Introduction: MTG Ultimate Deck Boxes

About: Engineer by trade, amateur woodworker and author in the off-hours. Most commonly, I build flag boxes for retiring military members and occasionally gifts and furniture when the opportunities arise. Outside of …

I had the opportunity earlier this year to build some card deck boxes for a fan of Magic: The Gathering. As someone who's played their share of card games over the years, I was happy to do it.

There's no shortage of inventive ways to hold Magic cards to be found on teh Internets. These boxes hold cards on the bottom, in an angled container which swivels around to display the cards while playing. The top is held on by magnets and can be used to hold dice. It's not quite a dice tower, but a close second.

To keep things interesting, as is my MO, I decided to make things a little more complex than the original model. Instead of using flat joints at the corners, I built two models, one using dovetails and the other with corner splines. I also made one extra complex with deeper dovetails and a significant amount of burned pictures; the owner liked rats so we found some representative pictures which I could reproduce. For the spline models, I used walnut and oak and for the others, figured walnut and lacewood (the latter chipped out far more than I was expecting. sad face). The special edition was padauk which worked fairly well.

The fronts of the boxes also incorporate a life counter, important for the game. The original used an abacus-like set of sliding beads, which I used on the special edition model. The others used stacked discs which I turned on a lathe.

For this project, you'll need the following:

miter saw or table saw to get the square corners

bandsaw to resaw thicker boards (we're working @ 1/4" or less)

router for the dovetails/splines

lathe for the dials

drill (press) for the hinge pins

1/4" rare earth magnets

Step 1: Planning

It should go without saying that we're working with some fairly tight tolerances here. The cards are 2.5x3.5", or add 1/8 if you plan on using sleeves, and each piece of wood is no greater than 1/4" thick. Everything needs to be square and on top of that, the hinge will need to be drilled straight or the box won't spin correctly.

Work your way out from the size of the card, adding the measurements as needed until you reach the correct size (add or subtract as needed for the overall height).

In order to get everything to fit correctly, we'll begin with the outer case and once it is assembled, build the inner case to fit.

Step 2: Outer Case - Mitered

The mitered cases, while simpler in overall design, require some complicated trimming before assembly but with some patience we'll get there in one piece.

Start by resawing the four sides down to the final thickness and trim them to the size required. Since the top will extend farther in the front than the back, we'll need to account for it and only miter the top of each side.

Make a 30 degree line in the center and use a square router bit to reduce the thickness on the bottom from 1/2 to 1/4", making room for the inner case. Follow this by adding the lines to mark the location of the lid and floor of the dice compartment. Those we'll add with a few passes on the table saw.

The mitered sides can be mostly made by machine, your choice as to how, but the lower sides must be cleaned up by a chisel. Once the sides are complete, cut the dice compartment floor and trim it to fit the notch you created earlier.

One final step, you can now drill the hole for the pivot. I used some 1/8" brass rod although that's certainly not the only method.

When everything fits together, glue it all up! I used a couple squares to make sure I didn't skew the final product...

Step 3: Outer Case - Dovetailed

Switching gears a little bit, we'll now build the dovetailed version of the outer case. Unlike the mitered version in the last step, this time we'll begin with 1/4" material and build it up to get the size we need. Additionally, since I used the figured walnut for the one box, I made sure to keep the grain continuous around the outside.

Begin by cutting the outsides to the correct size, then mark the placement for the inside of the dice compartment. Use a similar or contrasting wood for the compartment, then glue each one in place. For mine I used mahogany and walnut for one and wenge with lacewood for the other. Make sure they're placed square so that the floor will sit flat once it's glued in place later on.

Set your dovetail machine for through dovetails and cut a pair of pins/tails in the middle of the upper section. The Leigh jig made this fairly easy, but I don't see any reason why a normal jig wouldn't work as well; you'd just need to remove the outer material by hand.

The complicated part of this operation is that you will need to set up and cut the top tails/pins to account for the inner thickness of the dice compartment, then adjust the machine/router depth to finish the joint in the lower section. You'll notice I built the inner case at the same time to ensure a good fit across the components.

Step 4: Inner Case - Dovetailed

The inner cases are fairly easy compared to the outside. There are 2 different dovetails required for the front and back, depending on the height, after which you'll need to install the floor.

Use a table saw to cut a single notch along the bottom, then trim a matching rabbet on all four sides of the floor. Since this is ~1/8" thick, I recommend switching to a shoulder plane to get the fit as tight as can be. Ideally, the installed floor with sit just inside of the case so as not to be scratched when standing upright.

Thoroughly sand the inside of each piece, then assemble.

Step 5: Splines

Dovetail-key splines are a great way to dress up a mitered corner and add significant strength to the joint. Mine came from Rockler but if you don't have access to one, simple notches from a table saw can be built just as easily.

Mill all of the notches at the router table, then use the same bit to cut a dovetail down the length of a board, adjusting until it fits snug in the joint. Cut if off then slice into the smaller pieces on a bandsaw. Once the keys are split, soak them down with glue and add to each joint, removing the excess material on the bandsaw or disc sander after everything dries.

Step 6: The Special Edition

So of course the other boxes just weren't complicated enough for me. I had to follow them up with something unique. Most of the construction techniques have already been covered, but here are the remaining highlights.

Starting with the bare measurements, I made the case out of 3/8" material instead of 1/4, so as to add some extra weight and stability to the final product. I also adjusted the dovetails to be an extra 1/8" deep on all sides, then taper the extra material.

The notches for the life counter started with a 1/4" router bit, squared off at the ends with a mortise chisel. After assembly I used a wire drill bit to add a small hole at each end, then slid a silver jewelry pin into the space.

The rat symbol on the front was made at the scrollsaw, using the same padauk and wenge as in the other parts, sanded flush and glued in place.

Step 7: Adding Lids, Magnets, Dials and Pins

Once the boxes are complete, it's time to focus on the finishing touches.

The lids are easy enough: square parts with rabbets all the way around to drop into the tops of the cases. Again, a shoulder plane is handy to make these fit. You can either leave them flush with the outside or leave a small lip to make them easier to remove. Cut shallow square holes in each corner to seat the magnets, then epoxy them in place.

The dials began by being shaped on a lathe, using a pen turning mandrel to hold them in position. Add a small divot in the back so they spin freely once assembled. Since the center will be mounted on a 1/4" dowel, you can also drill the holes at 17/64" to keep them from sticking.

Once complete at the lathe, make 10 marks around the side and use a file to carve down every other step. This will allow the life numbers to show, but also allow someone to grab and spin them.

For the pivots, assemble the boxes, then use a drill to continue the holes you started earlier, being careful not to go all the way through into the card compartment.

After finishing, epoxy short pieces of 1/8" brass rod into the holes, then grind them flush.

Step 8: Finishing!

It goes without saying that finishing should be done prior to final assembly, as the mating surfaces would otherwise be stuck together. Add you lacquer/oil/poly of your choice, check for the fit, and add some wax to the faces that will slide past each other once complete.

And that's it! Glue the dials in place, attach the hinge pins, and you're ready for game night!

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