Intro: The Traveler Shut the Box Game
A travel-sized version of Shut The Box has been on my project list for over a year, but I was indecisive on the design and materials. Sometimes (not all the time), I find that limitations can breed inspiration and creativity and in this instance, a 2x4 contest provided the necessary constraints.
A pine 2x4 answered my material question and the 3 1/2 width limited construction size ... unless I wanted to glue up panels ... which I didn't. All I needed for additional materials was the hardware ... 1/8" steel rod stock and a pack of flat washers.
Step 1: Milling the Parts
You can make this box a 27" long section of a 2x4, but I'd recommend giving yourself wiggle room. Alternately, you could use short sections (scraps or offcuts) if you don't care about continuous grain orientation on your box.
There are plenty of ways to dimension the parts, but the following was my process.
1. Cut off a 28" length of a 2x4.
2. With the board laying on it's wide face, trim just enough so that you have a nice flat edge (as opposed to the rounded factory edge).
3. Rotate the board 90 degrees and with the blade at 1/4" - 1/3" of the board's overall height, rip a groove down the middle on each side.
4. You could raise your blade to finish ripping this board, but I feel safer making the cut using the bandsaw. The top and bottom grooves made by the table saw blade help guide the bandsaw blade and in my opinion, reduce drift. I don't have a bandsaw fence and it my saw has a fair amount of drift.
5. Reduce the thickness of these two boards to 1/2". I removed the bulk of the material using the planer and finished with the drum sander.
One of these boards will become the sides of the box ... pick the one you like best and set it aside. We'll keep processing the other board.
6. Cut a 9" (minimum) length off of the second board and set it aside. This will become the tiles and tile rest. [See math at the bottom]
7. Re-saw remaining length of this board in half like before ... table saw, bandsaw, drum sander. You'll end up around 3/16".
One of these boards will become the top and bottom panels of your box ... pick the one you like best and set it aside.
8. Reduce the remaining board to the thickness of your table saw blade. This stock will be used for the miter splines, as well as spaces when separating the lid from the box.
Note: If you're batching these out, you wouldn't have as many processing steps per board. You could dedicate one 2x4 for box sides and another for the panels and splines. That could be more interesting if your 2x4 are noticeable different in color and grain for example.
Tile Material Math:
12 Tiles: 5/8" wide (.625) x 12 = 7.5"
11 Blade kerfs: 1/8" wide approx (.125) x 11 = 1.375"
Total = 8.875"
Step 2: Fabricating the Tile Board
First up are the tiles because their overall length determines the box dimensions. When possible, I cut my material larger than the final dimension so that I can fine tune them .... AKA - so I can screw up.
The tiles are coming from our 9" section of the 1/2" stock.
1. Rip the board to a width of 1 1/2". Set the cutoff aside as it will be used for the tile rest in a later step.
2. Set your blade to 3/8", orient the board so you are cutting into the narrow face, and rip a centered groove into one side of the board. Flip the board around and make another pass to center the groove. Adjust your fence and recut as necessary until you have a groove wide enough to accept the 1/8" steel rod.
3. With the steel rod in place, fill in the gap with a strip from your saw kerf stock. Glue and clamp.
Note: If this gap is wider than your saw kerf stock, you'll have to make your filler material from the tile cutoff.
My spring clamps left dents in the wood, so I had to run it through the sander to remove them. Learn from my mistake and don't use strong spring clamps.
4. Trim the board to an overall width of 1 1/4". For me, the center of the steel rod is 1/4" in from one edge. I made that cut first and then trimmed off the "top" to get my 1 1/4" width.
Step 3: Cutting the Individual Tiles
Next up is cutting the individual tiles. As long as you keep them in order after being cut, they will have that nice continuous grain look. I set all my small parts on a cookie sheet that I "borrowed" from the kitchen and destroyed years ago.
I cut the tiles to a width of 5/8" and I used a small cross cut sled and a 60 tooth combination blade to with very minimal tear out.
Once all the tiles were cut, I threaded them onto the steel rod with washers in between each. This measurement is my minimum internal box dimension. In my case, it ended up being 8 1/8".
Step 4: Box Sides With Continuous Grain
The sides of the box are ripped to a width of 2 1/8". I picked that during a mock up to keep things compact and it happened to work out. Set the cutoff aside in case you need it down the line for spines or the tile rest (you might mess up).
I used a shop built miter sled to cut my miters (obviously). They are built so that you cut one side or your joint on each side of the sled ensuring a perfect 90 degree corner. I make my first cut on the left and then the final dimension cut on the right ... so the right side has a stop block. I set this stop block for a length of 9 1/8"
Math: Necessary internal dimension of 8 1/8" + 1/2" stock on each side = 9 1/8"
Since I wanted continuous grain around my box and didn't want to have to reset this stop block, which would result in errors, I need a spacer so I could cut the short sides. For me that spacer was 5 1/16".
If you cut your initial 2x4 long, you can be somewhat selective of your starting point ... if not, just go with it.
1. Cut your first miter on the left side of the sled.
2. Move the board to the right side and cut the miter. This is your first long side.
3. Move the board back to the left side and you'll see the miter is backwards, so we need to true this up for the continuous grain. The pictures make this more clear.
4. Add the spacer block in from of the stop block and clamp it in place. Move the board to the right side and cut the miter. This is your first short side.
5. True up the miter for the continuous grain.
6. Remove the spacer block. Move the board to the right side and cut the miter. This is your second long side.
7. True up the miter for the continuous grain.
8. Add the spacer block in from of the stop block and clamp it in place. Move the board to the right side and cut the miter. This is your second short side.
Step 5: Grooves for Panels and Holes for the Steel Rod
These sides need grooves to accept the top and bottom panels. I went with 3/16" deep grooves ... so I set the blade height with my Wixey gauge.
I set my fence to 1/8" and made a first pass on each side of each section (for top and bottom panels). Pay attention so that you don't cut on the outside faces. It didn't happen to me, but it could easily happen. Also ... make the same cut in a test board.
With the first pass done, I nudged my fence and made a cuts in my test board until I got a perfect fit to the 3/16" panels. With the fence set, I ran each side of each section.
NOTE: If you decide to use a thinner acrylic for the top panel, which I did on a few boxes, you may not have to make the second cut for a wider groove.
Each side panel needs a hole to accept the 1/8" steel rod and it's gonna be easier to drill them now ... before the box is assembled.
My placement is 1" in from the back and 3/4" up from the bottom. I found this through some trial and error with mock up parts. It all depends on now the tiles rotate on the steel rod. If your tiles are thicker, sit higher, or sit lower, you may have to adjust the location of these holes.
With the placement marked, I started the holes with an awl and then drilled 1/4" deep with a 1/4" forstner bit. I then switched the bit to a 9/16" and finished drilling through the part. This will allow me to insert the rod and then plug the hole with a piece of 1/4" dowel. Another option would be to just use a bit large enough for the steel rod, leave the rod long, and sand it flush to the box.
Step 6: Top and Bottom Panels
The top and bottom panels are cut from the 3/16" stock we milled down earlier. Their width and length is cut to fit within the box. You can use a long side to find the length and a short side to find the width. For me that was 8 1/2" x 3 1/4"
I set up a stop block on the miter saw to make repetitive length cuts and then ripped them to width using the table saw.
Since I did make a few with acrylic top panels, I switched to an acrylic blade, used a sled to cut the length and then ripped the width against the fence.
Step 7: Glue Up
Glue up was pretty straight forward.
1. Lay out all the boards to ensure the continuous grain is in the correct order.
2. Connect them all with tape ... I used packing tape.
3. Mask the corners with tape to keep glue squeeze out off of the wood. This step was HUGE for me. My mock up was a gluey mess ... this resolved the issue. The box will be sealed, so you can't clean up the internal squeeze out.
4. Add glue to the miter joints.
5. Set the top and bottom panel into one of the long sides. You can let them free float, but I added some glue so they wouldn't rattle.
6. Wrap the sides around the panels and tape the last seam.
Tape would probably be a sufficient clamp, but I added a strap clamp for good measure.
Step 8: Miter Splines
I decided to add miter splines to strengthen the corners, as well as for visual interest. I used a shop built spline sled modeled after the American Eagle design.
I clamp a stop block to the back of the table saw, which keeps me from pushing the sled further than it needs to go. Next I set the fence on the jig. I wanted my spines 3/8" in from the edge. Lastly, run each corner through the saw.
From the stock I milled down to my blade kerf, I rip 3/4" strips using the table saw. Then I cut them into 1 3/4" long sections using the bandsaw. I spread glue on each spline using an acid brush (plumbing supply) and inserted them into each corner notch.
Since I had the glue out and a plethora of sawdust, I filled in any corner gaps I ran across.
Once the glue was dry, I cut most of the excess spline material using the bandsaw.
NOTE: Cut in from the corner to avoid blowing out/chipping out your spline. Ask me how I know? Yep .. I messed up.
I used the Oscillating Belt Sander to do most of the flushing up of the splines, but once I got them all close, I switched the the orbital sander to finish the job. The belt sander is aggressive and can really alter the shape of your box quickly.
Step 9: Lid Separation
To separate the lid from the box, I used the table saw. If you have a reliable bandsaw with a fence, you could use that, but my bandsaw has neither of those qualities.
1. Raise the blade just a bit past 1/2".
2. Set the fence to 1 1/8".
3. Set the bottom side of the box against the fence (I like the grain in a certain orientation).
4. Cut the groove through the short sides. Go slow ... I did get some tear out, but luckily it all stayed in the blade kerf area.
5. Cut through one long side.
6. Using some of your blade kerf stock, "shim" or fill the long side cut you just made.
7. Cut through the last long side. If you apply moderate holding pressure to the top, are careful and go slow ... no problems. If you squeeze too hard, you might get an angled, inaccurate cut. If you are loosey goosey, you could bind on the blade.
NOTE: If any of this makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe ... find another way.
Step 10: Tile Rest
You could leave the tiles as is and live a happy life, but I wanted them to sit level when shut. Most likely, you'll be able to use leftover blade kerf stock, but if not, use cutoffs from the tile block or sides. In my case, I need 1/8" in height and I made it from the side cutoffs (ripped on the table saw and then sanded to perfection). I ripped this stock into 3/8" strips and cut them to length using the small crosscut sled.
The tiles will determine your set off from the back edge ... since the corner needs to clear this rest. For me, that spacing was 7/8" and I made a spacer block using more side scrap. I spread glue on the tile rest, put my space block in place, and set the piece in place. I let the glue tack up a bit before removing the space and no clamps were necessary.
Step 11: Sanding
To remove the minimal tooling marks left by the table saw blade and flatten the mating surfaces of the box and lid, I ran them through the drum sander taking very light passes until the fit perfectly flush against each other. If you don't have a drum sander, you could attach some sand paper to a flat surface and move the piece across it like Danielson from the Karate Kid.
The box faces were already smooth from when I sanded the the miter splines flush, so I just broke all sharp edges by hand with 150 grit paper.
The tile faces were already smooth from the fabrication process, so I just broke all sharp edges by hand with 150 grit paper.
Step 12: Oiling
To bring out the depth in the grain, I oiled all the pieces with 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits.
Step 13: Numbering the Tiles
Initially, I wanted to apply the numbers using a toner transfer with acetone method, but my OCD was defeated. I couldn't see through the paper well enough to get the number centered and that just wasn't good enough.
However, I happened to have a stencil set from Micheal's and one of them was adequate in scale. I taped it to a piece of wood so I could get consistent vertical placement ... the wood became a fence basically.
Center your desired number and color it in. I tested with a fine tip sharpie, but there was too much bleed/dithering ... so I ended up using a mechanical pencil, which worked very well. A light coat of lacquer seals in the graphite and ensures no smudging.
Step 14: Lid Connection
There are endless options for lid attachment. I didn't want to use hinges and a latch because for one, I'm cheap, and for two, I wanted to more minimal look.
My first though was a short dowel/peg in each corner. Second thought was a single peg in each side. I decided on using dominos since I have the machine and I tend to use it for everything other than for what it was made. I used the 4mm cutter and Domino, which is about 3/4" in length.
1. Mask each short side of the box and lid with tape ... so as not to mark up the wood.
2. Mark the center ... I used a combination square.
3. For the Lids, I set the tool to the narrow setting (exact domino width) and a depth of 1/2".
4. For the boxes, I set the tool to the middle setting (wider slot) and a depth of 1/2" (it could be 1/4" if you desire)
NOTE: I cut the box grooves wider because I tried the exact setting and it wasn't working. Things either didn't line up perfectly or it was near impossible to remove the lid since it was so perfect and would bind.
NOTE 2: I cut the slots in the top and bottom of the box section ... you'll see at the end.
Dominos were glued into the lids and after I cleaned up the squeeze out, I used the box section to keep them aligned/straight as the glue dried.
Step 15: Finishing the Tiles and Interior
Finishing the interior of the game once assembled wouldn't be impossible, but it would be difficult and frustrating.
I applied two coats of spray lacquer to the tiles and the box.
You can see I actually made 6 boxes in order to show some variations.
Step 16: Felt Lining
I lined the box with felt from Michael's. You can get different colors and prints in 8 1/2" x 11 sheets. Basic felt is $0.39 each and the faux prints are $1.19 each.
For the featured box, I'm using a faux crocodile pattern.
I cut them to fit using a metal ruler for marking and my expensive (remember I'm cheap) scissors.
I tried adhering the felt to the wood with spray adhesive, but it didn't hold. Maybe because of the cold temps or because of the BLO. However ... hot glue was not defeated.
Lid Felt: 8 1/8" x 3 1/16"
Box/Tray Felt: 8 1/8" x 1 3/4"
Step 17: Assembly and Hole Plugging
Assembly is easy and rather quick.
1. Cut the steel rod to length - 8 5/8" in my case. I deburred the ends using the oscillating belt sander.
2. Insert the rod through one side, thread on a washer, then a tile, then repeat until ending with a washer.
NOTE: Pay attention to your number order. You won't be pleased if you have to redo it. Ask me how I know?
3. Thread the rod into the opposite hole.
To plug the holes, I used 1/4" dowel stock. I cut small sections off using the bandsaw, added a blop of glue, and smashed them in with a hammer .... don't smash them in ... go easy champ.
After the glue set, I sanded the excess plugs flush using the orbital sander. The oscillating belt sander was too aggressive. How do I know you ask?
You can probably guess that I sanded through some of the finish on the box sides doing this .. yep. I touched it and the new plugs up with the 50/50 BLO mix.
Step 18: Finishing
Once the touch up oil dried, I put the lids on all of the boxes and hit them with another coat of spray lacquer. This covered the oil touch up and made me feel better about everything basically.
Once the lacquer dried, I added a coat of paste wax and once it dried to a haze, buffed it out.
Just for fun ... the last picture in this section includes my box sides mock up, side mitering spacer, and tile rest spacer. I have to label them all or I'll forget by next week. I'll save these in case I ever make more of these games.
Step 19: Glamour Shots
There you go ... it started out a bit wordy with the milling process and it took a few step to get here, but now we have an addictive game. I took it to work and it has had non-stop action ... I'm a bit jealous really.
My variations included different felt colors and the wooden top panel vs. acrylic top panel. You could add paint or graphics (toner transfer or wood burning come to mind).
Since I glued the Dominos into the lid and cut slot into both the top and bottom of the box, you can "dock" the playing area on onto the lid .. but since I added felt to the lid, you can also use that as a dice tray.
Example: A table affords more room .. car or subway is less space.
You could scale the box up for 9 tiles and I've seen version with 2 rows of tiles.
Have fun with it and if you make one, stop back in with an "I made that" click and post a picture.
Long Sides: 9 1/16" x 1/2" x 2 1/8"
Short Sides: 4" x 1/2" x 2 1/8"
Top and Bottom Panels: 8 1/2" x 3 1/4" x 3/16" (1/8" for the acrylic)
Tiles: 1 1/4" x 5/8" x 1/2"
Tile Rest: 8 1/6" x 3/8" x 1/8"
Steel Rod: 1/8" Diameter x 8 5/8"
Step 20: The Build Video
Runner Up in the