Introduction: How to Make a Dice Box (with Secret Puzzle Lock!)
A puzzle box is a box that can only be opened by solving a puzzle…and a dice vault is a box that holds your gaming dice! We thought it would be awesome to combine the two into the Ultimate Puzzle Box Dice Vault and turn the ‘Vault’ part into something real! This box is made from solid Bocote and it automatically locks when you close it. It doesn’t open unless you know the secret trick, so your dice are protected from those tainted hands who will do anything to curse your next roll. The silver dragon adorning the box pays homage to our favorite game, Dungeons and Dragons.
The Puzzle works with magnets and springs. We'll show you how we built the locking mechanism and then reveal how it opens at the end!
We recommend watching the video above as you read to see more detail.
– Wood (We used Bocote)
– Silver Dragon Pendant (Optional, Replace with Whatever you Like!)
– Countersunk Magnets (Rare Earth) - https://amzn.to/2J4ZGhN
– 1/16" Thick Leather
– Wood Glue – https://amzn.to/2Ts82pT
– Super Glue – https://amzn.to/2Tt0NOJ
– Shellac Finish – https://amzn.to/2TuAdVe
– Blue Painters Tape – https://amzn.to/2tVFsOA
– Hand Drill – https://amzn.to/2Hgz4cG
– Needle Files – https://amzn.to/2TqThUc
– Clamps – https://amzn.to/2Hq1GjS
– Tape Measure – https://amzn.to/2C00Jv7
– Chisels – https://amzn.to/2En3WoS
– Planer (Not Required) – https://amzn.to/2SEmJRq
– Jointer (Not Required) – https://amzn.to/2UfPFRA
– Bandsaw (Not Required) – https://amzn.to/2UdO0Mk
– Tablesaw (Not Required) – https://amzn.to/2TaegKQ
Step 1: Milling and Getting the Wood Ready!
To get started, we found a piece of wood to make the box from and prepared it to be worked on.
We're using a piece of 'Bocote', which is an exotic hardwood native to Central and South America. It has amazing little "eyes" all over it and the grain is just beautiful.
(You could of course use ANY wood for this!)
It started as a piece of rough lumber so to get it straight, flat, and square, we used the Jointer and Planer. You could also do this with hand tools which takes a bit more effort, or you could just not do it at all but you'd have a little more trouble with some of the finer details if it's not straight and flat when you begin.
The best part though was revealing the extraordinary wood grain of the Bocote!
Step 2: CNCing on the X-Carve!
The general shape of the box is a top and bottom that each have a cavity cut out, along with some grooves that keep them aligned. There's also some spots for magnets on the top and bottom to hold them together, and lastly the ends have these sort of inset miters that will be used to hide the puzzle mechanism. (The ends pieces are made by hand in another step.)
We ended up making five prototypes before figuring out exactly how it was all going to work. What was clear that everything needed to be incredibly precise or it wasn't going to work so we opted to use our CNC to cut out the precise shapes.
It took a lot of trial and error and experimenting with different setups on the X-Carve so we used pine and other cheaper materials before we were confident enough to use our single piece of Bocote. Ultimately, it worked very well and our caution was rewarded with two perfectly cut pieces.
Step 3: The Inside of the Box
The top and the bottom of the box have corresponding grooves so that they fit together cleanly, but the fit was the slightest bit too tight, so a shoulder plane was used on the edges of the groove to take a few shavings off and get a perfectly snug fit.
It only took a few quick passes with the hand plane to get it fitting really well. This was a great reminder that even when you use a CNC, having hand tools around for tiny little adjustments is a great thing.
We then used some small magnets and pressure fit them into the holes that were CNC'd on the top and bottom. These are countersunk magnets and they'll get screwed in later on in the project, which also helped us with something else that was really neat. Read on to see!
Step 4: Creating the Magnet Lock
We needed some small springs for the magnet puzzle lock, so we took one from a retractable pen and then cut it in half. We then took two magnets and super glued the spring to the magnets. We did this twice so we had one for each end of the box.
Next, a hole was drilled into the end grain of the bottom of the box at the same diameter as the magnets. A slightly smaller hole is drilled at the bottom that matched the diameter of the spring.
You can see from the diagram above how the spring and magnets (red) fit into the holes.
Step 5: Making the Mitered Ends of the Box!
The two end pieces of the box needed to have small mortises (holes) in them where the puzzle's locking mechanism would fit into. (We couldn't CNC them from the same top and bottom pieces since they'd be on the side.) Also, we opted to make these by hand because we weren't sure exactly how they'd work and it took a couple of tries to get it right.
We cut some small tabs from one of the strips of Bocote we'd cut off earlier so the wood grain would match, and then at the shooting board, we used a hand plane to put a delicate 45-degree miter on both ends of each piece.
Next, we drilled a 1/8" deep hole in the inside of the piece and then used a chisel to make a square mortise. This is the small little place where the magnet lock will fit into. (More detail in the video in step one!)
Once everything was cut, we glued the pieces on and the box finally had all 6 sides!
Step 6: Sanding and Finishing the Box!
Before assembling all the parts of the puzzle, we sanded the exterior surfaces of the box to 320 grit and then finished the box with Shellac. We also drilled a hole in the top of the box...we'll see why that is there a bit later.
Shellac is a great finish for this type of project. It's easy to apply, dries quickly, and is forgiving if you make mistakes. It's also a great way to dive into finishing if you're new to it with your woodworking projects. Highly recommended!
We applied 5 coats of Shellac and it when its all dry, it's very glossy. We use some fine steel wool and gently abrade the surface to give it a fine sheen.
Step 7: The Leather Interior!
Jaimie figured a leather interior would give it a sophisticated look (hah!) so we used some 1/16" thick leather we had on hand. We had an idea to use the same Easel setup file for the X-Carve and see if we could cut out the leather shapes using the CNC.
We'd never seen it done before and were pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. Using the same file from the initial CNCing of the box cavity made sure the leather fit in perfectly.
We applied some super glue and then a block of wood helped to push the leather all the way in and secure it in place. The perfect fit helped a lot here.
Step 8: Assembling the Magnet Lock
Remember those countersunk magnets? We now took the tiny screws and inserted them about halfway into the holes. We then take our spring/magnet mechanism and put it in the holes on the side, making sure the end of the spring hooks around the screw.
The screw is then screwed the rest of the way in, securing the spring/magnet in place. (Cool, eh?!)
We can then twist the magnet/spring to calibrate how far out the magnet sticks out of the hole, giving us total control over how tightly the box locks. (The further out it sticks, the harder the box is to open.) This came in handy when testing to ensure it wasn't too hard to open.
At this point, we were able to close the box and it locked shut. The magnets that stick out of the end fit into the mortises we cut into the ends of the box, locking it closed. But how do you open it?
The secret lies with the dragon!
Step 9: The Secret of the Dragon!
Using an old silver dragon pendant that Jaimie had, we built the secret to unlocking the puzzle box. Not only was it a great size, but it had a small cavity on the back that was perfectly sized to hold a couple of magnets. Obviously this particular piece is specific to what we had, so if you try something like this you can use something you have around that will work similarly!
We started by cutting off the chain and then boring out the back of the dragon using a rotary tool. We also rubbed the back of the dragon on some sandpaper to flatten the back so it would sit on the wood flat.
Next, we used super glue to attach two magnets in the space we'd cleared with the tool.
Lastly, we returned to the top of the box where we'd previously drilled a hole through it. With the leather now in place on the inside, we applied some super glue and then attached a magnet in the hole that sat about 1/16" below the surface of the top.
The dragon now attaches to the top of the box perfectly by fitting into the hole! The magnets on the back of the dragon fit into the hole and are held in place by the magnet that is glued in the hole. It pops out easily but won't fall off unless you pull it off intentionally.
So...how does it open the puzzle?
Step 10: The Results!
The secret to opening the puzzle box dice vault is the opposing force of the magnets. The magnet lock and the magnet on the back of the dragon are opposite each other so when you hold the dragon against the side of the box, the opposing force pushes the magnet back into the hole which unlocks it. All you need to do is take the dragon off the top, hold it against the sides, and the box unlocks.
Easy to open once you know the trick and keeps your precious dice safe and sound. :)
Thanks for reading! As always there's lots more detail in the video in Step One.
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