Recycle Plastic Beads Into Dice





Introduction: Recycle Plastic Beads Into Dice

About: I'm an engineer and a dad who has a love for designing and making toys, STEM projects and anything electronicy.

At the moment, I'm designing a fantasy board game and this got me thinking about the dice that'll play a major part in combat. There are going to be a range of different dice, but rather than just buy all the parts off the web, I decided to try and make my own. After all, you can then personalise the colours, spots, numbers, number of sides. Well, everything! If I could reuse something I already had in the house, even better!

With that in mind, I set out to design my own home-made dice using plastic beads. I discovered, it's really not that hard!

Step 1: Step 1: Collecting and Preparing Your Materials

To make home-made dice, you'll need the following:

- A cereal box, or plasticised cardboard of some sort
- Sticky tape
- Ball-point pen
- Lolly/popsicle stick
- Blu-stuff 2 part liquid silicone (or another kind of pourable silicone)

- A die you want to cast in the shape of.  To keep it simple, I started with a D6 (6-sided die)
- Coloured plastic pony beads (sparkly, transparent, opaque, these all work nicely!) - I had a bag lying around gathering dust
- A hammer
- Alternatively, you can use Hama beads, these also work well
- Tip-Ex, a Sharpie or other fast-setting liquid to mark out the numbers or spots on your finished die
- An oven

Step 2: Step 2: Preparing Your Mould

Take your die and place it on the side of the cereal box (or other plasticised card), rough side up.

Draw a box around the die with a little space either side for the silicone to flow into.  Now create a cube net around it by drawing squares off the edges of the box on each of its 4 sides.

Cut around the whole shape and you should have what looks like a cardboard '+' sign.

Next, use the tip of a ball-point pen and a ruler to score a line along the lines you've drawn to create score marks.

After that, fold the edges of your shape in to create an 'open top' cube shape, making sure the plasticised side is facing in.  This is so that the silicone peels away easily once it's cured.

Use sticky tape to join all the sides together, making sure that all the sides are gap-free.  You don't want your precious silicone leaking out while it cures!

Step 3: Step 3: Mixing and Pouring Your Silicone

If you're using Blu-stuff liquid 2-part silicone, you'll want to measure out equal quantities of the white and blue liquids into a plastic pot.

Next, use a lolly stick to stir the 2 liquids for around 30 seconds or until they're fully mixed and you can't see any darker blue or white liquid.

Place the die into your cardboard mould in the centre, least detailed face facing down, ensuring there is a gap between the die and the cardboard walls. Your least detailed face will need fine etching or spotting later on, but we'll come to that in time.

Now, take your pot of mixed silicone, pinch the pouring edge if you can (to create a finer flow) and pour into a void next to your die.  Ideally, so that the silicone pours onto the bottom of your cardboard box.

Pour slowly and patiently, as this will help prevent air bubbles and you want the silicone to fill every dimple, spot and dented number on the side of your die!

Keep pouring until the top of your die is covered by a good couple of millimetres.

Allow the silicone to set up for ~15 minutes and you should be able to remove your die, leaving you will your oven-proof silicone mould!

N.B. The cured silicone in the photo is from my original cardboard box.  I cut away the original and decided to make a new one for the photo!

Step 4: Step 4: Preparing and Adding Your Plastic to the Mould

Left over pony beads are great for several reasons.  First, because when you buy in bulk, they are pretty cheap.  Secondly, they also come in a range of transparent and opaque colours, so you can create quite exciting mixed colour effects with your dice!  I used a bag I had lying around the house.

This is a good time to turn on the oven to gas mark 7 / 220 degrees C / 425 degrees farenheit as it'll take a while to prepare your beads!

Separate the coloured beads you want for your finished dice (in my case, about 15 green beads) and use a hammer to carefully tap them on the round edge, rotating as you go until they shatter into smaller pieces. When using smaller pieces of bead, in my experience at least, this helps create fewer air pockets in the melted plastic, and reduces the visible 'bubbly' effect you get in transparent beads.

After that, tip in enough pieces of bead so they reach the top of the mould and place the mould on a metal baking tray, open side up.  Close the oven door and open all the windows in the kitchen - as the plastic melts, it will give off some gases you don't want to be breathing in.

Set a timer for about 20 minutes and go write a bit more lore for your board game.  In another room!

Step 5: Step 5: Topping Up the Plastic

When the buzzer goes off, you should notice the plastic has melted together and that the level of the plastic has lowered.  This is because the molten plastic has flowed into the air gaps around the solid pieces.

Use oven mits or a layered tea towel to take the metal tray out of the over and place it on the hob - or another heat-proof surface.

Now, take some more of your pieces of plastic bead and sprinkle them on top of the molten plastic in the mould until you have filled the mould again.

Return the metal tray and mould to the oven (same temperature) for another 15 minutes and return.  Repeat this 2-3 times or until the mould is filled with molten plastic.

Step 6: Step 6: Setting Up Your Die

Once your mould is completely filled with molten plastic, turn off the oven and use oven gloves or a layered tea towel to lift out the tray with the mould on.

Set up a cooling rack and use tongs to lift the mould off the metal tray and onto the cooling rack.

As the metal tray will retain its heat for a while, the cold cooling rack will help silicone and plastic to cool down more quickly.

Design a few weapons or treasures for 10-15 minutes and your die should be cool enough to handle.

Ease aside the silicone on top and push from underneath with a finger.  Your die should just pop out with a bit of encouragement!

Step 7: Step 7: Adding Details (spots and Numbers)

Hurrah!  You should now have a home-made plastic die.  A couple of rolls showed the die to be well balanced and rolled a range of different numbers.  All that remains now is to add details so you know whether you've killed that dragon or merely annoyed it.

With your blank side (top side of the mould), you've got a couple of options.  Firstly, you could use a 3mm drill bit. rotary tool or engraver to carve a spot/number into the plastic.  Secondly, you could just draw on the relevant spot/number.  In this cas, i just spotted on some Tip-Ex.

I found different liquids worked well to add spots or numbers.

For the green die, I used Tip-Ex as it contrasted well with the bright green plastic and also dries to a hard finish.  The only downside is it tends to flake off non-porous surfaces.

Alternatively, Sharpies work brilliantly, using a bullet tip pen to colour the inside of spots, or a fine liner to colour in indentations of carved numbers.

Well, there you have it.  A home-made plastic die with fairly little effort and made from most recycled materials which were just lying around my house. Plus, there's been plenty of time to write a bit more of that board game you've been working on!

I've included a photo of a clear transparent die I made using clear whole beads, but you can see the issues I had with air bubbles!  Spots were filled using a gold pen.

In reflection, I have plans to make other dice for the game: D10, Percentile, D20 and D4s.  I may update or post a new instructable detailing this in the future.

I'll leave you to have fun casting your own dice and remember to keep those windows open or work in a well ventilated area!



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    42 Discussions

    Probably not going to get a response here, but how would be the best way to go about making blank die molds? I have some ideas for some custom dice, but it would be a bother if the pip dents were still in the dice...

    instead of melting down beads use hdpe most plastic items in your house are hdpe such as milk jugs containers detergent bottles and bottle caps however the bottle caps flow the best simply make sure the bottle cap has a recycling symbol with number 2 in it this means its hdpe all you have to do after this is put in in the oven at 340 and melt it when it solidifies you will have a good dice hdpe doesnt create any fumes and should have pretty much zero smell at all

    Sadly the clear resin dice I cast turned out much better than my bead dice. Both ended up with many air pockets. The first I had done with pieces about the size of your photos, the second with much smaller pieces in assumption that was the issue. The melted beads themselves are gorgeous colors, but sadly the dice rent usable. I'm not sure what to do to fix it. And it definitely looks like the silicone wouldn't stand for many casts in the oven anyway as it seemed singed at the opening, and the overall color of it looks more cooked.

    2 replies

    That's a shame! My silicone mould looks a little discoloured around the edges but seems to be holding up alright. I found air bubbles with one of my dice casts when I added lots of pieces in to begin with. I found that gradually adding layers of bead pieces helped stop air bubbles getting trapped. I don't know if that's any help!

    Hmm maybe... Instead of filling the mould to the top initially? Did you find when you pull yours out they bubble up through the opening, then sink as they cool? I found it was difficult to get a smooth top, as it was like a hard gel consistency whenever I pulled it out and tested it. Seems you can't catch it in a more liquid like form.

    Perhaps the mould will hold out, it just seemed that as it was discoloring that it might not last long, but perhaps that's the extent to which it will 'deteriorate' for lack of better word.

    I'm curious, I'm currently in the process of making moulds to try this, but my boyfriend brought up the playability of the dice. How have the dice been with playing? I recall you saying that they rolled okay, but did you find them chipping or breaking at all over use and time?

    6 replies

    Hey Kalarzy, good questions. The dice have played just as well as any shop-bought dice since being cast. They've not chipped at all, despite their use and continue to work well. Pony beads seem to bond together really strongly when melted! It made me wonder what else you could cast using them. I hope that was helpful! Did it answer your questions?

    Yes, it did, thank you! I would imagine that anything you wanted a solid/swirled /non specific color could be cast with them. I work in child care, and I know coworkers who have used them in lieu of melting beads for making charms etc, and they cool super hard. I just finished my moulds (dotted D6, numbered D6, and a D20. trying to decide if it's warm enough outside to open windows to try the actual casting part. Does it smell *that* bad? lol

    Oh, it really does! Opening windows is a must :) But, if you're not in the kitchen, just close the doors and open the windows! The alternative (which I used in the end) was to buy a cheap, portable electric oven and then you can melt the beads outside. Let me know how you get on! I'd love to see photos when you've cast the first batch!

    I was trying to look up my rubber mold heat properties to ensure it can withstand the oven heat but I can't seem to find anything saying it can.... in the forum it asks if the rubber can be baked, and they say no but no explanation. The putty product states it can be baked.... but different product. Any insight? :s

    Hmm, if the product is bake to harden, I'm not sure how flexible it'd be as you'd need to pop the didic out afterwards. A liquid silicon or 2 part ssiliconeputty would do you well. I used Blu Stuff as it cures quickly and can be bought in small quantities, perfect for casting smaller things like dice. How much are you looking to spend on the mould making material?

    Sorry perhaps I worded wrong. I used Amazing Mold Rubber, and the website listed on the box is who has a putty mold product. The website says the putty product can be baked, but says nothing about the rubber one. I tried go ogling for answers but everyone seems to be using resin, or another self hardening thing to pour into the molds, versus trying to melt something in the oven to fit in the molds like this. I do have resin, so I might try that at least for now, but I dunno about customizing then. :/

    Have you used any other plastics? Like would melted plastic bottles work?

    1 reply

    I don't think so. The plastic they use in bottles is different to beads. Heating up plastic bottles makes them burn and smoke, rather than melt!

    Really digging this idea. I wonder if you've tried any other dice shapes since this came out.
    To make it even more economical, I bet you could make the mould from some variant of oogoo. I'll actually be trying that in a few minutes.

    1 reply

    Thanks for the feedback! I've not tried any other dice since this project, but would love to try D10s or D20s. I like the idea of using oogoo to cast the moulds from. I guess it would come down to casting consistency and how high a temperature the oogoo could cope with. Post some photos and let me know how you get on!