Introduction: Wood Burned Settlers of Catan Board

About: I'm a physics grad student at the University of Michigan. I study self assembly in soft matter systems. When I'm not doing physics, I can be found volunteering at Common Cycle, a local bicycle non-profit, or a…

I recently decided to make my own Settlers board with the following goals:
- More durable than cardstock
- Prettier than anything I could buy
- Easy to use in low-light venues
- Total cost under $60

I ended up making board from basswood, burning in the artwork and finishing it with acrylic paint and shellac. It took somewhere between 20 and 30 hrs of labor to complete and is incredibly durable, functional and snazzy. If you just make the tiles and purchase game pieces, you should be able to finish in 10-15 hrs.

There are many ways to improve on this design if you have a higher budget and more time. If I were to do it again, I might opt to stain the tiles or use different hardwoods before shallcking or varnishing to provide some more contrast. The colors I chose for the game pieces aren't the best in low light.; shellecked white and yellow, and blue and green are hard to distinguish in low, yellow light. More comments later, but first here's what I used:

Supply list:
- 3 3 1/2" X 1/4" X ~4' basswood pieces (hexes, ports, longest road and largest army tokens)
- 3 5/8" X 3/8" X 3" square dowels (roads)
- 84 1" wooden coins (pips, settlements, cities)
- Shellack (Amber; 2lb cut if you're mixing from flakes)
- Wood burning pencil
- Pencil
- Paintbrush (one for detail, one for large areas)
- Ruler
- Table, Mitre or band saw
- 30/60/90 triangle guide or protractor
- Art work
- Sandpaper

For a complete game:
-2 sets of Settlers of Catan Replacement cards (need 2 sets to play with 5 or 6 people)
-2 6-sided Dice

Step 1: Cutting the Hexes and Ports

The most important step is the first: cutting out the hexes. Having a nice monodisperse set of hexes is key to having a usable board; minor variations can cause the hexes to leave annoying gaps in the board. I'll go through the steps I used to cut the hexes on a a table.

I wanted 30 hexes for the 5-6 player version of Settlers; you only need 19.

I cut the hexes in two steps. First, I cut the 3.5" board into 3.5"X (3.5*sqrt(3)/2)" ~ 3.5"X3.0" rectangles. The rounding error is small enough that it didn't matter after sanding. See pic 1.

Each rectangle needs for more cuts to become a perfect hex; these cuts are illustrated in the next four images.

First cut:
Set your guide at 60 degrees and line up the block of wood so that the cut enters 3/4ths of the way across the top of the rectangle and exits halfway through the side. Mark the edge of the block on your guide so that you only have to measure this once

Second cut:
Rotate the block by 180 degrees and line up the cut so it once again enters 3/4ths of the way across the top of the rectangle and exits halfway through the side. Mark the edge of the block on your guide so that you only have to measure this once.

Third cut:
Flip the block over and use the first mark on your guide to make this cut.

Fourth cut:
Rotate by 180 degrees and make the final cut.

I also cut the ports and tokens at this step. I cut 14 1.5X1 rectangles, for 12 ports, the longest road and largest army tokens.

Sand all the edges and faces of your hexes. I used a hand held sander with 300 grit for this step.

Step 2: Wood Burning the Tiles

The next step is to wood burn all the tiles and ports. I used a basic wood buring pencil for this with an all purpose tip (e.g., this one). If you opt for a nicer model, this step will go quicker because the pen will hold more heat and stay hotter.

For the artwork you need:
-Hexes: 5x Brick, 5x Sheep, 5x Wood, 4x Wheat, 4x Ore, 2x Desert
-Ports: 5x 3 for 1, 2 for 1 of all resources
-Longest road
-Largest Army

Once I had settled on my artwork, I drew it on the tiles lighty in pencil on the tiles, using a ruler to guide straight lines. I traced all the lines and each edge of the hex of the wood burning pencil. I lightly sanded each surface to remove remaining pencil marks.

I've included closeups of the tiles and ports if you wish to copy them. I used a mix of 6, 3 and 1 fold symmetry so that they would be easier to distinguish since they were all going to be the same color. These have already been shellacked (next step).

Step 3: Shellac Treatment

I used amber shellac to finish my tiles. If you wanted to stain your tiles different colors, this is the step to do it. You could use any other finish you like.

I wanted the tiles to be two-toned, so I applied two layers of shellac to the areas I wanted darker, then two coats to the entire piece. Use thin coats and allow ~30-60 mins for each piece to dry between coats. 

Step 4: Pips and Game Pieces

I used 1" wooden coins for all the settlements and cities; and 1" pieces of the dowel for roads.

Each player needs:
-5 settlements
-4 cities
-15 roads

I wood burned the edges and both faces of the coins. I painted the pieces with acryllic paint and covered with two coats of shellac. Try to choose high-contrast colors, as the shellac will mute them. I had bad luck with yellow and white in particular; a light grade of shellac would have been better for the game pieces. 

You need 28 numbered pips (2x (2,12), 3x(3,11) for the expansion and 1x(2,12), 2x(3,11) for the original) and a robber. I found Roman numerals easier to draw. The pips also have letters, which I burned on the backside; the order is different for the expansion, so I put two letters on the back rather than make a second set. I won't put the order here since Mayfair might not like that, but I was able to read it from images of the game being played.

Step 5: Settle Catan!

That's everything (I made)! I ordered two sets of cards from Mayfair (need and extra 30 cards to play the expansion) and a set of GameScience dice. Enjoy!

Toy Challenge 2

First Prize in the
Toy Challenge 2