Intro: Zebrawood and Brass Dice Tower
We make lots of tabletop gaming/rpg/DnD type of projects and one of our favorites is this Zebrawood and Brass Dice Tower! This was a really fun project that showcases some woodworking, a little brass work, custom dowels and a wet ink transfer technique to make the tavern-style hanging sign. We were inspired by a lot of the amazing dice towers online, particularly a design from Geek Chic, and we wanted to build our own! This is definitely nota minimalist, simple approach to a Dice Tower...in fact, it's completely over the top and ridiculous. But it's awesome!
What is a Dice Tower?
A dice tower is a tabletop gaming accessory where you put your dice in the top, they clink down through the tower, and roll out the bottom with a random roll. It helps to randomize the dice rolls and also is just a lot of fun.
It's a great thing to have around your gaming table if you play a lot of tabletop board games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) or other games that roll a lot of dice. Rolling dice is one of the best parts of any tabletop rpg but it's fairly common for dice to fall off the table, knock things over, or land in a place where the result is hard for everyone to see. The dice tower not only looks awesome but it helps you keep your rolls on the table.
Also if you get a bad roll, it's not your fault...it's the dice tower's fault. :)
- Waterlox Finish
- Wood Glue
- Super Glue
- Blue Tape
- Drill Press
- Coping Saw
- Hand File
Step 1: Milling the Zebrawood!
The first step was milling the zebrawood. Milling is the process of taking rough lumber and getting it flat, straight, and square so it can be cut to final size and you can cut your joinery.
We started with a piece of 4/4 zebrawood from the lumberyard, (roughly an inch thick), and we roughly cross cut it to size. The wood grain was running diagonally down the board so we used a paper template cut close to our final size and loosely traced it on the board at the angle of the grain. From there we used the bandsaw to cut off the wedges which resulted in two boards where the grain runs straight. This will make it look 17.43% more awesome.
Next we used the jointer to make one face of the boards flat and one of the perpendicular edges straight and square to that flat face. From there we used the bandsaw to resaw the two boards directly in half, resulting in four boards that were a little less than 1/2" thick.
The two pieces go through the thickness planer a few times to bring the thickness to 3/8". The planer also makes both faces perfectly parallel.
At the tablesaw, the jointed/straight edge goes against the fence and the opposite edge is ripped to the final width of 4". Now both faces and both edges are perfectly straight, parallel, and square!
Lastly, at the tablesaw using a crosscut sled we square up one end of the four upper walls and then trim them to their final length of 8". This whole process is repeated for one more board that is 2" wide that is used for the outer walls.
Step 2: The Joinery! Miters!
The four upper walls are joined together using miter joints, which are 45 degree cuts that come together to make a 90 corner. It's important that they are cut accurately or the four pieces won't go together well.
On the tablesaw we set our blade to exactly 45 degrees and the used a custom zero clearance insert. The zero clearance insert is the piece of wood around the blade in the picture. Normally these inserts have a larger gap around the blade, so the "zero clearance" means there is no space between the blade and the wood. This is useful so that the small off-cuts don't fall down the space between the blade and get jammed, which can be super dangerous.
We ripped 45 degree miters on both sides of all four upper walls. Then we used a crosscut sled that is setup for miters to cut the 45 degree miters on the outer wall pieces.
These would have been usable right there, but for that extra little bit of accuracy we use a shooting board setup for miters and a very sharp hand plane to take a couple of shavings and ensure the miters are perfect.
Step 3: The Front Door and Outer Wall Battlements!
On the piece that we chose for the front, we measured and drew up a small door and then cut it out. For the curve on the top we used a coping saw and then a hand file to clean it up.
The outer wall pieces have a notch cut out of them so that was just a couple quick cuts on the bandsaw.
For the battlements on the outer walls, we measured out where we wanted them to go, then used the tablesaw to cut out all the notches. This was done by putting in a rip cut blade which has a flat top, so that we can run the piece back and forth and remove the cut outs from the battlements. A hand chisel is used to clean up any saw marks.
Step 4: The Glue Up!
Next we did a quick dry fit using blue painters tape to ensure everything was fitting together. All was well, and looking super cool...so we moved on with the glue up!
To glue up the four upper walls, they get laid down side-by-side and blue tape is used to hold them together. We're careful here to align the bottom using a straight edge so they're all lined up properly. They then get flipped over and wood glue is applied to the joints and then the four walls are put together and the final two are taped together using another piece of blue painters tape. The blue tape is very strong and will hold this nicely until the glue dries. The video shows this in more detail as it's easier to see it happening visually.
The same technique is applied to glue up the three outer wall pieces.
Step 5: The Walnut Splines!
Miters are awesome looking but in some cases are not super strong because you're gluing end-grain to end-grain. The end-grain of the wood absorbs a lot of glue and the joint isn't as strong as normal. To help with that we can reinforce the miters with splines, which are cut across the joints and provide a lot of extra strength.
We use a jig on the tablesaw that holds the tower diagonally and then it passes over the blade to cut two notches in each corner.
For the splines themselves, we used Walnut. It's a slight contrast to the Zebrawood and looks really good alongside it. We ripped down a piece of walnut to be about the same thickness as the notches, dialed it in to fit with some sandpaper and then the splines are cut to size and glued in.
Once the glue was dry we then use a sharp chisel to get the splines flushed up and ready for sanding.
Another quick thing we did at this point now that the upper walls all glued together, was to use some of that same walnut to cut a piece for the 45 degree ramp that goes inside the tower.
Step 6: The Dowels!
The dowels inside the tower are there so that the dice bounce around inside on their way down. We used walnut for the dowels and ended up making our own! To do this we take a piece of 3/8" x 3/8" walnut, put it in a drill, and drill it through a dowel plate.
They're somewhat randomly placed but we made sure there were enough on each side so it's balanced and looks good. We drilled the 3/8" holes using a forstner drill bit on the drill press so that the holes are clean without any tear out.
The dowels were then cut to size (random lengths) and wood glued in place, leaving about 1/8" inch on the outside. We then cut some small brass plugs from a 3/8" brass dowel and super glued them into the space left on the outside.
Step 7: The Waterlox Finish!
With everything glued up and in place, the next step was a LOT of sanding. This took a long time because the brass needed to be sanded down to be flush with the wood. The brass sands a lot slower than the wood so this took a while. We sanded up to 220 grit with a random orbital sander and then used a hand sanding block for the final 320 grit.
After the 320 grit, a bit of water was sprayed onto the surface to raise the grain. Once it dried we hit it one more time with 320 grit by hand. The first time water or something moist is applied to the grain after sanding it will raise the fibers up and reduce some of the smoothness of the wood. By doing this with water and then sanding it back down, we ensure that when the finish hits the wood it will remain smooth. Simple and effective.
We used Waterlox to finish the tower, which is a really great looking finish that we applied with a foam brush. It takes about 24 hours per coat but after three coats it looks AWESOME. Again, totally overkill for this but overkill is what this project was all about.
Step 8: The Tavern-style Sign and Final Details!
To make the hanging sign, Jaimie used a 'wet ink transfer' technique. It's explained in great detail in the video, but essentially she printed the image in reverse onto freezer paper and then she pressed it onto a piece of bass wood to transfer the ink back to it. The freezer paper keeps the ink wet for a very short time so you can transfer it. Very cool!
We made a signpost using the dowel-making method and then hung the sign using some metal wire. We also glued in the ramp at this point! The ramp is at about 45 degrees so the dice roll out the front.
The last step was to glue the outer walls to the tower.
There are a ton of amazing and simple dice tower tutorials on the internet. This is an example of a ridiculously over the top way to do it but that was exactly our goal: to make something really, really nice. We were not let down with the end result. It's truly a dice tower that is ready for some epic adventures.
Thanks for reading! Interested in seeing more of our stuff?