Dealing up a new project

Just before Christmas, I teased that there was a new Five Minute Project in the works.  It turned out to be significantly longer than five minutes.  True to my usual form, the project ended up taking the better part of two days.  To be completely honest, though, there were three boxes going at the same time, so that dragged it out a bit.  And I was prototyping as I built – not always a good idea, but I was out of time.

The project this time around was a Poker box, based inside a cigar box.  I made the interior chip separators to fit into the cigar boxes, which I found at a local smoke shop.  In addition to selling the cigars individually, this place also sells the boxes once they’re empty.  I can’t speak to all the smoke shops out there, but this one has several boxes available, from the simple cardboard tray-like box to massive constructs of coated and enameled materials.  (That particular box was offered for $75, and close to five cubic feet of space.  While I want it for personal reasons, I will have to hope that another opportunity comes around to find another.  Or make one…)

Here you can see the box we are starting from.  The brand of cigar inspired this build.  While I was considering printing off instructions on how to play Baccarat, the printer was unavailable for this period forcing me to go to a different plan.  In the end, I went with a generic poker box, something to hold a deck (or two?) of cards and a set of chips.  The chip rack is intended to be removed from the box, so you can store your hard-earned winnings inside the box, or whatever you wish to do.

There were three different boxes made, and I ended up lining them all in different color felt.  Here’s an example of the interior box completed, with cards and chips included.  You can see the basic design is the four stacks by the various colors.  The felt added to the dimensions, more than I had planned on.  So the first one to be covered in felt (the red one), was the last one engineered to the space available.  When you lay these out, include the felt in your measurements.

To do this project, you’ll some simple tools.  The next two photos show the majority of the tools you will need.  The full list is a tape measure capable of measuring three feet, a ruler or measuring device for six inches that will double as a straight edge for cutting and layout, a marking device like a pen (I chose a Zebra brand fine-point ball point pen), a knife of some form (my choice of a pocket knife is acceptable, but anything sharp will do), a whet stone (to sharpen the knife back into sharp edge usefulness), spray adhesive such as 3M’s 77 Adhesive, and a pair of cuticle scissors.  My pair has flares at the end of the blades and is curved, but the flares are not essential.  The curve is very useful, though.

The materials you will use are a cigar box, spray adhesive, one piece of foam core board (I started with a two by three foot board, and got all three out of one sheet), and some felt. You can find many of these as craft pieces pre-cut, or you can purchase them from a fabric shop in a whole sheet.  I’d recommend going through the scrap piles, because you won’t need a full yard of felt.  I didn’t measure the exact pieces, but I’d guess that I used two square feet of felt on these.  (The third one I did used two different colors.  This was less due to material shortage and more to not enough visibility inside the tray due to the base color chosen.)  Lastly, you’ll need a work surface.  Mine happened to be a storage tote and a two-by-two sheet of quarter inch plywood.  (I also used the better part of a roll of craft paper when spraying most of the glue to protect the work surface – and the area around the work surface, since I was doing this in a living space instead of a work space.  I do recommend it at the gluing stage.)


Lastly, you’ll need a plan.  Doesn’t have to be fancy, doesn’t have to be precise, but it does have to give you an idea of what and how you are going to build.  For this, you’ll have the benefit of my design to copy, but if you choose to alter it, take a couple of moments to lay out a couple of options.  Here, you can see that literally this is a back-of-the-envelope design.  Everything fit onto one small corner, but that’s also because I write smaller from habit.

Start by measuring the interior of the box. You’ll need the side to side measurement (width), front to back measurement (height), and bottom to top of the lip measurement (depth).  The depth of the box is one you can fudge a little larger if you need, because the box top will close over it.  Unless you pick a box that doesn’t have a lip, that is.  The critical dimensions are the width and height, because that is the maximum you will have to work with.  Perhaps more critical is the dimension of the poker chip; laying out a pair of chips in the box will determine if you build this style of tray, or another.  Factor in another quarter of an inch for the center divider.  Subtract a quarter of an inch (five millimeters) from the dimensions for the felt, another quarter inch for the foam board (per side), and then subtract a little more so you can remove the rack from the interior.  You are talking a sixteenth of an inch or two for spacing, so it might be easier to round to the nearest hash mark on the ruler.

baccarat-box-fiveThe first piece to mark and cut is the bottom.  This will guide the rest of the pieces you cut, so take some time to make sure your cutting edge is sharp.  The way I designed the tray is that the center pieces were formed by a half lap that crosses in the middle, supported by the base to hold the entire tray in alignment.  The weight of the chips will be held by the tray; tape and the felt will keep it in place once you are done.

baccarat-box-sevenBase the width of the center pieces off the dimensions of the base.  Remember that you need to include felt on the _outside_ of the tray.  These two pieces are going to need cuts in the middle equal to slightly more than half of the panel’s depth, on opposite edges.  If you use the factory edge – the manufacturer’s straight cuts on the edges – for the exterior edges, you will be cutting into one of them only for these half-lap cuts.  Take your time, and use a straight edge.  Mark your cuts before you start – one side piece I marked only one cut and missed a bit.


You will end up with three pieces at this point.  I opted to cut holes in the base to feed the center through, but you may not need to.  I was considering adding wire, paper clips, or toothpicks through the tabs on the center pieces to lock the pieces in, but that ended up not being needed.  You will need to trim the bottom of the center dividers to fit through these slots, though.  Take some care when measuring, as you will apply felt to the entire piece afterwards: you don’t want chips to slide through anywhere.

Now is a good time to lay out the sides, so assemble what you have.  I used tape as a temporary layout tool, but it wasn’t part of the final build, so I didn’t list it in the tools. You can have several different styles of connecting the sides, but the one I found easiest was another version of the half lap.  The side will get one cut into it, and then you remove either the top or the bottom depending on which side of the piece you are on.  I would recommend that you alternate cut sides, so that the pieces are all uniform: the top section on the left and the bottom section on the right, for example.


Numbering the sides

You will also need to mark out tabs and slots in the middle of the piece to align and wrap the sides around the center piece.  This also means you need to mark appropriate notches and tabs into the center dividers.  Save yourself some frustration now and mark everything which side it is.  I marked things 1 through 4, marking the underside of the base, the bottom of the center dividers, and the bottom of the sides.  Also mark which edge is going to be the front, so you can assemble the completed box without frustration later.

Once you have all the tabs and notches cut, do a dry assembly and dry fit.  Put your tray together, then put it inside the box.  You want to see if it fits before you spray the glue and attach the felt because it is easier to trim the pieces now.  You might end up trimming the sides down at this stage, particularly if you only went off the dimensions of the base and did something other than the two-tab approach.  You will notice in my photos that I have extra tabs at the bottom of the side pieces to fit into the base: this was more for layout guiding that rigidity, so that I could ensure things remained as square as possible.

Stop and take some extra time to make sure your knife edge is sharp.  During the cutting process, I had to sharpen my knife blade five or six times.  This was partially because I had three of these to do, and partially because I don’t sharpen my blade with oil or water.  This is not the recommended approach, but the stone I was using was the one I take camping, where I cannot guarantee I’ll be around either oil or water, so I don’t want to get the stone set for one or the other.  A diamond plate sharpening system would work better for this plan, but I don’t have one.  If you are using something like an X-acto knife, or a razor blade, your cutting edge will last longer, so you might not have to worry about sharpening.  If you do discover your blade is dull, simply swap to another blade.  Once you finish dry assembly, you will be looking at cutting felt.  If you are comfortable using the same blade, go ahead.  I switched to scissors for speed (and because felt dulls my knife faster).

Now, lay out the first piece of felt.  If your felt comes pre-cut, start with the center dividers and lay the corner of the felt where the tab becomes the rest of the divider.  You’ll end up folding the felt over the center divider, and have extra at the bottom.  I spent quite a bit of time on later versions trying to tape and protect the dividers from spray adhesive; save yourself some hassle and cut the felt to size before spraying it.  By taping the ends of the tabs, I could insert them into the slots later, but removing the tape also removed the paper face of the foam core board. I might try covering the ends of the tabs with temporary note sheets like Post-Its when spraying the glue – your mileage may vary.

This is the time consuming part.  Read the directions on the can of spray adhesive.  Mine indicated doing this in a well-ventilated area – something I skipped and regretted.  Also, once you start spraying, you have some time to wait for the spray to become tacky before you can glue the two pieces together.  If you have another project component you can work on in the meantime, this will speed up your project.  Otherwise, you’ll have between five and fifteen minutes once you spray the glue before you can work with the parts.

Cover your workspace so felt and foam do not stick to the overspray.  If you have a dedicated work surface for gluing, great.  If not, some disposable paper covering works great: newspaper, craft paper, or an old table cloth you aren’t going to use any more.  Starting with the center dividers, lay out the felt and one panel, spray them both, and wait.  To check if they are ready to merge, tap the back of one knuckle to the spray.  If the knuckle comes away wet, wait some more.  If the knuckle is tacky and the pieces stick slightly (only slightly, mind), you’re ready to work with them.  Flip the foam over, and carefully lay the tab just off the end of the felt.

You’ll spread the felt with even pressure from your fingers to avoid wrinkles or bubbles.  You don’t have to spray the back of the foam at this point, but if you chose to do so it will be another few moments.  Keeping the felt taught on the table, roll the foam board up and over to create a flat surface.  Again, spread out wrinkles with your fingers.  You may have to trim some of the felt due to stretching: use your cuticle scissors to do so.  The curved edge helps you get close to the end without cutting too far.

These scissors will also help you cut out where the slots are inside the panel.  One cut down the center of the slot was usually enough to cut the felt, and then the flared ends helped me push the felt into the corners of the slot.  The curved edges also helped rub the felt down to fit the slot sides, but don’t press so hard you start to pull fibers from the felt.  Take the scissors to the corners of the slot cuts at the top, and trim just a little off the ends.  This will help it lay flat against the other side.  If you see foam, you cut too deeply – a little scrap piece of felt will help hide that.

Watching Glue Dry

My suggestion is that you start spraying the next piece you want to cover with felt once the first side has been glued down to the divider.  That way, the glue has time to set up while you are working on the layout and trimming away the excess felt.  Cutting the slots in the felt after gluing it together works out better than trying to line up the slots beforehand, because you may end up stretching the felt slightly when applying it.  From here on out, it’s a matter of spray, wait, apply, trim, and repeat.  Except for the base, both sides of the foam core board will be covered.  (You could cover the bottom of the bottom, but then you’d lose the layout markers you’ve already created.)

baccarat-box-thirteenThe last step is the one I had more issues with.  Applying felt to the sides to wrap around the edges required turning the tray with felt drooping over the edges trying to stick to anything it wanted.  Only spray the felt at this stage, as glue overspray on the felt does not come out.  (There are chemicals you can use to clean overspray if you do accidentally get glue on the felt.  They are not worth the time or expense for this project, so save yourself a measure of effort by not spraying the nearly completed tray.)  Also, if you haven’t already started to build this, remember to flip the paper to fresh areas when you are putting new felt down, so the overspray glue doesn’t stick to or mess up the new felt.

The sides are going to be measured out as best you can.  If you have pre-cut pieces, try to get the ends to meet in the middle of a side face.  Avoid the temptation to meet in the corners, because you will want a little overlap of felt to lock the two side pieces together and strengthen that corner joint. (This is why that simple two-tab joint works better.)  You’ll want the top edge of the felt to overlap slightly into the tray, but cut the felt so you can wrap the felt over the top edge and around the divider supports.  If you have two colors of felt, trim off the excess tab.  Otherwise, use the cuticle scissors to rub the felt down and adhere to the foam and corners.  Trim the corners to take out the little tufts, and rub them down.  Don’t worry too much about covering the bottom edge, because again the felt will help lock the joint into place.  You may have to move your “front” marker at this point, but that’s the most you’ll have to do.  (It won’t really matter if you cover up the 1-4 markings, because the tray is fully assembled at this point.)

Now, fill the divider with chips, and insert into the box.  Congratulations!  You’ve got a poker night box!

You can choose to “jazz up” your design if you want, with swoops and curves so you can reach in and get chips.  The one drawback to this design, which I discovered after the felt had gone on and the tray put into the box, is that removing chips is not easy.  Putting a curve into the center of the side panels should help with that, but gluing the felt will become much more complex.  I leave it to you to adjust the design as you need, but I do plan on experimenting with a few design modifications at a later date.

Including ventilation time, and breaks for pet interaction (she was smart enough to avoid the area when the adhesive was being sprayed), three of these took me just over eight hours.  Again, considering I did not have a plan when starting this, I am not complaining.  Hopefully, the designs I offer will speed your project into something resembling sixty minutes or so.  Not exactly five minutes, but simple enough to fill an evening before the gang comes over for card night.


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