Introduction: Laser Cut Magnetic Dice Boxes
I picked up Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition last year and have had a blast playing it with my friends. D&D is such an incredible way to spend time with people, and I've finally built up enough confidence to start my own campaign! Being the crafty sort, I wanted a handmade way to carry my dice with style.
These laser cut, magnetic dice boxes hold seven standard polyhedral dice and can be custom-engraved to give them some personal flair. They feature strong magnetic closures that prevent your dice from tumbling out while battling hordes of gnolls and have felt linings that can be swapped out to complement and pamper your favorite dice set.
This project was born out of my own (mostly failed) attempts to follow other dice box tutorials. Many of them I found difficult to assemble, or required woodworking tools I had no access to. This project relies entirely on the laser cutter and engraver to do the heavy lifting and otherwise can be assembled with basic materials.
(Full Disclosure: While I did make the patterns myself through trial and error, these boxes are heavily inspired by Elderwood Academy's gorgeous hex chest dice boxes. They're a really cool small business selling handmade accessories for tabletop gaming, so please go check them out!)
Also, check the images for additional details!
You'll need the following:
- Laser Cutter/Engraver Access
- Plywood, 1/8" or 3 mm (Baltic Birch)
- Magnets, 10mm round
- Wood Stain (Cherry Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain)
- Wood Finish (Minwax Water Based Polycrylic, Polyurethane, etc.)
- Sandpaper, 120 and 220 grit
- Wood/Tacky Glue
- Super Glue or E6000
- Brushes, sponge or paint
- Scissors or Fabric Shears
- Felt (any color)
- Sanding Block
- Parchment Paper
- (Small) Mallet
- Freezer Paper
Step 1: Customizing the Design
You'll need a vector editor for this step-- Adobe Illustrator (not free) and Inkscape (free) both work great. You can get the cut and raster files below.
Personalizing your dice boxes is one of my favorite parts of this process. It can show off your character or reflect your own interests, making it a great gift for friends. Both the top and bottom can be engraved-- there are several sample faces included in the source files for you to get inspired by!
If you've never used a vector editor with laser engraving before, here are a couple of tips to get you started:
1. You can pull images or designs off the internet and then use the Image Trace tool to turn it into a usable vector. Then, scale it so that it fits nicely within the hexagonal facepiece. You can also use regular bitmap images too with most laser cutters.
2. Engraving works by removing the surface layer of the wood. The more power the laser uses, the darker and more sunken the area will be.
3. For most laser engravers, the color/lightness of the image is used as the laser power, so white areas will be untouched and dark areas will be heavily engraved. You can use this to create visual interest in your dice box! You may need to play with the color slightly to get good contrast, so feel free to reference the provided files.
Step 2: Preparing Your Plywood
Plywood that lies flat is ideal for the laser cutter! If yours is warped, try this tutorial on flattening plywood first.
Start by sanding down the surface with 120 grit sandpaper. It's best to sand along the grain, working your way across the board. Periodically feel the surface for rough areas, and focus your sanding there. When it feels smoother, switch to 220 grit sandpaper and make a few more passes.
Flip to the other side and repeat, then dust off the sandpaper either by hand or with a dust-free cloth. Avoid using water, as that will cause the grain of the wood to swell.
Sanding helps create a smoother finish for your final dice box, and I've also seen it give better results while engraving too!
Step 3: Prepping the File for the Laser Cutter
Measure your wood piece, then create a document in your vector editor with those dimensions. Note which direction the grain of your wood faces. Copy in the cut faces, then rotate all of the pieces at once so that the two holes on the faceplates are either perpendicular or parallel to the direction of the grain (see example picture above). This is so that the grain matches on your lid and bottom.
All shapes that will be cut should have an outline/stroke width of 0.01 mm or 0.038 px. Make sure that only the edges of your box have 0.01 mm strokes, paying special attention to your engraved images. (I've had a few cuts fail because the laser cutter tried cutting the design itself.)
I also recommend laying out all of your engraved pieces horizontally relative to one another, so that the laser cutter can engrave them faster by doing so in one pass.
Step 4: Laser Cutter Settings
The laser cutter I used was an Epilog 60W laser, so the below steps and settings may vary based on what machine you have access to. Makerspaces are great places to check for laser cutters and engravers, and you can often pay by the hour for access. Always, always ask for help if you're unsure of what you're doing.
Install the drivers from the manufacturer's website. Press Print in your vector editor and select your laser cutter from the list. Go to Printer Preferences and open up the printer's dialog menu. From there, you'll need to set the dimensions of your media (the dimension of the plywood we measured earlier), and your Raster (engraving) and Vector (cut) settings. If it's an option, set the job type to Combined for both raster and vector.
The Speed setting controls how fast the laser head moves, the Power setting controls the amount of power it uses, and the Frequency is how often the laser pulses. All of these affect how deeply the laser cuts and engraves.
Use the recommended Vector settings for 1/8" plywood based on your machine. For the 60W Epilog, this was 10 Speed, 100 Power, and 10 Frequency.
Raster settings can vary widely based on what machine you're using, too. For me, I found that 40 Speed and 70 Power gave good results.
I also highly recommend using the 'Floyd Steinberg' setting instead of the default when engraving, because it gives a much more natural wood-grain texture. However, it does tend to wash out the darkness of engraved areas, so it's worth playing around with your colors and settings.
Press Print to confirm your settings, then Print again to send the files to your printer. (Note that for Adobe Illustrator, the preview would sometimes fail to update. In this case, press Printer Preferences and Print again and it should look correct.)
Step 5: Laser Cutting
Load in your wood and adjust the bed height so that the laser is in focus. Turn on any fans or ventilation, then start the job on your laser cutter! Make sure to keep tabs on it so you can stop it if something goes awry.
Once the job has finished, remove your pieces from the laser cutter, using a pencil or pen to mark the underside on the edge facing the top of the laser bed. This will help you to keep your pieces aligned later.
Step 6: Sanding
The next step is to sand down areas that were scorched by the laser cutter. For my boxes, I like to have the inner decorated plate and the surrounding ring be a lighter color for contrast.
Using 120 and then 220 grit sandpaper, sand away at these edges until they've returned to their original color. Sand the outer edge of the decorated plate and the inner and outer edges of the surrounding ring. Be gentle, especially with the surrounding ring, when sanding.
Do the same for any of the other visible faces that look scorched, while leaving the edges on those pieces untouched. Dust off all your pieces.
Step 7: Staining the Wood
Put the inner decorated plate and surrounding ring aside and arrange your other pieces with engraved sides facing up. With a wood stain of your choice, follow the directions to stain the tops, inner edges, and outer edges of the plywood pieces. Gloves are highly recommended.
I used Minwax Cherry Wood Finish Penetrating Stain and a cheap brush for this. Make sure to stir your can well and know that, if you use the same brush to both stir and apply, the first few strokes will be really dark. Therefore, it's better to mix with one brush and apply stain with the other. Areas that are engraved tend to absorb a lot of liquid as well and may require extra stain.
For the Minwax stain, wait for about 15 minutes before wiping it off with a paper towel. If you're not satisfied with the color, you can add another coat of stain once the pieces have dried (4-6 hours). Let the pieces dry fully before continuing.
Step 8: Glue Stacks Together
Arrange your pieces as shown, lining up the marks we made earlier when we removed them from the laser cutter so that the grain matches. Lightly add wood or tacky glue between each layer and then push together, being careful to align the edges. Remove any squeeze-out and hold it firmly for 20-30 seconds before continuing to the next layer until all pieces are stacked together.
Optionally, use clamps to hold the pieces in place while drying.
Step 9: Wood Finishing
Once your stacks have dried, remove any dust and follow the directions for your wood finish of choice. While I chose to use Minwax Polycrylic in Clear Gloss, you could also try polyurethane, spray-on poly, oil, or beeswax.
For the Minwax Polycrylic, start by stirring your can well. Using a sponge brush, make just one or two passes on the flat surfaces of the top and bottom to thoroughly coat them. Avoid brushing multiple times, as this causes inconsistencies in your finish. Then, use the brush to coat the outside edges as well, making a smooth pass all the way around.
If you're impatient, once the gloss has dried to the touch (about 15-20 minutes), flip the pieces over onto nonstick parchment or baking paper. Otherwise, wait for coating to fully dry before continuing (2 hrs). Repeat the same steps as above for the inside surfaces, using a smaller brush to coat the walls and bottom of the hexagon cells. Avoid letting the glaze pool in the magnet holes, as this can affect the fit.
Once the entire coat has dried (about 2 hours), go back over the surface with 220 grit sandpaper. Look for areas where glaze pooled or is unusually thick, and make a few light passes with the sandpaper. This should be just enough to decrease the coating's height without eating into the wood itself.
Repeat this process for a total of 3 layers. Let dry for 24 hours or more.
Step 10: Adding Magnets
The goal of this step is to put in the magnets in so that the lid will be work in both orientations!
For a little background information, all magnets have a North (N) and South (S) polarity. Opposite poles (N and S) attract, while the same poles (N and N or S and S) repel. As a result, we want our dice box to have all N-facing magnets on one side and S-facing magnets on the other, so that the two halves attract.
Lay out the top and bottom pieces side by side. Stack all four magnets together, then slide the bottom 2 magnets into the holes on the bottom piece. Flip the stack over and slide the two magnets into the top piece.
One-by-one, remove the magnets and add a small amount of glue (super glue or E6000 works great for this) into the hole. Replace the magnet in the hole in the same direction as before, using a mallet or other blunt object to tap it in if necessary.
If the magnets are still not flush, push the two halves of the box together, applying force wherever gaps appear. Flip the lid around and squeeze again. This should force the magnets into proper position.
Step 11: Felt Liner
Attached is a printout of the felt liner shapes, but you can also trace these from the laser cutter discard pieces.
Technique 1: Direct Trace (shown here)
This technique works best on light-colored felt. Using a pen or pencil, trace the shape of the interior onto a piece of felt. You can either cut out the paper shapes or use the pieces left by the laser cutter. Cut along the lines to get your felt pieces.
Technique 2: Paper/Freezer Paper Trace
Trace the shapes onto paper, either from the discard pieces or the printout. If using freezer paper, trace directly onto the paper side with a pencil. Cut out the shapes and lay them atop your desired felt color.
If using freezer paper, use an iron to heat the paper side, with the plastic side facing the felt, so that it adheres. If using paper, consider pinning down the patterns. Cut accordingly to get your felt shapes.
Technique 3: Laser Cut
You can also directly cut the felt on a laser cutter, too! I elected not to, as my makerspace requires materials other than wood and acrylic to have a materials safety sheet submitted. This is also why I do not have recommended settings for felt, but this blog post has some good recommendations. Cut files are attached below.
For my project, I used ivory (off-white) felt that complemented the wood stain nicely.
Place your felt liners into the corresponding holes in the top and bottom halves. You can use tacky glue to glue them down if you'd like, but leaving them unglued means that they can be easily swapped out for other colors if you change dice sets.
Step 12: Finished!
Congratulations on your new dice box! Fill it with dice! Show off to your friends! Get it signed by Matthew Mercer! Make twenty more to house your constantly growing dice hoard!
(Jokes aside, one of my friends did actually get the dice box I made for them as a birthday present signed by Critical Role cast members Matthew Mercer, Laura Bailey and Marisha Ray at ECCC! I'm so proud!)
Thank you for reading, and I hope that following along puts you that much closer to total dice satisfaction. I'm genuinely really excited to be a part of the tabletop gaming community, and this is a small way for me to give back for the incredible welcome I've received.
If you enjoyed this Instructable, I'd really appreciate it if you give it a vote for the Instructable Gaming Contest!
Runner Up in the