Making a Board Game on the lathe

In a recent post I mentioned I had made a Quarto Board Game for a friend of mine.  It is made from walnut and oak that he sent me.  It was a fun project and was done almost entirely on the lathe.  I used a table saw to cut the stave sections for the sides of the box, and a drill press for the inlays on the top.

This is an article on how I made the board game.  The techniques here could be adapted for a number of different games.  You can download a copy of the rules for Quarto here.



This is the wood that I received from him.  The first step was to mark out how I was going to use the  pieces and to calculate the size of the pieces I needed for the stave construction of the sides of the box.  I used a program I downloaded from  Tutorials, Projects & Tips section of Woodturner’s Resource.


After milling some of the oak pieces using my jointer and planer, I set the angle of my table saw blade using my Wixley Digital Angle Gauge.



The next step was to cut them to length.  I use a fence clamp and a scrap block of wood to offset the table saw fence so that the pieces do not get trapped between the blade and fence as I am crosscutting them.


The last piece is cut using a stop block on my crosscut sled as it was to short to hold safely any other way.


A dry test fit to check that all the joints were nice and tight.


I then laid the pieces flat, end to end, and placed a strip of clear packing tape over them.


Then I flipped it over so the packing tape was on the bottom, applied glue to all the joints, rolled the tube up and clamped it using a couple of Merle clamps.  These are awesome clamps for this sort of work, they have flexible jaw inserts and the banding is steel.  You can also get extra jaw inserts and add as necessary depending on how many corners the piece you are clamping has.



Once the glue was dry I turned a groove in a piece of 3/4” plywood so that the piece fitted snugly in the groove, centering it on the lathe.  The plywood is attached to the lathe with a scrap peice of wood that had been turned true and tapped using my Beall Spindle Tap.  The piece was glued to the plywood.




I then trued the piece on both the outside and inside and cut a shallow groove into which the lid of the box would be glued.  I also parted the box sides off.  I did not part all the way through using my parting tool.  I finished the parting cut off with the lathe off using a hand saw.  Note:  don’t discard the section that is left still attached to the plywood!!  This will be used later.



Using my band saw I cut both the top and bottom walnut pieces round.  I mounted the piece that was to be the bottom of the box on the lathe, turned it true and turned a tenon on one side.  This side would be the outside of the box.



I turned the piece around and flattened the side and turned a recess in it that matched the groove turned in the box side.  As this side would be the inside of the box I sanded it at this point.  Once it was glued to the sides of the box it would be difficult to sand it.



The bottom piece was then glued to the sides of the box.


Once the glue was dry it was put back on the lathe by mounting the tenon on the bottom in my chuck.  A groove was then cut in the box side where the top piece would be glued in.


The piece of walnut that was to be the box top was then mounted on another chuck, put on the lathe and trued up.  The side towards the tailstock would be on the inside of the box so it was turned flat and sanded.  A recess was cut that was a snug fit to the groove turned on the box sides.


The top was then glued to the box sides.


Once the glue was dry I attached the chuck back on the lathe, brought the tail stock and parted the lid off.  Once again, I did not part all the way through using my parting tool.  I finished the parting cut off with the lathe off using a hand saw.


The lid was then mounted in a chuck and a recess turned.


Then the base of the box was mounted in a chuck and a groove turned so that the lid was a snug fit.  The second picture shows the test fit.  I’m fortunate to have two chucks, so that made this whole process a bit easier and more accurate.



The lid was then mounted in the lathe and the base fitted to it.  Because of the size of the box and the fact that I did not try and get a super snug fit of the lid, I taped the joint with a couple of wraps of masking tape.  I also brought the tailstock up while I finished most of the bottom of the box.  I sanded the bottom and turned some details on the bottom so that if ever another woodturner picked it up they would know that I knew how to finish the bottom of a piece 🙂



Remember the plywood with the stave off cut from earlier that I didn’t throw away?  This was then mounted on the lathe and a recess turned in it so that the lid could be fitted to it for finishing.  I made this a nice snug fit.  With the tailstock up I finished off the majority of the top of the lid.  Then I moved the tailstock out of the way and carefully removed the tenon and sanded the top of the lid.



After much head scratching I figured out how to lay out 16 small circles symmetrically inside of one big circle.  I did this on some scrap plywood and it took a while!  I’ll try and recall how I did it and explain it:

  • Draw a circle that is the same diameter as the lid
  • Draw a circle with the same center that is about 1/2” less in diameter.  This is going to be the circle that contains the pattern.
  • Set the compass to the same diameter that the inlay pieces are going to be and draw four circles, one on each of the lines, so that the outside of that circle touches the outside of the circle that will contain the pattern.  Circles 1 through 4.
  • Draw a square joining the center of circles 1 through 4.
  • Layout circles 5 through 12 so that the are equidistant.  i.e the gaps between circles 1 &5, 5 & 6 and 6 & 2 are all equal.
  • Draw horizontal and vertical lines connecting the centers of those circles.
  • Where those lines intersect will determine the center of circles 13 through 16.  i.e the intersection of the line between 12 and 7 and the line between 5 and 10 will be the center of circle 13.

Sounds pretty simple now, but it took a couple of scrap pieces of plywood to figure that out!!

Then transfer the pattern to the lid of the box.



Then I took the lid to the drill press and drilled holes about an 1/8” deep using a forstner bit.  I used the stop on my drill press so that the holes were all the same depth.  As the lid was still attached to the plywood with a tenon on the other side I cut up some scrap two by fours and used them to hold the lid steady and level.  I took my time, doing this, knowing it would really ruin my day if I drilled a recess in the wrong spot.


I then mounted a piece of oak in a chuck, flattened the end and using calipers turned it to the same diameter that of the forstner bit I had used to drill the recess in the lid.  I mounted it in the same orientation as I would a bowl blank so that when the inlays were parted off the face grain would be showing in the lid.  After each piece was parted off, I did a dry test fit and then glued the inlay into the lid.  I took care not to use a lot of glue as there was no place for any excess glue to go.





Once all the glue had dried, the lid was mounted back on the lathe and the protruding inlays were turned down.  The lid was turned flat and sanded.



With the box complete, it was time to make all the pieces.  I needed a total of 16 pieces.  Each piece needed to have one of each of four attributes.  It needed to be tall or short, light or dark, square or round, solid or hollow.  For example the piece shown in the drill press is tall, light (oak), square and hollow (the 1/4” deep hole).  The piece shown on the lathe a couple of pictures later is tall, light (oak), round and hollow.

So I needed 4 short oak pieces, 4 short walnut pieces, 4 tall oak pieces and 4 tall walnut pieces.

Four of the short pieces (two oak and two walnut) would be square and four of the tall pieces (two oak and two walnut) would be round.

Four of the short pieces (one round oak, one square oak, one round walnut and one square walnut) would be hollow and four of the tall pieces (one round oak, one square oak, one round walnut and one square walnut) would be solid.

Simple, hey?

First they were milled and cut to size.  Half of the pieces would be completed on the table saw and the other half would be completed on the lathe.  Those that were to be square and finished on the table saw were cut to final size.  The half that were to be round and would be completed on the lathe were cut about 3/4” to long to allow room to grip them in a chuck.


Using a crosscut sled, a stop block and a pencil with an eraser to hold the pieces while cutting, a decorative groove was cut in each of the square pieces.  No prizes for guessing that I watched David Marks in Woodworks!


The edges of each piece were then rounded over at the router table using a scrap piece of MDF as a backer block.


Finally two of the tall pieces and two of the short pieces were held in my pen drilling vice and a 1/4” hole drilled in the top of each piece.  I finally found a use for the pen drilling vice!!


A similar procedure was done to the remaining pieces on the lathe.  The decorative groove was made with a parting tool and the 1/4” deep hole was drilled on the lathe.



The final step was to apply the finish to the box and pieces.