Introduction: Revolutionary War Era Dice Set
Today’s project is a recreation of a Revolutionary War era dice set. Soldiers often carried dice and cards with them. It gave them something to do when not performing military drills or fighting. I’ve seen dice sets in all shapes and sizes so there’s not a specific requirement in terms of looks. Commonly, they had a sliding lid wooden box and homemade dice. After looking at multiple sources, I came up with this design, which is as close to what I’ve seen from some genuine sets.
Step 1: Prepping the Wooden Box
I’m using a solid piece of walnut for my box. It’s approximately 2” thick. I used a handsaw to cut it approximately 5” long x 3.5” wide. There’s not a set size for genuine boxes, but from what I’ve seen, they are typically small enough to sit on your hand.
I chose a solid block of wood because I’ve seen versions made this way, but also because some soldiers made items while in camp. Complex box joinery wasn’t really an option for them and carving a box from a solid piece of wood would be more common.
After cutting the box to size, I used a block plane and smoothing plane to shape it and smooth the outside faces.
Step 2: Shape the Inside Edges
I used a marking knife to score lines to mark where the inside faces will be in the box. Using a sharp chisel and a mallet, I tapped along my score lines. Then, I pared away material up to my line. I did this on all four faces.
Step 3: Drill Out the Waste
Chiseling that much material away, all the way to the bottom of the box will take a long time. Instead, I used a hand drill to remove the material. I drilled a bunch of circles down to the final depth. After that, I used a chisel to remove any of the material that was left. This is a huge time saver. Once the wood is removed from the center, I took a large chisel to pare away material along the sides, making them cleaner.
Step 4: Making the Lid
The lid is pretty simple to make and not too difficult if you take it slow. I cut a piece of 1/4” thick walnut to rough size. Then, I pared away material from the top front face of the box until it was deep enough that lid would fit plus 1/8” of size material sticking above the lid. It’s difficult to describe, but the pictures show what I’m talking about.
I scored a line inside the box, along the side faces. I used a 1/8” wide chisel to pare slowly pare away material, forming a groove. Once the groove was carved, I pared away a bit more material to widen the groove using a 1/4” wide chisel.
To clean up the fit, I used a block plane to remove some material from the sides of the lid until the lid fit into the box.
Step 5: Making Dice
Soldiers traditionally made dice from wood, bone, or by melting down musket balls. I don’t have musket balls laying around so I went with maple. I used a block plane to clean up the faces of a piece of maple and then I cut them into squares to make my dice. From my study of colonial era dice, it seems that they are typically under 1/2” square.
I used a hole punch/nail set to punch divots that form my dots. You want the numbers on the opposite faces to add up to seven. To make the dots more visible, I put some ink inside them.
Step 6: Enjoy Your Dice Set!
As a genealogist, this was a fun project for me. I wanted to make something that a solider may build while in camp and I wanted to only use hand tools. If you want to hear a cool story about a patriotic family that shaped the United States and has a connection to George Washington then check out the video. I tell the story while building the project.
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Runner Up in the
Hand Tools Only Challenge