Introduction: Larjenga

The game of Jenga is very popular. Players stack a tower of 54 wood blocks in 18 layers of three blocks and then remove blocks one at a time and stack them on top until the tower falls. I've seen and played enlarged versions of the original game and it was always a blast. I decided to make one for myself that was as inexpensive, strong, durable, light in weight and easy to build as possible.

The design relies on construction of 3 long open-ended boxes that are then each sliced like a loaf of bread into 18 or 19 hollow blocks. I originally planned to use 1/4 inch Baltic Birch plywood to build the blocks but a trial mock up using it resulted in significant tear out during the slicing process so I switched to MDF. I also used pre-primed 3/4 inch cove molding because the prime coat eliminated tear out. The finished blocks are 7.5" long, 2.5" wide and 1.5" thick.

I apologize for the poor quality of the photographs. I originally took them only to document what I did in case I made another one in the future.

Step 1: Tools and Equipment

  1. Table Saw with miter gauge and rip fence
  2. Clamps
  3. Ruler or tape measure
  4. Glue applicator and spreader
  5. Table mounted router with top-bearing chamfer bit
  6. Random orbital sander
  7. Bread loaf pan
  8. Aluminum foil

Step 2: Materials

  1. 1/2 sheet of 1/4 inch MDF
  2. 32 feet of 3/4 inch primed pine cove molding
  3. Wood glue
  4. 3" x 36" 3/4 inch scrap squared board and finished both sides so glue does not stick
  5. Sand paper 100 and 220 grit
  6. Finishing oil (tung, teak, swedish or boiled linseed)

Step 3: Cut List

  1. 7.5" x 31" 1/4" MDF - 6 pieces
  2. 2" x 31" 1/4" MDF - 6 pieces
  3. 31" primed pine cove molding - 12 pieces

The photo depicts 4 MDF sides and 4 pine cove molding corner supports used to begin assembly of 2 open-ended boxes. 4 more of each will be used in subsequent steps to complete 2 boxes. Additionally on the right, is the 3/4 inch glue resistant scrap used during assembly to allow for release of the assemblies from the scrap board because of glue squeeze out.

Step 4: Glue First Sides to Bottoms

The table saw fence and a scrap strip of 3/4 inch in the saw's miter slot are used to clamp the bottoms on either side of the glue resistant scrap board in the following steps. Glue is applied to the lower edge of each side piece. The sides are then aligned and clamped to the bottom pieces on either side of the glue-resistant scrap. Proceed to next step once the glue is set and dry.

Step 5: Glue Cove Molding in 2 Bottom Side Corners

Apply glue to the inside corner sides of 2 cove molding pieces and clamp in place on either side of the glue-resistant scrap. It is the cove molding that keeps the corners of the finished blocks square and strong. Once the glue is set and dry, proceed to the next step.

Step 6: Glue Cove Molding in Opposite 2 Bottom Side Corners and First Top Side Corners

Rotate the bottom sides 180 degrees and reclamp them using the saw's fence and stopped miter slot. Repeat the previous two steps. While the glue is drying, the cove moldings for the 2 opposing top sides can be glued in place. Once the glue is set and dry, proceed to the next step.

Step 7: Glue Cove Molding in Remaining Top Side Corners

Glue cove molding in remaining top side corners and when set and dry, proceed to the next step.

Step 8: Glue Tops Sides of the Open-ended Boxes

Glue both tops sides to complete 2 of the open-ended boxes. While that glue is drying, create the 3rd box in a similar fashion. Note that a full sheet of MDF is sufficient to make 2 Larjengas. This is what I did. Obviously, I doubled the other materials as well.

Step 9: Initial Sanding, Chamfering and Block Slicing

Once the 3 open-ended boxes are complete, each of their long edges should be given a 1/16" chamfer on the router table. Next, each of the outside solid sides of each box should be finish sanded. They are then "sliced" into 54 1.5" thick blocks as shown in the photo. A 1/16" chamfer should be applied to all of the remaining unchamfered inside and outside edges of all the blocks.

Note, the chamfers are necessary to prevent the edges of the blocks from catching on each other during game play. Also, they should not be wider than 1/16" so that the contact edges of the blocks are at least 1/8" wide.

Step 10: Final Sanding and Finishing

The top and bottom edges of all the blocks should be lightly and carefully finish sanded. By hand this is tedious so a fixed belt sander is recommended for this task. It is important that this process keeps the blocks square and uniform in thickness. BE CAREFUL!

Even more tedious would be to use the usual methods to finish the blocks. So, I decided to dip the blocks in a finishing oil product. Tung, teak, swedish and boiled linseed oils are probably all satisfactory. For 54 blocks, 1 quart of teak oil worked satisfactorily for me. I dipped each block in the oil poured into a bread loaf pan. It soaked in and stopped dripping quickly. Each block was placed on a rack with aluminum foil underneath allowing for any remaining drips to occur. Once finished dripping the blocks were placed on aluminum foil to dry. The blocks were turned over 3 or four times to ensure that drying was even and thorough.

After a week the blocks were given a final light sanding with a fine grit sanding sponge.

Step 11: Conclusion

There are various ways to store, move and setup the blocks for play. My solution is shown in the introductory photo and here. The two simple corner pieces constrain the blocks and allow for easy alignment for game setup.

Others have used a storage bag or box. I might add a cloth sleeve that fits over top of this setup.

Finally, I think that I've figured out how to use Baltic Birch Plywood without causing significant tear out. The solution I think is to be sure that the grain of the plywood on the sides of the long boxes is perpendicular to their long axis so that slicing a blocks is essentially a rip cut. The cutting of the sides would require cross cuts on the long axes of the pieces but tear out can be prevented using a zero a clearance insert. I plan to give this a try.

Step 12: Larjenga Rules

The game uses 54 uniform blocks. To set up the game, build an initial 18 level tower—use corner guides if you have them. Stack all of the blocks in levels of three placed next to each other along their long sides and at a right angle to the previous level.

Once the initial tower is built, the person who stacked it plays first. A move turn in Larenga consists of:

  1. Removing one block on a turn from any complete level of the tower except the topmost complete level, and then
  2. Placing it on the topmost complete level in order to create a new top level.

Players may use only one hand. Either hand may be used, but only one hand may touch the tower at any time. An exception permitting the use of two hands may be given to any or all players with the agreement of the other players.

Players may tap or bump a block to find a loose one. Any block moved out of place must be returned to its original location before removing another block, unless doing so would make the tower fall. The turn ends when the next player touches the tower, or, after ten seconds of inactivity, whichever occurs first.

The game ends when the tower falls or if any block falls from the tower other than the block a player moves on their turn.

The winner is the last person who successfully removed and placed a block before the tower or a block fell.

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