Introduction: Making a Formboard Dice Tower
Playing tabletop games is one of the joys in life. Sometimes the board takes up all of the table and there's nowhere to roll the dice, and sometimes your buddy has mastered the wrist action to get the roll he wants that perhaps you don't want him to get.
A dice tower is a common way of keeping the dice on the table while making the roll totally random. A blend of form and function, this instructable will show you how to make one out of a sheet of foamboard, some toothpicks, felt and glue. The tower is very sturdy and can easily take a drop or two off the table.
Build a dice tower for you next RPG or board game night then decorate however you wish. I've shown a possible spray paint option but once it's built, the sky's the limit for how it finally looks.
Here is an 8 second video of the dice tower in action. Listen to the melody of the dice hitting the steps on the way down.
Don't miss my other exciting dice themed instructable - "BIG BRASS ONES" available here
Step 1: Get Together the Tools and Materials
- Metal ruler/straight edge - when cutting foamboard you have the knife riding the edge and it would dig in and cut the edge of plastic or wood rulers.
- Sharp Knife - A utility knife, a xacto knife, a box cutter style knife, whatever you have will work, just put in a new virgin blade because foamboard wants a sharp edge and dulls it quickly.
- Blue/non marking masking tape & pen to write on it
- Wire cutters or large toenail clippers to cut toothpicks with
- 10 pushpins
- scrap piece of 2x4 or something solid about that size.
- small hobby paint brush & cup of water to dunk it in. Cheap brushes are good - you are using this to spread the glue evenly.
- rag/clean cloth
- printout of the foamboard dice tower.pdf file included with this instructable. 4 pages, just plain ol' regular paper. IMPORTANT: when printing, make sure that the pages are not resized in anyway - pdf viewers always seem to want to shrink the page to fit. It should fit already, there are at least 1/2" margins all around. It needs to print at 100% size to make the templates work.
- Standard 20" x 30" sheet of foamboard AKA foamcore. In this instructable I'm using the term foamboard but it's also known as foamcore in some areas. Foamboard is basically a thin sheet of foam sandwiched between two layers of thick paper. Total thickness is around 3/16". I had a nice sheet of white laying around and used that. If I did it again, I would pay the extra few $$ and get the black paper and black foam version, so priming it black before painting didn't take so much primer.
- A box of rounded toothpicks. Make sure it's the rounded version, the flats won't work as well.
- White glue - I had a bottle of the classic Elmer's
- Sheet of felt (color of your choice) with adhesive on one side. A 9" x 12" sheet costs under $1 at craft stores/Walmart
- Carpenter's Glue
- Spray Paint and/or Primer
Step 2: Cut the Pieces Out of the Foamboard
Layout your work area with something under the foamboard that can be cut into.
On the pdf file, the first 3 pages are for the foamboard, the last page is for the felt. Put the last page aside for now.
Take those 3 pages and using the masking tape, tape them down on the foamboard. I made sure the tape stayed off the pattern themselves, the pages were taped down just along the edges.
I put the pages along the long edge of the foamboard and then cut the foamboard sheet in half . This gave me something less awkward to work with.
When cutting foamboard with a knife and straight edge, don't try to cut it all at once. Make one medium pressure pass along the straight edge with the knife at a 90 degree angle to the foamboard. Then go back and make another pass, then another. I usually made 3 or more passes even though it normally went through the foamboard on the second. You can feel it when it hits bottom and is cutting the mat or cardboard underneath.
Most of the pieces you are cutting out are simple rectangles. The side pieces are the more complicated "L" shape.
I cut out the pieces one pdf page at a time. I would do all the horizontal lines along the page, then do all the vertical lines.
IMPORTANT: The grey boxes on the left and right side templates are the locations of the dice steps. Top, Middle and Lower. We need to transfer the locations of those onto the foamboard. To do this, lightly score the top of the foamboard where the edges of the grey boxes are but DO NOT cut all the way though. After the piece has been cut out of the foamboard sheet, go back and with a pen follow the light scoring marks on the side pieces. This transfers the location of the dice steps.
When you have done the final cut for a piece, the template from the pdf page will come loose. Set that to the side.
Once you have cut all the foamboard pieces out of the foamboard sheet and scored the grey box locations of the dice steps on any side pieces that you are doing at this time, match up the foamboard and paper template pieces so you know which is which.
Take the roll of masking tape and, writing on the tape, put down the name of the piece and stick it on the foamboard. You don't want to put the tape on the piece and then write it's name as that will leave an impression from the pen you might not want.
Again, On the left and right side pieces - take the pen and write on the lines you scored for the grey boxes. The side you are writing on is on the inside of the tower and these marks won't be visible. This transfers the dice step location info onto the foamboard.
FYI - on the left and right sides, the long skinny part of the "L" is the bottom.
Once all the pieces have been cut out of the foamboard, labeled, and the location of the dice steps marked on the side pieces, it's time to start putting this sucker together.
Step 3: Putting in the Dice Steps on One Side
The next thing to do is punch holes with pushpins where the dice steps go.
Lay the left side piece flat with a scrap piece of foamboard under the mark of where the top dice step goes.
Take a push pin and punch a hole inside the dice step marks. This hole needs to go all the way though the side piece, and that's why we have some scrap foamboard underneath. The marks for the dice steps should be a short and wide rectangle at an angle. You want the hole to be a bit in from the left/right edge (about 1/4") and centered in the smaller, up down sides. Once you have punched the hole on one side of the rectangle, punch it on the other, again a bit inside the edge. Then punch a hole in the middle. See the first picture for an illustration.
You want to do this for all the dice step marks on both sides, left and right. So each side has nine holes punched in it, three per dice step.
Now we need to line up the top dice step. Lay it flat on a piece of scrap 2x4. Then take the left side, turn it so the bottom is facing up, put that against the 2x4 and line up the mark for the top dice step with the dice step on the wood block. Make the two pieces, left side and top dice step, at a right angle. Line up the edge of the dice step with the mark on the side piece.
Holding the dice step and side piece in place with one hand (by pushing against the 2x4), take a push pin and push it though the existing hole in the side piece and into the edge of the dice step. This is putting holes in the edge of the dice step where we will use the toothpicks to give it strength. Leave the pushpin in, grab another, then do the next hole and then the next. So now the dice step is attached to the side piece with pushpins.
Do this for all the dice steps. So in the end you have 3 dice steps that have been lined with with the marks on the side piece and holes punched in the edge that line up with the existing holes in that side.
TIP: When putting in the dice steps, you want to be consistant on which side (up or down) the masking tape label is. This helps you keep track of which way the step goes when you glue it to the side piece. In my example, all masking tape labels are facing down.
Now for the toothpicks. Take 5 or 6 toothpicks and cut them in half with the wire cutters.
Take out all the pushpins from the left side and set aside the dice steps.
Grab the bottle of white glue and run a bead along the mark for the top dice step on the side piece. Grab the top dice step and run a bead on the side that has holes punched in it. Then take your small hobby brush and spread the glue out evenly on both pieces, trying not to have it overflow the marks on the side piece or the edge on the dice step.
Once both pieces have been glued up, take a toothpick half and push from the outside in on the dice step mark of the side piece. Push it in far enough that about 1/4" sticks out. Do this for all three holes on the side piece for the top dice step.
Once you have all 3 holes with toothpicks sticking out a bit, line up the dice step edge and it's holes in the end with the toothpicks. Push it flat into the side piece. So the glue joint is joined.
Taking each toothpick half sticking out of the side piece, push it in further into the edge of the dice step. This is what gives the tower it's strength - the edges are not just glued but also "pinned" with toothpicks. The foam in the dice step will give to the toothpick but has enough bite to make it a tight fit. You may have to rotate the toothpick halfs to have them go in easier.
I pushed the toothpicks in until about 3/8" was left poking out. YMMV on this, but you want it far enough in that the fatest part of the toothpick is into the edge of the dice step.
Push in all the toothpicks into the dice step. Then take your wire cutters and cut off any part still sticking out. This might leave a little nubbin of the toothpick still proud of the side piece - take the dice cutters again and using any flat part, push down and drive that last little bit into the dice step so the toothpick is flush with the side piece.
So now you have the top dice step pushed up hard and glued against the side piece, with toothpicks driven deep into it holding it in place. Excellent.
But the reward for work is more work, so we have to do this for the remaining two dice steps. Once all the dice steps have been glued and pinned and all toothpick ends have been flattened out, it's time to add the other side.
Step 4: Add in the Other Side
Now that we have the dice steps attached to one side, it's time to do the other side.
Basically hold it in place against the dice steps that are sticking out, eyeballing where the steps line up on the marks.
The steps have a little flex to them, line them up with the marks and drive in the pushpins into the existing holes on the side. Do this for all three dice steps.
Now it's time for glue and toothpicks. Again, cut about five toothpicks in half so you have those ready when needed.
Remove the pushpins, put a bead of glue on the side where the marks are and a bead of glue on the edges of the dice steps.
Put all nine toothpicks in the side in, just sticking out a little. Then working the steps from the bottom up, line with the edge of the dice step to the toothpicks coming out of the side and push them together.
Once that's done, finish pushing the toothpicks into the dice steps, clip off the ends, then push in the little bit still sticking out. At this point you should have a tower that stands on it's own. Wipe off any excess glue you can reach and take the blue masking tape labels off the dice steps - they are where they need to be.
Step 5: Add the Tower Back and Front
Now that the tower sides and dice steps have been put together, the hard work has been done. Now it's just adding the rectangles that we have left.
First, the tower back. As shown in the picture, it goes in the back of the tower from top to bottom. It should lay on the edges of the dice steps to just fit inside the left and right tower sides.
If it's uneven in length to the tower sides, you want the bottom edge to line up. The top edge will just be wherever it winds up.
Put it on the back of the tower, then do the general procedure of gluing and toothpickin'.
Poke holes into it with pushpins. Because of the length, I used four holes per side.
Cut toothpicks in half
Remove pushpins, add glue to the sides and the edge of the tower back.
Put back in place
Push toothpicks into holes punched by the pushpins
Clip off ends of the toothpicks
Push any little bit of the toothpicks sticking out flat with the sides, using something wide and flat to level it out.
Now that the back's done, it's time for the front.
Line up the top edge with the top of the tower sides. Start the entire glue and toothpick routine again like the back part, except I only did three holes per side.
Once this is done, you actually now have a functional dice tower. Try it out and see the magic!
OK, enough of that. Time to finish the basic construction.
Step 6: Add the Bottom Piece
Turn the tower on it's side and test fit the bottom piece.
Without pinning it yet, turn the tower right side up and test fit the tray front piece.
On mine, the bottom was a little long and the tray front didn't fit all the way. So I took off the bottom piece and trimmed it about 1/8". That let the tray front piece fit snuggly.
Once everything fits snugly, start with the gluing and toothpickin' on the bottom. On the bottom piece, do four toothpicks on the sides and two each on the front and back. All four sides need to be pinned.
Don't glue and pin the tray front piece yet, we want to test fit the felt first. It's a lot easier to work with the felt without the tray front piece in place.
Step 7: Cut and Install the Felt and Then the Tray Front Piece
Take the last sheet from the pdf template file and tape it down on the felt. I put it on the adhesive side because tape and felt are not the best of mixes. Cut out the rectangle with your straight edge and sharp knife. Take as many passes as it needs, don't try and cut it all in one shot.
Once you have the felt piece, test fit it in the dice tower. It might be long. If so, mark how far it sticks over the edge of the bottom and then cut that off with the straight edge. It doesn't have to be a perfect fit but try to make it look decent because the felt draws the eye and if it's way off people will notice.
Now that the felt is sized correctly, peel off the backing of the adhesive and put it in the tower. Push firm to set the sticky side. You might want to test the tower with some dice to see if all the hard work has paid off.
If you are going to spray paint the tower afterwards like I did, now would be a good time to mask the felt, before you put on the tray front piece. That's why the felt is covered with masking tape in my pictures.
OK, the felt is installed and all that's left is the tray front piece. By this time you are a master of the glue/pushpin/toothpick action. Do what needs to be done, pinning the two sides and the front of the tray front piece into the bottom piece. Two holes each side should do it.
It's done! If you don't choose to paint or modify the dice tower, you are finished. Show it off to your friends and roll a handful at a time. See how many dice work for you at once. For the smaller 12mm or so, I normally could get a dozen to roll without problems.
Step 8: Optional: Prep the Tower for Painting
Now that the tower is done, it's time to seal the edges and fill any gaps in the foam.
If I had some wood filler I would have used it now to fill in the gaps on the edges and the toothpick holes. I didn't have wood filler handy so skipped that step.
An old trick picked up from the tabletop terrain builders out there is to seal foam with a mixture of carpenter's glue and water. You want about a 4:1 ratio of glue to water. Enough to thin the glue and make it flow smoother, but not too thin.
The glue painted over the foam edges seals the foam so it takes paint well and looks like an even surface, not a bunch of little craters. White glue would work for this but for sealing foam, I like carpenter's glue.
Once the glue is painted on the edges and dry, take a look and perhaps do another coat. I did two coats on the tower top and tray top, because those are the most visible edges and would get a closer look than the others.
When that's all done and dry, it's time to paint!
Step 9: Prime and Paint the Tower
I used spray paint but you can use whatever you want on this part.
I had a spare can of Rustoleum textured paint I wanted to try out. It needed a black undercoat, so first I had to prime the tower black.
When painting the tower, be sure to get the entrance and exit holes. You'll have to tilt the tower a bit and aim the spray paint inside to make sure it's covered all the way down that is visible.
Once it was primed and dried, I broke out the textured paint. This came out of the can in a tighter cone than the primer so I had to pay attention to get even coverage. It took a couple of passes but in the end there was even coverage all around, even inside the tower top and bottom.
Once the final paint job is done, I took a knife and pulled up the masking tape on the felt.
At this point, it's done! Time to roll those dice and see what you get.
There are a lot of ways you can paint or modify foamboard to make it look like something besides foamboard. Do a search for "foamboard building terrain" or "foamcore building terrain" and look at some of the options.
I hope you find this instructable useful and thanks for getting to the end of it.
Keep those dice rollin'!