Everyone should have a Pair

of Big Brass Dice.

With Father's day coming up, I wanted to do something a little different. Now, dad plays a lot of board games and occasionally I've seen him have to squint a bit to see how the dice wound up.

I used to work in a gaming store (board, not video) and saw a lot of dice styles cross the counter. One of them was the long polygon style from Crystal Caste. I liked the basic idea and its stuck in the back of my mind ever since I first saw them.

Now that I thought of doing something for Dad, the two things, easy to read dice and the "rolling log" style from Crystal Caste clicked and I was off to the races. The fact that I could make up a little box and label it "Big Brass Ones - One Pair" when giving it to him was too good to pass up.

I did a test run with a threaded rod coupling nut (instructable here) and liked the result. Now it was on to the real stuff - Solid Brass 360 Alloy hexagon stock.

Here was where my love of steampunk came in handy. I have been following the adventures of Jake von Slatt at Steampunk Workshop and saw that he has a nice tutorial on etching brass with chemicals that I could get locally, unlike circuit board etching acid. At this point it was time to gather my tools and materials and dive in.

This is a continuation of my dice themed instructables. My dice tower tutorial is available here. This one should be towards the end of the dice theme - I'm running out of new ideas.

NOTE: As part of the Etsy/Instructable contest, I have made a few extra pair and put them up for sale on Etsy. While making your own is part of the fun, perhaps you don't have the time or tools needed. Not to worry! Now you too can have your own Pair of Big Brass Ones.

Check out the listing on Etsy and see if any of these bad boys are still available. Order early and often!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You will want a work area where some spilled not-that-toxic chemicals and water can be cleaned up. Keeping paper towels and some rags around is always a good idea.


There are a lot of ways to cut brass into smaller bits. A hacksaw, miter box, files and sandpaper to smooth out the edges would work. I happen to have a non-ferrous metal cutting table saw blade from my old battlebot days. (Battlebot Flickr photosets available here and here) Brass is a non-ferrous metal so that would give a nice smooth cut on the ends - no sanding or smoothing needed. A new blade like mine at Amazon.com goes for $75.


  • Plastic tubs and buckets to mix the chemicals in and do the actual etching. Glass is OK, do NOT use anything metal. I mixed up the chemicals in a cut down 1 liter seltzer bottle, and did the actual etching in a 2lb Imperial Margarine tub.
  • Utility/Xacto knife & good tweezers
  • Any color Spray Primer - I used black so any brass showing through was in high contrast and visable. I used the cheap stuff from the autoparts store - $2.44 a can
  • touch up paint - could use almost anything, I used black acrylic modeling paint
  • 12V DC Power Source with at least 1 Amp output. Could be a car or SLA battery. An old PC power supply converted into a bench supply. I used a variable power supply.
  • 12V automobile lightbulbs - I used type 561 and those worked well. These are used for current limiting in the circuit. Cost $1.96 at the autopart store.
  • 16 AWG (or thicker) wire to run from the power source to the brass bits. Alligator clamps are your friend.
  • SOS pads for scrubbing the paint off the brass.
  • small, 2" wide post-it notes
  • Brasso & toothbrush to clean the brass
  • Acetone


The etching process is basically putting two pieces of brass in a bath of copper sulfate dissolved in water and running 12V DC between the two. We need both pieces of brass and the copper sulfate.

Brass Hexagon Bar Stock. At least five inches. Why five inches? So we can make a pair of dice at two inches a piece. I used 3/4" diameter hex bar, 5/8" diameter would work as well. I got mine off Ebay but you can get it online at places like onlinemetals.com or speedymetals.com. Check to see if you have a Metal Supermarket nearby. In the past I found having one within reasonable commute distance to be handy. Unfortunately I no longer live near one. Online with shipping, getting it new costs around $18 per foot.

A Brass strip to act as the cathode in the etching process - I had some spare brass bits laying around and a nice piece of 4" x 10" brass plate, 0.032" thick. Didn't need it that wide or thick, 2" x 10" and 0.025" thick is plenty. Most good hobby stores carry some metals from K&S Engineering. One that would work is K&S Part #239. Plenty of length at 12" and you get 3 pieces! Cost around $11.

Root Kill - this is the household chemical used in the etching process. What we are really looking for is Copper Sulfate - which this is 99% of. I originally wandered around the gardening area of the local home improvement store looking for this stuff and finding nothing in frustration. Later I discovered it's in the plumbing department, not gardening. They had plenty a few isles over from where I had searched endlessly. There are other "kill roots" type projects out there. Look at the ingredients and make sure the stuff you get is blue crystals and Copper Sulfate, not something else. Costs $9.89.

Vinyl Letters - the 1/4" sized ones. Cost $3.79 at Staples. I used these because my attempts at the classic toner thermal transfer method where a complete disaster.

Now that we have enough stuff to be dangerous, it's time to start cutting metal.
Those look realllllly nice. But too bad I don't have the machinery to make them... :(
If you still want to make these, you could do it with just a hacksaw and a file really. The bar is bought hex shaped. Just hacksaw to length, etch it and then hand file the corners. <br> <br>Of course, you've probably got plenty more gear these days.
why not just use a file and screwdriver or something? may waste a lil more material by filing it, and the numbers may not be as precise cause you'r just chisiling it off, but it would be nice
Good idea for the etching solution, although I usually just use baking soda - that way my parents don't know that I'm plating/etching. My dad thinks that it puts off harmful chemicals, but hasn't read up on it and doesn't realize that it's the sodium chloride solutions that put off chlorine gas. Where can I get the root kill solution? And is there a specific brand? I'm only 15, so it may be conspicuous if I buy this in large quantities, seeing as it may easily be used as an explosive additive or used to make drugs. Most fifteen-year-olds don't have root-killing needs... Also, how much did it cost for the brass plate and the brass barstock? Honestly, my friend, I'm sorry that I'm asking so many questions, but this seems like a cool thing to make and I hope to do it right.
Very nice. Well documented, clear photos with marked up descriptions plus unique idea and perfect execution makes this an awesome Instructable. Who knew one could cut and etch metal like that in with modest home shop equipment? I remember as a kid I would take a crayon to my acrylic D&D dice to fill in the numbers. Then I'd buff it with a paper towel to remove the excess wax. I wonder if that would work to color the etched letters. I bet it would come out over time, especially if the dice are thrown.
to bad D&D dice are too hard to make out of metal. id try to etch brass 20-sided dice :D
One could use rubber or plastic material around the edges of each number to buffer it from glass or other hard surfaces...perhaps Liquid Tape (like normal electrical tape but in liquid form)?
my god that's beautiful. root kill for etching brass. wow!!!
First thing i said when I read this - &quot;that's cool.&quot;
Could you use Letter stamps to number the dice? &nbsp;(Words or Numerals)<br /> <br /> I made a&nbsp;pair&nbsp;of dice from 50mm (2in) cube mild steel. &nbsp;I drilled the dots then hammered in brass rod. &nbsp;I then sanded it flat and smooth. &nbsp;I then rounded the edges and corners. &nbsp;I made a second pair from 32mm cube (1 1/4 i think). &nbsp;Not i must say, to be played with on a glass top table.<br /> <br /> Nice instructable, i look forward to trying it.<br />
For the Brass Hex stock, McMaster-Carr [www.mcmaster.com] has a 3 ft piece for $28.92. Their part # 8952k123.
What is the power supply you are using, voltage, etc. What works best?
Epic Win on the name dude! it really caught my eye!
I have all on hand except the 1 amp 12V power supply. I have one 500 milliaps but can I then just run it for twice as long.
That should work. It's ok to pull the brass out of the solution to check it out. I generally do that and use a toothbrush to lightly brush off the crud that is building up on the dice themselves.
this... sounds naughty. it reminds me of the broiler boss on conker's bad fur day.
Awesome! I love it. Great idea, too! I need to make some.
OMG i want one!!!!!!11!!1!! shame you ran out :( i wouda bought like 50 of em :\ lol welp, thanks for the idea anyow :)
on the last step you mention using laquer and other finishes. From my good old metals class a few semesters ago, Turtle wax every now and then works wonders. also a more solid finish is a mixture of Flux paste and alcohol. Soak the piece in the mixture and then pull it out and light it on fire. the alcohol is burned off and the flux is sealed.
You should make a bunch of these and sell them on amazon for like $25 USD.
To the maker of this: You are GOD!!!! These are teh mosted awesomest thing I have ever seen!!!!!!!!!!!!
Just don't throw them too hard on a glass table, it would not be a great father's day present, the broken glass not the dice.
What type of primer do you use when making this? If it's an acrylic primer you can use spray oven cleaner, such as Easy Off, to dissolve the acrylic primer and paint. I use oven cleaner all the time when cleaning mold release and unsatisfactory paint jobs off my resin models. Spray thoroughly and let sit in a sink for 10-15 minutes, then scrub with a toothbrush while rinsing under running water. Works like a charm, though occasionally I will need to re-do the application if some bits of paint are being stubborn. From what I understand, oven cleaners should not be used with aluminum because it will pit the metal, but it possibly could work with the bronze. Just an idea. Love the dice though!
Can you etch steel plate that way?
Yeah. I have some examples of steel etched if anybody wants.
I'd like to see.
<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/13821724@N05/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/13821724@N05/</a> theres a link to my flickr where you can find the images of a book title plate I've made. It's a hunk of steel I shaped square on a grinder then masked by printing the negative on a sheet of glossy ink jet photo paper with a laser printer. Ironed on, then wetted off. Just to note, the pits in the metal are purposeful. <br/>
Wow! That's cool!
Thank you!
Nice work, haw deep is the final etch?
You have my favorite tool! The Veritas pocket square in the last step. So handy that when I thought I lost mine I called Lee Valley and asked why the don't offer it anymore. The guy said that they were selling it as having the same accuracy as a machinist's square but couldn't find a manufacturer who could consistently provide that. Dumb reasoning.
Soooo badass. Awesome and really thorough!
Here's an idea to make the lettering stand out more - glass. Get some glass enameling beads, super cheap... you can;t use an enameling kiln because the glass in the faces you have already done would slump out as you did the new sides... But if you use a torch to melt the beads it might work. Fill each side with a different color, or just with black glass on all sides for a classy look. Or maybe cobalt blue! Nice, shiny smooth glass, flush with the brass, or slightly inset. You would have to re-polish the brass after doing this because of scale from the heating.
Oh and I forgot, you have to use a chemical to treat the insides of the lettering to make the glass adhere, but that's cheap and easy, a bottle should be available and instructions should be available at any enameling resource. Check out Dick Blicks, or enasco.com for supplies.
Interesting idea. I might try that in the future - I do love art glass.
Should be fairly easy to try... the enameling beads are more like a powder - just fill in the letters and melt, essentially.
Those are pretty awesome but isn't it easier to cut a few squares and use a drill to make small indentions?
No. I don't have the equipment to make a perfectly square (to 0.001") piece of metal. I could make some sloppy rectangles but that wouldn't be the same. Besides, the "rolling log" style dice is different enough to count as funky.
It is simple but really creative + cool
WOW! Every man should have a pair! I want a pair and I'm not even a boy (named Sue). Although, on occasion, I've been told I had some. Obviously, they were confused. Probably flunked science class too. I was thinking one might need to paint them too. I have similar vision problems. I can't afford new eyeglasses Rx every year. I guess the reflection on the different surface types is enough. I know it's early but I think I see a sewing machine in your future.
Wonderful project, but there may be a problem. Since all six sides are etched to a uniform depth, and the words have different areas removed, the center of gravity of the die will be shifted, which will most likely lead to loaded dice. In this case, since the most material was removed from the 'three' side, that number will probably come up slightly more often than mere chance would dictate. If you're just showing them off, that's no big deal, but I wouldn't try gambling with them. Especially in rough company. However, if you used different fonts/sizes on each face, so that the area exposed to the etching process was equal, that wouldn't be a problem.
This is a totally thorough and impressive Instructable. Way to go!
Impressive product, impressive instructable. But if you're interested in extra legibility, I think that filling in the letters with ink/paint/enamel would help even more.
You are correct that filling in the etched parts with a gloss black would make it more visible. On this one, I cheated.<br/>My dad knew I was doing these dice for the contest, he didn't know he was the inspiration. So on my test piece (the botched etching job seen at my blog at:<br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.whamodyne.com/2007/06/12/first-attempts-at-etching-brass-part-two/">whamodyne.com</a>) I painted in the etched parts with gloss black. By then I had some good pieces and showed him both and asked what he thought. He liked the unfilled ones, and seemed able to see them from afar, and thus I kept it natural.<br/><br/>
I figured you knew about using the paint (I recall von Slatt using paint in all his etching projects), but didn't quite know why you chose not to use it. Good reason, though--I imagine the dice do look better natural. I wonder if using a different font (outlines? black-letter?... well, maybe not for legibility) may work well with paint. Hrm. Though that would also necessitate new methods of applying the resist... I shall ponder this further!
I like it. They have a nice gold appearence, even though you used brass. is the randomness of a throw affected by the size or length of your lettering?
I doubt it. The piece weighs about 4.8oz overall and any amount of brass removed via etching is going to be tiny in comparison. Generally Brass Hex stock is accurate from the factory to about "0.005, but this is surplus hex I bought off ebay so it might be dinged up enough to make a difference. With practice, I'm sure you could get the roll you wanted with these guys, it's a matter of wrist action.
Those look totally sweet!
Yeah, JVS used the Vitriol(copper sulphate) for copper plating, salt water would work just as well for etching alone. ( I use DIY copper acetate for plating)

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Bio: Named "Emblematic of the Instructables Universe" by the New York Times, I'm a maker and designer who enjoys looking at things sideways and playing ... More »
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