Introduction: Handmade Word Game

I made this small box as a project in my Joinery class. Since I was in school I was not able to always take photos of the process, so some of the photos included are not of the same box but should help in explaining the process.

This was my first attempt at a small box (I made 2 at the same time, 1 as a "test" where I made all cuts a step ahead of the "real box" so some photos are of one box and some are of the other)

The veneer work needed to be all done by hand tools (as a requirement of the course) so I used a large paper cutter and a veneer saw with a simple jig. However the same results could be achieved using power tools if you were so inclined.

I am pretty new to Instructables so I hope you enjoy.


- 17mm baltic birch ply (you could also use partial board or MDF) - this will be the game board and lid

- 6mm baltic birch ply - this will be the box bottom

-Veneer - to make the game board you will need 5 different colours that contrast enough to be able to distinguish between them during play.

-Veneer - 1 large piece to cover the bottom of the ply for the lid and 2 large pieces to cover the piece of ply for the bottom.

-Wood for the box. I used curly maple.

-Wood for the trim of the lid and the trim on the bottom of the box

-Wood to use as keys in the miter spline

-Wood glue

-Veneer saw

-Flush cutting saw or Japanese Saw

-Block plane

-Paper cutter

-Band saw


-Table saw


Step 1: Machine Pieces/ Assemble Box

After selecting the type of wood you would like to use cut the pieces to width (for me this was 100 mm ---this will be the height of the box without the lid-- and should be at least big enough to hold the game pieces/score book/dictionary ect.) and to the desired thickness (for me this was 17 mm) To achieve this I used the band saw to rip the pieces to just over my desired thickness and then the jointer on one face and side and then finished up with the planer to get the final dimensions.

Once the pieces are cut to thickness and width it is time to cut to length. I set up the table saw to cut the sides to 320 mm with the corners cut at 45 degrees.

Once cut to length I ran a grove along the bottom of each piece (about 5 mm from the bottom and just wide enough for the 6 mm veneer covered ply to fit)

Step 2: Veneer Part 1 - Joining the Columns

To make the veneer lid I used a large paper cutter to cut the veneer all in strip the correct width. (for a classic "word game" the width I cut to was 19 mm and the height will be 21 mm. I cut the strips more then three times as long as needed for a square (since the board is a mirror image if itself this way I would made 2 rows at a time and have an extra piece in the event that one didn't work out so nice)

Once I had all of the strips cut I arranged them in the correct order (I used the pattern of other popular word games, with double letter, triple letter, double word and triple word tiles with corresponding veneer colors.) I started with the top row and arranged all the strips next to each other. Use green painters tape to closely match up all the edges and tape the strips together, this side of the veneer is the "bad side" or the side that will eventually be glued. Painters tape works perfectly for this because of the amount of stretch it has you can get the joints nice and tight together.

Once you are satisfied with all the joints being tight with no gaps you are ready to flip over the piece and use the veneer tape. Veneer tape is kinda like the sticky stuff on the back of an envelope, you need to wet it slightly for it to stick. To do this I got a paper towel slightly damp and run the veneer tape over it to make it sticky and then I tape together the veneer strips, this will be the "good side" the side that you will see on the finished project. When applying the veneer tape I use my finger nail to press down the veneer tape and then you can feel that the joints are nice and close together.

Now you will have a long strip made up of all the small columns joined together. Repeat this process for the top row all the way down to the middle row (giving you 8 strips all together)

Carefully peel off the green painters tape but keep on the veneer tape.

Step 3: Veneer Part 2 - Cutting and Joining the Rows

Now that you have the columns joined together you will need to cut the rows. (TIP leave the top and bottom rows bigger then needed --- just cut one side straight and square--- this way when you make the final cut you will have room for error)

To make the long cuts I used a veneer saw and a straight edge (the straight edge was a piece of hardwood that I machined on the jointer and planer so I knew it was true). I set this all up in a simple jig so that it was easy to make repeat cuts. The jig simply has a stop set up to place the straight edge in, and a stop to line up the veneer edge. The distance of the straight edge to this stop is 21 mm so that I can get the rows cut to the perfect height. I made sure every time that I lined up my straight edge that I was cutting along and made sure that it was absolutely square with the individual pieces, I also clamped the straight edge down every time to make sure there was absolutely no movement. I can not stress enough how important it is to make sure everything is square and straight, since there are so many rows being off by the tiniest amount will compound and show in the final project.

Once you cut the strips to in the final row height (you will have 3 of each pattern, pick the best 2 of each to use, best 1 for the middle row) you can lay these out to make the board. I added an oversized boarder of veneer on the start and end of the rows at this stage so that A) since the tiles are not square but the box is square the boarder on the sides will make up for this difference. and B) when you get to gluing and cutting you will have a bit of room for error. To join the pieces together put the good side (with the veneer tape) down and use more of the green painters tape to line up all the rows. Once you are happy that all these joints are tight and fit together nicely flip the piece and use the veneer tape to join the together, once together you can carefully remove the painters tape.

Step 4: Veneer Part 3 - Glue Up the Lid and Box Bottom

Now that you have the large game board put together it is time to glue it to the plywood lid.

When you are applying veneer to a surface like this there are a few pointers that you should keep in mind:

1. When applying glue make sure to apply glue to the plywood side and stick the veneer to it (don't apply it to the back of the veneer --- the moisture in the glue will make the veneer warp and curl)

2. When you apply veneer to a surface you must apply veneer to the opposite surface as well, balanced construction will ensure that your piece will not warp

3. When clamping the veneer to the plywood be sure to sandwich between something that the glue will not stick to (I used some melamine boards, but I have heard that plywood lined with parchment paper will also work)

So keeping these 3 things in mind for you will need:

(for the lid) A piece of 17 mm plywood that is at least 340mm x 340mm (this is a bit large but will be cut to size after), the veneer game board that you have just made, another piece of veneer that will cover the opposite side of the plywood. 2 pieces of melamine that are the same size or slightly larger them the plywood, clamps (or you could just place something heavy on top of it)

Use a small paint roller to roll out a thin layer of paint on one side of the ply. Apply the large piece of veneer to the glue and place the piece (glued veneer down on the melamine). Roll out another thin layer of glue on the other side of the ply and carefully place the game board on press firmly, making sure no air bubbles are caught inside. Cover with the other piece of melamine and clamp together/ apply pressure with weights.

(for the box bottom) I used 6mm baltic birch and used the same method to apply veneer to both sides.

After the glue had cured you can cut the ply for the lid and bottom to size. I used the panel saw, taking great care to make sure everything was square.

Step 5: Glue the Box Sides and Bottom Together.

Now you can glue together the 4 sides, make sure you dry- clamp everything together before you glue to make sure you are satisfied with the joints. Once you have everything together nicely (before glue) use painters tape to hold the box together, now you can just take the tape off one corner and unfold the box, apply glue and re-fold everything up using the tape to hold it all together again until the glue dries.

Step 6: Add Miter Key Spline.

Adding keys to the corners of the box will add a lot of strength to the joint as well as giving it some nice design detail.

I used this jig, a simple V-block mounted to a cross-cut sled. I made a stop block so that I could be sure that the keys are all the same height on each corner. Also make sure that you clamp your box to the jig to reduce the amount of movement. (TIP: When using claps on machines use C-claps when possible as they will not vibrate loose like other clamps might do.) Once you have made he cut you need to machine the spline so that it fits in the slot. Using a contrasting wood really makes this detail pop.

Once you have keys that will fit glue them in place, when the glue has cured use a flush cutting saw (or Japanese saw) to cut off the excess, then a block plane to further flush the surface.

Step 7: Add the Trim

I had some leftover cherry from another project so I decided to use it to trim the game board lid and then thought It would look nice if I repeated this feature on the bottom of the box to give the design more balance.

I machined the cherry to 20mm x 10mm and then cut it to length with the table saw, again putting a 45 degree miter on the end.

I used wood glue to attach the trim to the box and lid.

Step 8: Sand and Finish

I sanded all surfaces with 180, 200 and 220 grit. Always make sure to sand with the grain. As you work your way up to higher grits you will have to spend a bit more time at that grit

It is scary to do but the veneer also needs to be sanded to remove the veneer tape. You can add a bit of moisture to peel off the veneer tape, but be very careful as this can cause the veneer to curl and seperate from the ply.

After sanding I applied a finish to the whole box I chose to use Wipe on Poly by Minwax (satin). Three coats of this gave me a nice durable finish.

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