Introduction: The 2 Player Shut the Box Game

Picture of The 2 Player Shut the Box Game

Recently, I made a travel size Shut The Box Game ... six of them actually. After sanding, stenciling, and finishing 60 small tiles, I wanted to punch myself in the head.

I followed that up with two chess sets ... 64 more small pieces to sand and finish. Upon completion, I said to myself ... "Self ... let's not do that again for a very long time."

So here I am ... making a 2 player Shut The Box Game ... three of them actually ... 60 more small pieces. How bad could it be?

I'm using poplar .... shocking, right? 1/2" stock for the tiles and 3/4" stock for the box.

Step 1: Fabricating the Tile Board

Picture of Fabricating the Tile Board

The width of the box is determined by the overall measurement of 12 tiles and 13 washers ... so I'm starting with the tiles. Experience has taught me that it's easier and more accurate to cut a groove in a larger block of wood, than it is to drill straight holes in 12 smaller pieces.

1. Cut the 1/2" poplar boards into 11" lengths.
2. Rip the boards to 1 11/16".
3. Lower the blade height to 3/8".
4. Orient the board so you are cutting into the edge and rip a centered groove into one side of the board. Flip the board around and make another pass to center the groove. Adjust your fence and re-cut as necessary until you have a groove wide enough to accept the 1/8" steel rod.
5. Reduce the thickness of some off cuts until they perfectly fit in the groove and hold the steel rod captive.
I have a supply of off cuts for this and use the drum sander to dial in the thickness. If you are using 1/2" off cuts, you might want to re-saw them or run them through a planer ... or use a hand plane if you are a Manimal.
6. Spread some glue on the filler strips and push them in until they rest against the steel rod ... then add some clamps and let the glue dry.

Tile Material Math:
12 Tiles: 3/4" wide (.75) x 12 = 9"
11 Blade kerfs: 1/8" wide approx (.125) x 11 = 1 3/8" (1.375)
Total = 10 3/8" (10.375)

Step 2: Fabricating the Individual Tiles

Picture of Fabricating the Individual Tiles

Once the glue was dry, I cut the excess filler strip flush with the block. I actually took just a bit more to get rid of any glue and ensure a flat face. My board width went from 1 11/16" to 1 5/8".

Next, this block is cut into individual tiles using a small parts crosscut sled with a stop block on the table saw. I cut the leading edge square and then cut 12 successive tiles, which are 3/4" in width.

The hardest part from here on out is not mixing up their order, because I like the look of the continuous grain.

NOTE: I have tried to cut these out and then drill them individually with a 1/8" - 9/16" brad point bit, but I wasn't getting consistently straight holes. The smaller diameter bits would follow the wood grain and steer off course.

Step 3: Sanding and Numbering the Tiles

Picture of Sanding and Numbering the Tiles

Fortunately for me, my current table saw blades are relatively new (24 tooth rip blade for ripping and 60 tooth combination blade for crosscuts), so I really didn't have to sand any of the faces/edges. I just broke all the sharp edges by hand with 150 grit paper.

After sanding, I applied 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits. Once that was dry, I drew on all the numbers with a plastic stencil and pencil. I taped the stencil to a piece of wood so that I would get a consistent offset. As long as you don't touch the numbers or drag the stencil at this point, you'll be ok. If you touch them, the graphite will smear and it doesn't erase easily because of the oil. Trust me on this one.

To lock in the graphite before I made any more smear messes, I applied a coat of spray lacquer. I'm sure spray poly or any kind of clear coat wold would work just as well.

Step 4: The Layout Process

Picture of The Layout Process

With the tedious tile work done, it's time to move on to the box. Admittedly, I bounce between the tiles and box ... I'm just separating the operations for the Instructable. In reality, while glue or finish is drying on one part, I turn my attention to the other part.

You could make this process relatively painless by cutting to two short sides and two long sides a bit long ... then sneak up on your final dimensions until you get the desired box size. However ... I like to torture myself ... I like the look of continuous grain wrapping around the box, so I need to figure out all my dimensions before cutting anything.

Using 12 tiles and 13 washers threaded onto the 1/8" steel rod, I determined my inside width to be 9 5/8". To determine the box length, I laid out some blue tape on my work table for better visualization. My primary concern was having adequate space for rolling the dice. The second concern was having the box sides look "balanced" in relation to each other.

I first laid out the 9 5/8 width and then placed a 3/4" strip towards the middle, which will separate the player fields and provide an edge for the tiles to rest against when in the open position. Next, I placed the row of tiles in their closed position ... with enough space between them and the center strip so that they are able to rotate open. Lastly, I just moved this forward and back within my layout lines until I had what I liked. For me, that ended up as an inside dimension of 7".

From there it's just a matter of using the inside measurements to determine the outside measurements ... then add blade kerfs and human error to determine the necessary board length. Since I'm using 3/4" stock, a miter at each end will add 1 1/2" of length to each side.

Short side math: 9 5/8" inside length + 1 1/2" for miters = 11 1/8" outside length.
Long side math: 14" (two 7" player fields) + 3/4" center divider + 1 1/2" for miters = 16 1/4" outside length.

Board length math:
11 1/8" (11.125) + 11 1/8" + 16 1/4" (16.25) + 16 1/4" = 54 3/4" (54.75)
54 3/4" + 3/8" (3 1/8" blade kerfs) = 55 1/8"
Factor in human error, blade wobble, etc ... I went with 55 1/2" as my minimum board length.

Step 5: Box Sides With Continuous Grain

Picture of Box Sides With Continuous Grain

With the board cut at 55 1/2" (I'd give myself 56" next time), I ripped it into 1 1/2" widths.

Time for the miters. I make my first cut on the left side of the miter sled and then my final length cut on the right. For the shorter pieces, I can use the sled's stop block, but for anything longer than the actual sled, I have to reference off of the table saw fence. You can see that I use a scrap plywood lamination of 1 1/2" so that the part I'm cutting isn't actually riding against the fence during the cut.

This would be easier if I didn't care about continuous grain, but since I do, I have to cut everything in sequence .. that means moving the stop block, which isn't ideal.

1. Cut the first miter on the left side of the sled and then move it to the right against the stop block and make the second cut. This is the first short side.
2. Mark the stop block location with some tape (you could also make a spacer). The tape is thick enough to provide a reference edge, but not thick enough to skew your cut.
3. Move the board back to the left side of the sled. You'll notice the miter is backwards ... so you need to cut a new/correctly oriented miter. I just sneak up on the cut so I can keep as much grain continuity in tact as possible.
4. Remove the sled stop block, move the board to the right side of the sled and use the fence stop block set up .. make the second cut. This is the first long side.
5. Move the board back to the left and cut the clean miter. Replace the sled stop block against your tape, move the board to the right side of the sled and make the cut. This is the second short side.
5. Move the board back to the left and cut the clean miter. Remove the sled stop block, move the board to the right side of the sled and once again use the fence stop block set up .. make the last cut. This is the second long side.

Step 6: Center Divider and Bottom Groove

Picture of Center Divider and Bottom Groove

An easy way to do the center divider would be to just glue it in after the box is assembled, but that would just be too easy for my over complicated brain. I decided to connect the divider and the long side panels using dadoes and have two separate bottom panels as opposed to just one.

To cut the dadoes, I used the small part crosscut sled on the table saw with the blade height set to 3/8" above the sled. I eyeballed the initial center and set up a stop block by clamping a scrap of wood to the fence. This way I can make one cut, rotate the board 180 degrees, and then make a second cut to achieve a perfectly centered dado. Moving the fence to the right and making two more cuts like this, increases the width of the dado. I repeated this process until the center divider fit perfectly into the dado.

For the bottom panel grooves, I set the blade height to 1/4" and set the fence to 1/4". A groove is cut on the bottom of each side panel. Pay attention to your miters to make sure you are cutting on the inside faces ... also pay attention to your continuous grain so you don't cut any on the wrong side (bottom vs. top). The center divider gets a groove on both sides. I used 3/16" hardboard for the panels, so I ran all my parts through the saw, moved the fence out 1/16", and ran all the parts again.

The last step is to cut the bottom panels to size. For me that was approx. 7 1/4" x 10 1/8" - probably a little less so you aren't fighting the fit during glue up.

Step 7: Holes for the Steel Rod

Picture of Holes for the Steel Rod

I needed holes inside the box to hold the steel rod ... and I need to drill them before I get excited and glue the box together ... that would be bad.

I measured 1/2" up from the bottom panel groove, as well as 1/2" in from each side of the center dado. This was enough clearance for the tiles to rotate on the rod freely. I started each hole with an awl and then drilled 3/8" deep with a 9/16" brad point bit.

I thought about pre-finishing the box interior and making the tile assembly part of the glue up ... the idea of having no holes on the exterior of the box is appealing, but it seems like a logistical nightmare.

That being said ... I took one of the long side pieces and transferred the hole locations to the external face of the board. I then drilled 1/4" holes using a forstner bit to a depth of 3/8", which connected them with the holes drilled from the inside. I didn't risk drilling all the way through from the inside and then using that hole as a reference for the 1/4" bit because I know my luck ... the bit would drift. The reason for the 1/4" size is so that I plug it with a 1/4" dowel, which will hold the steel rod captive.

Step 8: Box Glue Up

Picture of Box Glue Up

The glue is pretty straight forward and the center divider actually made the process easier by keeping the box square overall. Before I added any glue, I made sure my sides were in the right order for my continuous grain fetish.

For small projects like this, I like to apply the glue with a small acid brush (found in the plumbing section of the hardware store). I started with the miter cuts since I knew the end grain would suck in some of the glue .. then the center dado, followed by a second coat onto the miters. I left the bottom panels free floating.

I found the easiest order of assembly to be starting with the center divider and side connection points. Then slide in the two bottom panels, add the two short ends, and use blue tape to hold the corners closed. I did add a band clamp because I have them, but it wasn't completely necessary. I also added an F clamp to the center to ensure the center divider was set into the bottom of the dado.

Step 9: Miter Splines

Picture of Miter Splines

Whenever I use mitered corners, I add miter splines. They make the end grain joint stronger, but I also really like the look. I used a shop built spline sled modeled after the American Eagle design.

I clamp a stop block to the back of the table saw, which keeps me from pushing the sled further than it needs to go. Next I set the fence on the jig. I wanted my spines 5/16" in from the edge. Lastly, I run each corner through the saw.

I have a small stock pile of thin poplar cutoffs from past projects, which I use for spline material. I always pick through it to find contrasting shades when possible. The strips I decided on were a bit too thick, so I used the drum sander to bring them down to the proper thickness. I used the bandsaw to cut the strips into a pile of triangles, slathered them in glue, and pushed them all in place.

Once the glue was dry, I removed the excess at the bandsaw and then sanded them flush using the oscillating belt sander.

Step 10: Steel Rod

Picture of Steel Rod

I knew the steel rod length needed to be around 10 3/8", but I cut them a little long so I could sand the sharp ends smooth and dial the length in perfectly. I marked the final length on a piece of wood so I could then use that to mark the remaining rods ... instead of one hand wrestling a tape measure.

Bolt cutters made quick work of the cut, but an angle grinder with a cut off wheel or hack saw would work just as well. I used the oscillating belt sander for the sharp edges, but a grinder or file would also do the job.

Step 11: Tile Rest

Picture of Tile Rest

You could let the tiles rest on the bottom of the box in the closed position, but I prefer the look of having them level (paralell to the bottom) when in the closed position.

For the tile rests, I ripped several 1/4" strips from the remaining 3/4" poplar board stock. I then passed those through the drum sander, taking light passes until the tiles sat level ... I don't even know the actual thickness actually, but it's around 3/16".

I cut the tile rests to length using the small parts cross cut sled on the table saw. Using the fence and plywood stop block method before, I snuck up on the cut until I got a perfect fit. Once I had it, I could cut the remaining 5 quickly and easily.

I used another section of 3/4" off cut as a spacer and then glued these tile rests to the bottom panels.

Step 12: Sanding

Picture of Sanding

Most of my mitered corners were flush, but since I have a drum sander ... I might as well use it. I took two very light passes on the top and bottom.

I used the orbital sander for the sides of the box just to smooth out the splines and plugs. I broke all the sharp edges and corners by hand with 150 grit sandpaper.

Step 13: Internal Oiling, Assembly and Hole Plugging

Picture of Internal Oiling, Assembly and Hole Plugging

Once the tiles are in place, finishing the inside of the box will be a nightmare ... so keep that in mind when choosing a finish. Since I want to apply my usual 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits to bring out the grain, I applied that to the internal poplar faces before assembly.

Once the oil finish was dry, it was just a matter of threading the tiles onto the 1/8" steel rod with a washer between each tile, as well as each end.

Plugs were cut from a 1/4" poplar dowel ... a bit longer than necessary .. and glued into the holes to conceal/captivate the steel rod. Once the glue dried, I sanded the plugs flush with the side of the box.

NOTE: Go light on the glue. Excess might find it's way to the inside of the box and first washer ... that's no good.

Step 14: Finishing

Picture of Finishing

With assembly complete, the top, bottom, and sides of the box were oiled with 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits.

Once the oil dried, I applied 3 coats of spray lacquer ... lightly sanding with 220 grit between each coat. It isn't a flawless showroom finish, but this is a game and it's intended to be handled and used.

Step 15: Felt Lining

Picture of Felt Lining

I lined the box with felt from Michael's. You can get various colors in 8 1/2" x 11 sheets for $0.39 each.

I used blue tape and a metal rule to mark the dimensions (9 5/8" x 7") and then made the cuts using fabric scissors. Spray adhesive was applied to the felt and I used a putty knife to push out any wrinkles and ensure the felt was tight against all sides.

Step 16: Glamour Shots

Picture of Glamour Shots

The only thing left to do is to Shut The Box, which is harder to do than you would think ... especially with 12 tiles.

I took one of my travel size versions to my office and it was/is a huge hit, but the thing that I found was that two people would always be playing in order to see who could get the better score ... so one person would always be waiting and watching. My immediate idea was to make a two player configuration for simultaneous play, which it turns out isn't an original idea at all. There is also a four player version, but I have no desire to sand 48 more tiles any time soon.

How to play Shut The Box


Monkeyb00y (author)2017-10-17

Amazing. Have you seen the 4 player version? Numbers only go 1 to 10, if you roll double 6, you have to reset, if you roll 11, everyone else is reset. Pretty cool. It mentions to use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

-BALES- (author)Monkeyb00y2017-10-18

I've seen a 4 player version on the Duluth Trading Co. site which has a common playing area in the middle. It's pretty cool and it's on my long list of projects (if I ever get around to it). My main idea/objective with this one was attention span for young children. I made a one player version for a nephew, but he'd get restless when we were playing back and forth.

Monkeyb00y (author)-BALES-2017-10-18

Cool, my daughter would likely just play this 2 player version as well.

GarethC (author)2016-04-20

nice build - that came out looking brilliant, and the extra attention to detail for matching up grain really shines through in the finished project.

I'm not sure I could cope with all that fiddly sanding! Well done :-)

TomMcIn (author)2016-03-23

Would build it a little wider with 21 tiles so can add numbers from 0 through 10. Just have to find or build ten sided dies.

-BALES- (author)TomMcIn2016-03-24

If you build your variation, be sure to stop back in and post a picture. I'd like to see it.

cbensi (author)TomMcIn2016-03-23

just look for dungeons and dragons dice and you will find plenty.

mlawing (author)2016-03-22

Great article, Bales!

parisusa (author)2016-03-21

Loved this game when my kids were learning math!

-BALES- (author)parisusa2016-03-21

Yes! Question ... did you only use it for addition or did you also modify the rules to include subtraction?
I think it could very valuable as a learning tool.

About This Instructable




Bio: Desktop Support Technician by day. Rock Drummer by night. DIY Home Improvement Enthusiast. Maker of whatever I can imagine in between it all. Professional level ... More »
More by -BALES-:The "In Case of Emergency..." Display BoxThe Pallet Coffee TableBender - The Costume
Add instructable to: