In this instructable I will explain how I created custom designed, hand sculpted 3D Settlers of Catan game pieces, and an elegant storage box to go with it. This entire project cost me less than $40 with the majority of the expense being the silicone mold mix. I was able to recondition old air drying clay I had from over 5 years ago, and the box was constructed entirely out of wood scraps from when we renovated our kitchen, so there was no additional cost for those. I was beyond thrilled with how the overall project came out, and was so proud with the final results. This was the first time I had ever worked with concrete, the first time I ever tried moldmaking, and my first time I had ever worked on a fine woodworking project like this. I learned so much about all of these skills and want to explore them further in future projects. For my first time working with these skills, the final outcome looks so elegant and professional in my opinion.
Air Drying Clay
Molding Silicone (I used Moldstar 20)
Fast Setting Concrete Mix
Black Concrete Dye
⅛ inch Veneer Plywood
Gold Spray Paint
Step 1: Reconditioning the Clay
To sculpt the game tiles I used an air-drying sculpting clay. The clay I used was at least 6-7 years old, so naturally it was a bit dry. To my surprise, the clay had actually retained an incredibly amount of moisture, and the plastic bag it was wrapped in actually kept most of the moisture in! Unfortunately, the clay was still to dry and brittle to be sculpted. To recondition the clay and increase its plasticity, I broke up the clay into pieces no bigger than a golf ball, then put those in a bucket and filled the bucket with water. It is important to let the clay sit, and to not stir it, because stirring may cause the clay to not properly soak/slake. I let it sit for a day or two in the bucket, to make sure that it was sufficiently saturated, then poured out the water and dumped the clay onto a porous surface so it could dry. I simply used cardboard, however professional clay workshops use concrete or plaster slabs. I let the clay sit outside in the sun to dry, and within a few hours, my clay was dried enough, and yet still plastic and malleable. I was using air-dry clay, so mine dried much quicker than normal, so just make sure to monitor yours carefully while it’s drying. After the clay was ready, I mixed it thoroughly to make sure that the moisture was even throughout, and then wedged to clay to remove any air bubbles. After all that, I had reconditioned about 10 pounds of clay so I could sculpt my game tiles.
Step 2: Sculpting Preparations & Jig
Before I began sculpting I created a jig so that all of the hexagon tile pieces have the exact same dimensions. I found measurements of a perfectly equilateral and equiangular hexagon online, scaled it to the correct size for the game pieces, and printed that out. I then traced that hexagon onto a piece of balsa wood approximately 3/16th inches thick, and cut out the hexagon with an Xacto. I would pack clay inside the hexagon, level it off, and then proceed adding clay and sculpting from there. This gave me a standard, uniform size for all of the pieces, and in the end, the final pieces all fit together exceptionally well.
Step 3: Sculpting the Custom Tiles
I hand sculpted all of the pieces based on custom designs I created, and some influenced from the Settlers of Catan collector’s edition. I wanted my pieces to be unique, and most tiles took multiple attempts to get right, but in the end they all turned out great. I spent hours and hours on each game piece making sure it was exactly how I wanted it, and focused on all the minor details which really pulled it all together in the finished product. I made sure that there was continuity between each piece, because I didn’t want one to seem hyperrealistic, and another to be super cartoony, so I made sure to include a similar style and similar elements to each game piece. On most of the pieces, I included pine trees and/or rocks, which definitely helped with the continuity, and allowed it to blend together quite seamlessly. The process of designing and sculpting took me nearly a week to complete, but there are no other like it, and the small details captured in the final pieces is fantastic! This was the first time I had ever sculpted anything at all, and the first time I had worked with clay since around 6 years ago when I first got the clay. I couldn’t have been more happy with the outcome, and the incredible detail that got captured in the mold and the concrete casts amazes me every time I see them.
Step 4: Mold Making Using Moldstar20
This was the first time I had ever worked with any mold making products, so I was definitely nervous, however, after each of the three casts, I learned something new. I used Smooth-On’s MoldStar20T Silicone Mold Making Rubber, and was absolutely amazed with how much detail it captured. The product was mixed 1:1 by volume, so that was easy enough for me as a beginner, however it had a 6 minute pot life, and a 30 minute cure time. This was a little difficult for me because it was the first time I had ever done anything like this, so I wasn’t one hundred percent confident with what I was doing, which is why having such a quick pot life (the time you have to work with the silicone before it starts to solidify) made me nervous. However, the quick curing time was very nice, because that allowed me to make all of the molds in the same day. Since this was my first time experimenting with mold making, I was very meticulous with the setup, and the actual making of the molds, so it ended up taking me all day to create molds for the 8 custom master game pieces.
Step 5: Casting Tiles in Concrete
This was also the first time I had ever done any project with concrete, so I was incredibly surprised how well it turned out. I used Quikrete fast setting concrete mix, which was perfect for this applications, because it allowed for the pieces to be cast, then demolded in roughly 40 minutes. This is way better than the alternative of waiting hours and hours if not a whole day for one pieces to fully cure. After quite a bit of trial and error, I ended up being able to cast every single piece I needed for the set in roughly 10 hours, but that takes a lot of effort because every 30 minutes I needed to start mixing up a batch of concrete. I quickened up the process of mixing the concrete by measuring out exactly how much of each component I needed to make a suitable cast. I measured this out on clear solo cups, and discovered I needed water roughly filled to just above the 5 ounce mark, I needed the concrete mix filled roughly to the top (~15 ounces), and finally I needed a bottle cap full of the concrete coloring stain. I used Quikrete’s Charcoal Liquid Cement Color, and that gave the concrete a much darker gray color. A tip I learned is that it is much easier to mix the color stain in with the water before you mix the water and aggregate together, so that the color is already mixed throughout, and there is no extra hassle trying to evenly distribute the dye. I also should explain that I sifted out all of the large aggregate (large rocks) in the concrete mix, so that it allowed for a smoother, thinner casting.
The mix was able to capture remarkable detail, and I was incredibly impressed how fine the details were that the castings picked up. It was a fine balance between creating a thin mix which would capture incredible detail but was very weak, and creating a viscous mix that was very strong, however was unable to capture all of the fine details. It was also necesarry to vibrate the molds before they started curing to allow any air bubbles to rise out of the mix, and not mar the the surface of the castings. This took quite a bit of testing, but after many, many, many failed castings, I discovered if I put the molds in a cookie pan and shook the cookie pan, that would release most of the big bubbles, and after that I used a orbital sander with no sand paper to further vibrate the mixture and release all remaining bubbles. Again, this worked exceptionally well, and in the future I plan to also cast these in urethane resin or plaster.
Important concrete safety tip: It is important to wear latex gloves, eye protection, and a respirator/fine particulate mask, because concrete is actually so basic (pH levels), that you can get burned from it in the same way you could get burned from a highly concentrated acid. Naturally, you also don’t want to inhale fine concrete dust, or let the fine dust get into your eyes. It is incredibly important to take as many precautions as possible, to insure no injuries occur while working with concrete.
Step 6: Constructing the Box
I created the base of the box using all scraps from our recently renovated kitchen. I used 1/8 inch veneered plywood as the main box base, and glued all sides of the box together so that it created a completely sealed box. I then took it over to my tablesaw and set the fence about an inch and a half away from the blade, and cut all 4 sides of the box like that. This allowed me to have a box of perfect dimensions, which fit together perfectly. I then sanded a poly coat off of the plywood, and prepared the base of the box for the trim.
Step 7: Adding Moulding
The trim I used for the box was also all scraps from our kitchen renovation, and there were some gorgeous pieces of maple trim which I thought would be perfect for this box. The trim was all cut by hand, and all the miter joints were also all cut by hand using a miter box and miter saw. I used a thinner trim on top, and the larger trim on bottom. I knew I wanted to put a logo on the front of the box, so I purposefully left a space without trim, so that I could make the logo as large as I wanted. I was so thrilled with the way the box came out at this point, and couldn’t wait to see it finished
Step 8: Applying Stain
I stained the entire box with Varathane Early American wood stain, and it turned out magnificently! I love how the maple trim is stained a lighter color compared to the veneered plywood, and I think it looks so incredibly nice.
Step 9: Custom Golden Logo
The last thing I wanted to do was create a custom Settlers of Catan decal for the box, so I used my Cricut to create a stencil. This is not how the cricut is traditionally meant to be used, however I was thinking how I might be able to create a custom stencil, and came up with this great idea. If you don’t have a Cricut or any sort of vinyl cutting-type machine, no worries there are many alternatives.
I made this custom stencil by finding the Settlers of Catan logo online, and then replicating it as closely as possible using the Cricut. I font-matched to the best I could using the cricut, then formatted it by adjusting the sizes of the text and adding customly scaled shapes. It was incredibly complicated to make, however, it is nearly an exact replica to the logo, and I was super proud of the outcome. I think the time spent creating a custom logo really adds a professional feel to the project, and it give the entire box and incredibly professional and elegant feel.
After creating the logo, I then layed down some overlapping pieces of masking tape on the cutting sheet, set the pressure to high, and had it cut out my custom stencil. I created this process while working on modifying my first Nerf blaster, and I have used this on countless other projects. Again, if you don’t have this particular machine, there are hundreds of other options (freehand painting, Xacto stencil, waterslide decal paper, print out custom stickers, etc.).
After I applied the stencil, I made sure to press down the edges inside of each letter multiple times so that no paint would leak through, and then taped and covered the rest of the box with shopping bags. I used a top of the line painters tape, and it payed off in the end because there was zero spray over or seeping of paint under the decal. I used a metallic gold spray paint and took many, many light passed over the stencil, making sure to be careful, and not mess anything up. After I peeled off the stencil and unwrapped the box, I was genuinely speechless, and just stood and stared at it in amazement. I was so impressed by what I had created, and I was shocked by how professional and elegant it looks! In person, the logo truly looks like it is made from gold leaf.
Step 10: Final Thoughts
From start to finish, this project took me over four weeks to complete, however, I am still in awe regarding how well the finished product came out. The immense detail in the concrete pieces, the perfect fit between the game tiles, the gorgeous box I created to house the tiles, the elegant gold logo on the front, and the overall elegant and profession feel still blow me away. This is by far the most outstanding thing I have created to date, and am still quite speechless with how phenomenally it came out!