I had hoped to finish it before Ashley came home from work. Then I got a phone call, her boss gave her time off and she was coming home early.

I had only finished 25 tiles. I rushed inside to clean up the mess from shellacing the frame and then headed back to the garage to sand enough tiles to spell Happy Birthday. I finished 5 minutes before she pulled into the driveway.
 

The Reveal

I setup the video camera to catch her reaction and unveiled the board. She was ecstatic! She's wanted a Scrabble board for so long - but I've never wanted to shell out hundreds of dollars for a plastic one. Even from Restoration Hardware the board is still plastic (although after this project, now I know why!).
 

Tedium Continued

After presenting her with the board, I spent a few hours on Saturday finishing up the tiles.
 

Happy Birthday

The completed board as presented to Ashley on her birthday!