How to make Dice from a pen blank?

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Forum topic by Nold posted 01-25-2013 09:36 AM 2068 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9 posts in 1948 days

01-25-2013 09:36 AM

Not sure if this is the correct forum for a question…. I have been lurking on the forums for a few days, looking for an answer, but can’t seem to find one. I recently found a website that makes beautiful dice from exotic woods. Because of the pricetag I have decided to venture out and make my own!

As I have very limited tools ( drill, circular saw, table saw, miter saw, and various other small tools) AND limited woodworking experience, I am trying to figure out the best way to make accurate, functional dice. – These would be what I am starting with. A normal dice is 16mm x 16mm x 16mm. I would be buying a 3/4×3/4×5” piece and at least make 4 dice to start. Until I get more comfortable cutting, I will probably stick with 3/4” dice to start.

I have a few questions!!!!!

#1 I am curious if these blanks come perfectly square. If not, I assume I could use the table saw to cut them and make them square? #2 This is my BIGGEST question. Most dice have tapered edges. Some more so than others. I only want a very slight taper on the edges, much like these How can I achieve this taper on a consistant basis? Sure I could simply sand the corner a tad, but I want them to be as uniform as possible.

Thank you all for the help!

13 replies so far

View Swyftfeet's profile


170 posts in 2170 days

#1 posted 01-25-2013 03:37 PM

I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I think its highly unlikely that you could build to the tolerances that are required without CNC machinery. Not saying you can’t but be prepared to spend a lot of time making fire pellets. Just creating the jigs req’d would burn thru the cost of several sets.

-- Brian

View Rex B's profile

Rex B

320 posts in 2250 days

#2 posted 01-25-2013 03:44 PM

I respectfully disagree with Brian’s statement. I don’t think there are any terribly tight tolerances involved in making small cubes. Cut the blanks to square with your table saw, crosscut cubes off with a table saw sled and a stop block, then chamfer the edges by hand with a file. The hardest part will be figuring out the best method for drilling the divots, but I don’t think they need to be absolutely perfect; a hand drill should work.

-- Rex

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2110 days

#3 posted 01-25-2013 03:55 PM

I can’t answer either of your questions.

I have turned pens, but I never checked the blank to see if it was perfectly square since I would be turning it round. All I needed was the approximate center to drill the hole. Find a pen turning forum and ask if someone would check their store bought blanks. Trying to square them up will change the size and make any template you make to position the holes problematic.

Using my drill press and an Incra positioner & fence I have made many a domino sets. With my setup (as long as I don’t raise or lower the table) I can get accuracy of close to a thousandth of an inch. Which is well within the tolerance for a domino.

If it is necessary to have the precision of a mill to get the holes accuracy positioned, there are low cost (<1000) dollar mills out there. This would only be cost effective if you intend to manufacture many dice.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View bbasiaga's profile


1233 posts in 1994 days

#4 posted 01-25-2013 03:55 PM

To get the chamfers right, you could maybe make a v-shaped trough (I’m thinking two pieces of thin plywood joined at a 45 to make a V shape, then the ends capped off with more plywood in order to make it more solid).

Cut the bottom of the V off to make a slot. WHen you put your dice cube in there, the sharp edge would stick though, and you could file it back to level with the slot. That would take the same amount off each one, as long as you were careful about not filing down the jig itself.

I was also thinking you could get a center punch and use it to create the divots. Depends on the wood though. Some wood will split before it dents. Whatever you do, drill or punch them before you round off he corners. It’ll be nice to have a sharp edge with which to align a template.

Your first set won’t be peftect, but don’t let that stop you. They’ll still look awesome and be functional.


-- Part of engineering is to know when to put your calculator down and pick up your tools.

View Kazooman's profile


1006 posts in 1951 days

#5 posted 01-25-2013 03:56 PM

Cutting cubes would be easy. Making dice that are properly balanced so they are give truly random results would be more of a challenge.

View Elizabeth's profile


817 posts in 3143 days

#6 posted 01-25-2013 04:29 PM

I don’t know if they’re perfectly square but the PennStateInd blanks are pretty darn square. I’ve stacked them in cubes and rubber banded them together for storage and I don’t notice any weirdness to the resulting large rectangle-cubes.

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2146 days

#7 posted 01-25-2013 04:55 PM

Pen blanks are going to vary in terms of squareness, so you’re going to need to judge that on a case by case basis. For easing the edges, I’d suggest one of these:,42524

View Swyftfeet's profile


170 posts in 2170 days

#8 posted 01-25-2013 05:09 PM

I’m sorry I glossed over where he was doing six siders… I thought he was going for Polyhedrals

-- Brian

View Nold's profile


9 posts in 1948 days

#9 posted 01-25-2013 05:31 PM

I’m not making casino dice here so being 100% random won’t be a terribly HUGE deal. I imagine once you cut the holes, the sides are no longer 100% the same so right there will take away from 100% randomness.

The “V” shape method sounds like it will work perfectly. I was thinking of clamping a small stop to the disc sander so I can get the same taper every time.

For the holes, I was going to use a drill press, marking the hole positions ahead of time using a micrometer and straight edge. Great advice about punching the holes before tapering the edges!!!
The punch idea sounds WAY easer as well! I’ll try this on my first batch to see how the wood responds. I could also possibly use a wood burner and burn

The cornering tool,42524 do you think it would do well on such a small scale?

I have ordered just some stardard hardwood pen blanks. Very cheap around 7usd for 10 5” pieces. SUPER excited to get started!

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2146 days

#10 posted 01-25-2013 08:14 PM

I would use that tool to ease the corners before you cut up the pen blank. It would be easier that way.

View Cygnwulf's profile


30 posts in 2123 days

#11 posted 01-26-2013 08:11 PM

You would still need to ease the newly cut corners after cutting the cube from bhe blank, might as well do it all once you’re done.
I would go so far as to try to make a jig to clam your drill in to. Chuck a sanding drum below the gap in the V shaped trough, and have everything held in position where it doesn’t move. That way you don’t have the problem of accidentally filing away the back part of your jig, the fixed sides will always hold the cube in the same spot with relation to the drum
Also, I wouldn’t count on the pen blanks being square enough, i’ve found myself that they can be slightly rectulangar. A better bet would be to set up your table saw to cut strips from a larger board, say a 3×3 turning blank. Cut a 3/4 X 3 strip from one side, then turn that strip and cut it in to 4 parts. The first one might be square or might not, be sure to check it, and the last one will be scrap, but that would give you two 3/4×3/4 blanks that are as square as your tools can make them. Then, without moving any of your setup, you can turn those long blanks and then cut cubes from them and know that they are as close as possible to the other dimmensions. Be sure to use a small parts sled with hold downs and stops on it, you will not be able to hold any of these peices with your fingers.
Once all of that is done you will have to sand them, be very careful at this point not to remove more from one side than another.
As for pips, the only things I can think of are either the drill press, or even a pin-vise with a largish bit chucked in it.

-- Stephen H -- If it ain't broke, it probalby still needs fixing....

View ScottinTexas's profile


108 posts in 1947 days

#12 posted 01-26-2013 09:19 PM

I wonder if the “pips” could be pressed in rather than cut? Perhaps that would work better. I’m picturing a metal die (in the general sence – a die die :-) ) that would have the cooresponding bumps for the pips (nips?) and you could use a vice to push the imprint in to the face. Ideally, this die would have four edges that hold the square blank in place and centered. If you had this, that process would go very fast and would be consistent. But to make one ( though I’m sure they exist somewhere, I guess you could take a die (dice kind of “die”) and make an imprint in clay. Then make a plaster mold of that. Then smelt the metal and cast it. But you would need something harder than lead – maybe tin? I don’t know – I’m just brainstorming here.

Or I guess a punch would work – much simpler to start with. I see that was already mentioned. Probably wouldn’t want to use a hammer – just press firmly.

View Nold's profile


9 posts in 1948 days

#13 posted 01-28-2013 05:23 PM

Wood should be here this week. Just realized I have no REAL workbench to put my sander on/ do any work on. Gonna have to whip something up this week before I get started.

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