Introduction: Wall Mountable Board Game Design for CNC Mill

About: Practises Art, Science and Sorcery as an Iron-ringed Engineer.

Have you ever won an epic board game night? Have you wanted to showcase that victory on your living room wall? Well, with this instructable, you can build your very own wall mountable board game that will be the envy of your guests and the pride of your family.

The Jist of it.
I am a board game geek and a CNC hobbyist. After many games of Settlers of Catan I decided to put my CNC skills to the test and pay omage to Catan. The board in this instructable is 19 hexagons enclosed by a 6 piece hexagon frame with a sheet metal backing. All the pieces, including the frame pieces have pockets for magnets. Additionally, each frame piece has male-to-female puzzle endings (to lock each piece into each other) and a slot for hanging the assembled boardgame (much like a plaque). The beauty of my design is that the final assembly is never permanent and at any time you can un-mount the board from the wall, re-arrange all of the pieces and have a brand new game!

Did I mention that I carved the wood pieces with my home made CNC Mill and laser engraved the designs with a friend's CNC Laser Machine?

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What You Will Learn.
These instructions use hexagon shapes. However, with some imagination you can apply these instructions to any design so long as it has a frame. You will learn:
1) Necessary Tools, Materials and Wood Selection for CNC Milling & CNC Laser Engraving
2) Designing for CNC Milling and CNC Laser Engraving
4) A few basic wood working skills
5) Tips for CNC Mill operation.
6) Tips for CNC Laser operation.
7) How to move and setup a project from one machine to another using jigs
8) Basics in oiling wood and clear coating

Step 1: Necessary Tools, Materials and Wood Selection for CNC Milling & CNC Laser Engraving

Necessary Tools
CNC Mill (at least 4 inches Z axis travel, I'm guessing yours has a spindle/router, mine is 2.25hp Ridgid Router from Home Depot.)
CNC Laser Machine (with a Z focus of at least an inch)
Jointer 6" wide (bench mounted or stand, not a hand jointer)*
Planer 13" wide (bench mounted or stand, not a hand planer)*
Table Saw**
Grinder (hand held is best)
Sander with Radial Sander (bench mounted is best)
Hot Glue Gun and Hot Glue Sticks
Clamps (the big spring loaded ones are the best for this)
Digital Caliper
Measuring Tape
Triangular File
1/4" diameter dowels (which actually measure 5.9mm but whatever.)
3/8" Carbide end Mill (up cut) (or, any large carbide end mill for rough work)
1/8" Carbide end Mill (up cut) (or, any smaller carbide end mill for finer work)
60 degrees Carbide V-groove Router Bit
1/4" Dowel (for hammering)
Dust Mask
Eye Protection (goggles or glasses)
Hearing Protection
Push sticks*
Cotton Rags (can be old clothes that are clean! Preferably clothes which have been through several washes, brand new clothes get pilly, don't use towels or the inside of a sock for pilly reasons as well.)
Air brush / Air gun system (if you choose to go this route)

Wood... an abundant amount of wood, see below for choices
Wood Glue
x 2 MDF Sheet at 1/2" or 3/4" thick, and as wide as the bed of the CNC Mill
x 5 MDF Sheet at 1/4" or approx 4mm thick, wouldn't go any thinner)
x 27 Magnets approx 12mm in diameter.
Sheet metal approx 0.75mm to 1mm thickness width
Wood Oil or Wood Stain (my favourite is Natural Danish Oil for Cherry Wood, this is what I used for this project and many others)
Wood Sealer (Water or oil, brush or air gun, your choice, I prefer using airbrush for a streak free look)
Semi gloss or full gloss Lacquer (for clear coating)
Lacquer Reducer

Wood Selection for CNC Milling & Laser Engraving
The Hexagon Frame pieces should have a 'punchy' grain when oiled, and should stand out with a nice 3D raised pattern. Since the frame pieces are also the main structure the wood should be strong. Because the frames will have raised patterns the wood must be hard and easily milled without chipping out (this will leave out most soft woods including pine). The wood must also be light in colour and easy on textures (this will leave out oak) so that it can be laser engraved easily.
1st choice Cherry !!
2nd choice Alder, Birch, Maple,(Birch and Maple are hard on tools, Birch doesn't have a fantastic grain)
3rd choice Mohaganny, (dark wood hard to see laser engravings)
4th choice Oak (very porous and grainy. Only use if your laser engravings and raised patterns are very large)

The inner hexagon tiles shouldn't really have any raised patterns (your choice), but they will definitely need some pockets and bosses to handle game pieces, possibly an inlay if you want to go that far. Above all, the material must be light in colour and not very grainy because the players of your board game are going to have to see the laser engravings very clearly.
1st choice Pine (very cheap and you can easily buy ready made sheets)
2nd choice Baltic Birch Plywood (NOTE: only use fine ply woods with thick layers, ply's tend to chip out very easy so use sharp tools for best results)

*if you can, buy ready made planks of wood already made to size based on dimensions from step 2
** if you can, get the lumber shop to cut (also known as ripping) the lengths of wood that you need.

Step 2: Designing for CNC Milling

Hex Tile Design
Material will be out of Pine at 10mm thick, index your stock of pine with 4 quarter inch holes at the top and bottom corners (see figure 2.1b. Make sure your CNC design is centered between these 4 holes!!!

Make the hexagons 80mm from side to side. Hex tiles should be about 10mm thick.

Make a pocket in the middle large enough for the game tokens (~26mm dia).

Throw in some grooves along the sides for the "road pieces". When you assemble the hex tiles these grooves will line up and make one large pocket. Road pieces are approx 5mm thick, so make sure that each groove is 2.7mm thick (2.7 x 2 = 5.4.) and at least 2 mm deep. Make sure the grooves are longer than 20mm. Design in some curvature to the grooves because of inside angles.

Create an axis down the centre of your design and design a pocket for the back of the tile deep and wide enough for the magnets (6mm deep x 12.5mm dia for magnets 5.3mm thick by 12.3mm dia). Flip that design relative to the axis you just created. (This will simulate you flipping your material over!) (figure 2.1b)

Program the CNC to rough cut at 1000mm/min with stepover at about 80% of your bit size. When parting slow the machine down to 600mm/min and part the piece out in 3 passes. Do not nest more than 3x10 hex tiles on a single sheet of pine that is 10mm thick.

2.2) Border Frame Design
Material will be Cherry at 19.05 (3/4") thick. Index your stock of cherry with 4 quarter inch holes at the top and bottom. Make sure your CNC design is centered between these 4 holes!!! figure 2.2c

The border piece should be at least 70mm in width and at least 19.05mm in thickness (3/4") The inside of the border frame should account for 3 hexagon tiles. Put in those grooves from 2.1. Make sure that the depth of the groove matches up with the depth of the groove from the road piece (in this case 11.05mm deep)

The puzzle piece joints in fig 2.2b are actually just a bunch of circles at 10mm diameters  The Male joint just has the circles packed together at 9.750mm while the female joint are wider at 10mm.

Remember you'll have 6 border frame pieces. Put in the vectors you'll be using for your raised design. If they are simple designs make sure they are mirrored at the edge of the border piece. Have fun and make sure the ends of the design vary slightly than the rest, but make sure that everything touches the mirror axis. (figure 2.2e)

Create an axis down the center of your design and design in a 1mm pocket that will accomdate the sheet metal. Also draw in the pockets for your magnets. Mirror your design around the axis you created! Nest in the vectors you'll be using for raised patterns. figure 2.2d

Create some lines for the CNC to mill slots. Make sure they're about an inch away from the sides of the border piece. figure 2.2d

The material for the Border Frames is Cherry wood, so rough cut at 800mm/min, step over of 80% leaving behind 0.5mm of material. Mill the remaining 0.5mm with a final pass at 600mm/min at 30% stepover. Part with 4 passes at 800mm/min. The puzzle piece joints will be made when the material is being parted. It should be the last process you do.

If you are going to V carve the raised patterns understand that the sides of your raised patterns will be on a slope, the angle of which will be the angle of your V bit. Top top of this slope will represent the vector you wish to make a raised pattern of, however you'll have a 'base' at the bottom of the raised pattern which will have a width based on how tall your raised pattern is and the diameter of your V bit. Just remember to account for this base in step 3 using basic trigonometry.

Step 3: Desining for CNC Laser Engraving & Laser Cutting... Sheet Metal Design

3.1) Vector art
Pop in some vector art within the outlines of your pieces from step 2.
For nesting a bunch of pieces together: make a rectangular outline around your vector art + the outlines from step 2. It is important to center everything within these rectangular and record what the length and height "X and Y" dimensions are. (figures 3.1a and 3.1b )

3.2) Masking and offset
Do you want your raised patterns to be untouched? THEN:
Make the vectors which makes your raised patterns white. If you are V carving with your CNC mill you are going to need to enlarge the 'white' part and mask some of its surroundings based on how tall your raised pattern will be and the angle of the V bit. In this project I've milled 3mm deep, and the V bit was 60 degrees. So the base was going to be 1.73mm (TAN(30)*3mm = 1.73). I made the mask 1.75mm offset from the original vector. figure 3.2

3.3) Rasterize images
Rasterize your vector images to 300ppi or higher so that the image does not come out 'boxy' when its time to engrave.

3.4) Crop out any borders
Open the image you saved in 3.3 and erase any borders. Re save the image with the same name. You'll be using these images for laser engraving.

3.5) Import image to Laser software
When you import your file, make sure you scale down the image so that its the original rectangular outline mentioned in 3.1. Move the image so that its located at the 0,0,0 position of your laser machine.

3.6) Jigs
Take the outlines mentioned in 3.1 and offset them larger by 0.20mm. Draw in small circles around all corners.

3.7) Sheet Metal Backing
Make two halves of a hexagon that fit within the 'larger hexagon' of your full game board assembly. This design will be used for your sheet metal backing.

Step 4: Shaping Cherry

You can skip 4.1 if you are buying ready made stocks of wood that are already shaped to spec.

4.1) Rip a length of cherry on your table saw so that its maximum width is just above 5", (127mm)  max 6" (152mm). You can cut the length off at what ever you feel is reasonable. I was making 4 border frames on a single plank, so mine were cut at 30"length (750mm)
4.2) Run your piece of wood on the jointer and get one side flat.
4.3) Run that flat side on the fence of your jointer to get the perpendicular side flat.
4.4) Run the widest , flat part of the piece into the planaer until you get the width to 3/4" (19.05mm).
4.5) Repeat for as many planks of wood.

Step 5: Shaping Pine

Unless you have bought pine at exactly 10mm, you may have to plane it down.

5.1) Cut along the length of pine so that its about 11" (300mm) by 30" (750mm) with your table saw.
5.2) Run the pine plank through the planar till it is 10mm thick.

Step 6: Sacrifice Bed and Indexing Your Materials.

5.1) Lay down your sheet of 3/4" MDF and clamp to the CNC bed with two or more large ballscrew clamps. Clamp tightly. This is now your sacrifice bed for the CNC.
5.2) Zero your Z axis on the sacrifice bed and run the CNC to cut the index holes from step 2. Make sure you have an appropriate bit.
5.3) Draw lines stemming in the X and Y directions from the holes you just cut (like cross hairs). This will help you lay down your materials.
5.4) Lay down a sheet of material (pine or cherry, depending on which index holes you've chosen), position the material so that it is generally square with your cross hairs you drew in 5.3) and screw in some toggle clamps into the sacrifice bed.
5.5) Clamp down the sheet of pine with toggle clamps or what ever clamp arrangement you have.
5.6) Zero your Z axis on the material and cut the index holes again from step 2. Make sure you have an appropriate bit.
If you play your cards right you can actually use one bit to pocket out the index holes AND start CNC other designs.
5.7) When done cutting pop in 1/4" indexing dowels. You can now remove your material freely and place it back on the CNC on a whim.... provided you don't move the sacrifice bed or loose your 0,0,0 home position with the CNC. (If you don't have limit switches you can just mill a tiny hole in your sacrifice bed where you 0,0,0 is. If you loose steps you can always zero in on that hole and start again! ;)

Step 7: Milling Hex Tiles

Step 7 assumes you've indexed your table in step 6 for pine.

7.1) Mill the magnet pockets as per your design. Make sure you have the appropriate bit.
7.2) Unclamp the pine and flip according to your mirror axis you designed in step 2.
7.3) Re-index the pine and clamp down.
7.4) Mill out the Road Grooves
7.5) Mill out the Token Pockets
7.6) Do the first pass of parting (leaving 1mm of material behind and wide tabs)
7.7) Do the second pass of parting slowly. Remember, this is where the material will start to deflect because there is a LACK of material. Watch out for pieces flying out!
7.8) Unclamp Material and pop out hexes by hand. You can use a knife to cut the tabs if you like, or just push them out with your thumbs. It's a good idea to group tiles with similar grain and use them as sets when you go to laser engrave.
7.9) Adjust your radial sander so that the table is on a slight incline. Place your hexes on the table and sand out the tabs, be sure not to sand off too much of the actual edge of the hex tile. (The inclined table will help you just sand out the tab and not the entire side)
7.10) Sand out any dwindling pieces of material from the Hex tile.

Step 8: Milling Border Pieces

Step 8 assumes you've indexed your table in step 6 for cherry.

7.1) Mill the magnet pockets as per your design, also mill out the pocket for the sheet metal backing. Make sure you have the appropriate bit.
7.2) Unclamp the cherryand flip according to your mirror axis you designed in step 2.
7.3) Re-index the cherry and clamp down.
7.4) Flat Mill out the raised patterns in one pass leaving behind 0.5mm
7.5) Flat Mill out the raised patterns in a second pass slowly.
7.6) V carve your raised patterns.
7.7) Part your piece in 4 passes with the appropriate bit. Remember that the puzzle piece joint should be parting of your parting.
7.8) Unclamp Material and pop the border pieces by hand. You can use a knife to cut the tabs if you like, or just push them out with your thumbs. It's a good idea to group tiles with similar grain and use them as sets when you go to laser engrave.
7.9) Adjust your radial sander so that the table is on a slight incline. Place your border peices on the table and sand out the tabs, be sure not to sand off too much of the actual edge of the border pieces. (The inclined table will help you just sand out the tab and not the entire side)
7.10) Sand out any dwindling pieces of material from the border pieces.

I apologize for the lack of photos here. I made these pieces in my old workshop and didn't bring a camera. Here is a photo of what the cherry pieces look like after they are milled and a close up of what the sheet metal backing and magnet pockets should look like.

Step 9: Creating Jigs for the Laser

9.1) In your laser engraving software, import in your vector outlines made in step 3.6 I recommend you carry out 9.2 onwards separately for the Hex tiles and the Border frame pieces.
9.2) Move the vectors to the 0,0,0 position (pick a corner)
9.3) Put some double sided tape or hot glue on the back of your thin MDF sheet
9.4) Slap the MDF sheet on top of your Laser's bed.
9.5) Focus the laser on the MDF sheet. Use digital calipers or, a stack of random objects who's height is the same as the focus height and raise or lower the table so the tip of the laser is resting on the stack o'random things.
9.6) Set the power on high and slow the movement of the machine down. Block any view ports and resist the urge to look into the machine. Start cutting out the outlines of either your hex tile jigs or border frame pieces that you made in step 3.6.
9.7) Pluck out the pieces that were just cut out. Use an exacto knife to help out.

!! If you MDF sheet moves at all, rip it out, get a new one and repeat this steps 9.1 - 9.6. !!

Step 10: Laser Engraving

10.1) In your laser cutting software: Import your rasterized image.
10.2) Scale it down to the dimensions you recorded in step 3.1
10.3) Put the image in the 0,0,0 reference, (pick the same corner in step 9). The image should align with your jig. If not, you've done something wrong. repeat step 3 and possible 9. See figure 3.6b
10.4) Pop your parts into the jig. If you have sets of Hex tiles or border pieces with matching grain, now is the time to place them as sets. Make sure the grain of the wood is in the orientation you'd like for engraving.
10.5) If they are wobbly, put down a straight edge across all the pieces and hot glue 2 points to the MDF sheet. Hold them in position with the straight edge until the glue dries.
10.6) Focus the laser
10.7a) If your engraving Cherry: Engrave speed of 450mm/sec at 40Watts power at a step over of 0.03.
10.7b) If your engraving Pine: Engrave speed of 450mm/sec at 70Watts power at a step over of 0.08.
10.8) Start laser engraving.

Laser engraving might take a while depending on how many pieces you've nested, the engrave speed and the step over distance. I recommend you leave the machine alone (you shouldn't be gawking at it anyway while the Lasers on) and start on step 11.

10.9) When the laser is finished remove the pieces and give them a light sanding.

Step 11: Cutting the Sheet Metal Backing

11.1) Lay down your sheet metal on your CNC sacrifice bed. Clamp down with ball screw clamps tightly and what ever clamps you have hanging around. A cheap CNC (like mine) is not meant for metal. Expect a lot of chatter.
11.2) Either bring up a plexiglass shield or stay away from the machine... somehow start the machine. Use an appropriate bit (Carbide) Hot chips will start to fly everywhere. Hot enough that it will melt into plastic... as what happened to my poor laptop which controls my CNC :(
11.3) When the piece is cut out begin to grind and polish the edges. Remember to grind away sharp corners.

Step 12: Install the Magnets

12.1) Put a small bead of hot glue inside the magnet pockets
12.2) Place the magnet in the hole. If its not going in easily, drive it in with a dowel and a hammer. (if you use the hammer directly there's a good chance the magnet will stick to your hammer.)

Step 13: Oil and Sealing

13.1) Give everything one last final sanding. Just because.
13.2) FOR PINE: Gently apply a small amount of oil to the surfaces of the hex tiles using a rag. Do not overdo this, Pine is a sponge.
13.2) FOR CHERRY: Make a jolly mess and lather it oil. Let it settle for 10 minutes, wipe off excess oil. After 30 minutes the cherry should have absorbed all the oil.
13.3) Pour your reducer and Lacquer mix for clear coating.
13.4) Clear coat your pieces in a well ventilated area. Lightly sand with 1200 grit and clear coat again.


14.1) Assemble the border frames face down on a table (magnet side up).
14.2) Place the sheet metal backing within the assmbled hexagon
14.3) Slide the assembly off the table and gently flip the assembly face up
14.4) Pop in your hex tiles anyway you wish.
14.5) Gently hang your game board on the wall
14.6) Stare in awe ;)

Step 15: Ending Tid-bits and a Sweet Movie From Way Back When.

Here are some photos of what the board looks like without Danish Oil, with Danish oil but no clear coat, and with all three. Try experimenting if you like one finish or another or flat out staining them all sorts of exotic colours.

If you like this instructable please vote for it by clicking the orange ribbon in the top right corner of the screen!

Any suggestions? Send me a message and follow me / subscribe. I'll be posting more projects I've finished and projects currently on the go.

Last but not least, here is a video of when I first started getting into CNC milling. Several years ago I had a mild Catan addiction. I was also getting into my new hobby of CNC milling. One day I found a special log and I decided to make hexagon tiles out of it for my homemade Catan board. I didn't have the proper wood tools, so I improvised.... a lot... So, here's a video I made back then of what I thought was totally amazing, and now I laugh at it. There's a lot of Do's and Dont's and "cool" tricks to be learned in this video, I'll let you figure them out. Enjoy :)

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