Settlers of Catan - or cutting hexagons...

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24 Aug 2020
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So, I decided to make a wooden set of the hexagonal tiles for Settlers of Catan (for those who don't know, it is a very popular board game)
In the basic board (you can get extensions), there are 6 tile types for which I used 6 wood types - all 6mm planks as shown below
- Iron Ore - purpleheart
- Wood - teak
- Brick - mahogany
- Wheat - boxwood
- Sheep - sycamore
- Desert - lacewood

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I did lots of testing with my laser engraver and eventually went with outlines of the icons for each resource type / tile (laser is a Neje Master 2 20W)

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Then each tile was engraved onto the lengths of wood - in the background you can see the grid on the support board - the laser engraving software (lightburn) which is brilliant - has a grid of 1cm squares to make up the 170mm x 170mm engraving area - after working out where the engraver would sit on the board, I simply got it to engrave this grid onto the backing board and now I can line up the wood on the board and it pretty accurately lines up with the image in the engraving software - at some point I will get a camera added, but for now this works well...

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each board was then put through the bandsaw to do a rough cut close to the lines (I am not hugely accurate yet on the bandsaw!)
leaving lots of offcuts and sawdust (all hoovered up, and yes I have masks and air filtration in the workshop!)

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this then gave me a pile of 19 tiles across the 6 woods, all cut close to final. In the game, the tiles are randomised each time and then a set of numeric counters put on top in the same pattern (gives unique games), these counters are c25mm round cardboard disks - in the game they just sit on the cardboard hexagon, but I though I would recess the space for them to give a neater finish, and eventually I will cut some counters from 25mm dowelling and then engrave them with the numbers... You can see here the small cross on each tile as the drill locating spot... initially I drew a circle outline thinking that was the best option, but of course it makes it much harder to accurately drill out and leave no line behind - this means that the guide point vanishes with the waste material...

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here you can see a tile after the hole has been drilled - just down a couple of mm (on a 6mm piece the remaining 4mm means no structural weakness) - I need to sand down the interior - but drilled using a forstner bit at 25mm

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each piece was then taken to the belt / disk sander and sanded on 6 sides back to the line - I have an 80 grit on the disk and 240grit on the belt, so the waste material was removed on the disk and then a quick polish sanding on each side on the belt to 240 - every board was initially sanded to 400grit with a hand orbital sander before engraving - even though the engraving pretty much starts the construction process as you then use the engraved hexagon to make the pieces, you have to sand up front not at the end or you will lose detail from the engraving...

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so, the one main issue - sanding to the lines is not mm accurate - you can't use a fence for the first two sides as all 6 sides start irregular - one you have two you can use a 30 degree fence to guide the sides two on from each, and then those to guide the last sides... but ultimately it is done by eye, and while I improved there is irregularity... so to the big question...

bearing in mind all the above...
how would you accurately finish a hexagon and retain the exact shape - I have a number of hand tools - but they will have the same issue as above because I / my lack of experience or practice is the reason for the inaccuracies - for power tools I have the following:
- band saw (fence issue here / bandsaw doesn't cut exactly straight anyway)
- scroll saw (freehand, brings in my inaccuracies)
- jig saw (freehand again)
- mitre saw (not sure how I would do it and they seem very small pieces to trim on a mitre saw)
- router (not very experienced with it but I guess there could be an option for a jig of some type?)
- band and disk sander (my inaccuracy leads to the above results - could just keep on practising!)
- dremel (with router and other attachments - not sure how it would help!)

ultimately - the above pieces are still very nice - and once I have sanded inside the indent and then finished them with wax / lacquer / something they will be lovely to play with - but I would love to know how to cut hexagons accurately (and a CNC machine is not on the cards!) so any ideas would be welcome...
I'm sure more experienced people will have better ideas, but my approach would be to spend some time getting one piece exactly right and then use a router with a bearing guided bit to copy the shape of the first one (after sticking the first one to another one with some double-sided tape or similar).

To get the first one right, I'd make something very carefully with a 60° angle on it and use that as a fence to cut three sides of the hexagon (maybe with the sander?). The middle one of the three edges then dictates the size of the hexagon. Then use a fence to cut the other three sides parallel to the first one. Imagine the edges are numbered 1-6 and the first three edges you did were 1, 2 and 3 (with 2 being the middle one dictating the size of the hexagon). Start with side 1 against the fence and cut side 4. Keep tweaking the fence until side 3 is the same length as side 2 and then use the fence to cut the remaining sides.

If you want to ensure the laser marking is in the right place, then I'd tape a couple of bits of wood down to the laser marker as a reference and put the hexagons into it one at a time (rather than cutting the hexagons after laser marking) - that way you can concentrate on getting the hexagons regular and deal with the laser later.

With your set of power tools I'm not sure what the best option is for making the fence saw cuts though. I'd probably use my table saw and cross-cut sled, but that's not on your list. If you can mount your router upside-down (router table style) with a fence then that could work. It would also make it much easier (and safer) copying the shape with the bearing guided bit if you had the router upside down.
The laser engraver fascinates me (more please).
By eye (from the pics) the pieces look quite elegant.
Assuming the engraver gives you a (near as) good hexagon, your 30 deg fence is accurate (or can be set)
that drops the issue down to one straight face after the rough cut?
Shock horror - I'd suggest choose a side with the grain and hand plane it straight and accurately to the line.
Thank you both for two different suggestions...

if I engraved after making the pieces, in theory a 30deg / 60deg setting on the mitre saw could actually cut the items initially - one to play with on some scrap... will also have a look at the router - I think my lack of experience with that makes me cautious - I am very much a beginner with woodworking, so lots to learn!

hand planing it does make sense - though my skills there are probably lower than they should be, but actually I quite like the idea as it should be more controlled... however just to complicate things, I need to build a workbench to then add in the vice I have to then hold the piece of wood - maybe I should get that done before playing with the fun projects :) another one to explore though - thanks...

ref. laser engraver, not sure there is a lot to say as they are starting to mature in technology and becoming quite plug and play (in this section of the market - Diode lasers - once you get into CO2 and fibre lasers there is a lot more fettling or cost!) The laser is a Neje Master 2 20W -

you simply plug it into power and then a USB cable to your computer (mac or pc) I use a Mac Powerbook for convenience.
it comes with its own software which is very limited - you can basically drop in an image and choose power / speed to vary the effect... I bought Lightburn ($40) which is a mini version of Adobe Illustrator and it allows you to add in vectors / set layers and choose different power for different layers (so e.g. with thin wood you can engrave and then cut out - but not sure it will cut 6mm hardwood sadly!) - very powerful and flexible...
Can you be sure that one side of the hexagon is parallel to the edge of the board? If so you can use the edge as a reference for a jig to get some of the cuts accurate, then reference off those cut edges to get the rest done.

I am no expert on power tool usage & safety but I would have thought you could make your original cuts on your mitre saw when using the edge of the board as your reference edge. If the board is big enough the issue of the pieces being too small to hold safely would go away.

I might make up a quick & dirty shooting board at the correct angle to get things accurate with a hand plane.
As you are not doing hundreds I think you could make a shooting board that would enable you to work in stages from an accurate straight edge to complete hexagons. The wastage would be higher but the outcome more accurate. Let me have a play and see if I can sketch it out. Concept below, the first corner is an arbitrary distance from the 90° corner. Then once you have your first 60° corner you drop it into the second fence arrangement, and rotate until complete. I'd set it up so that the board would also work on the bandsaw, so the workflow is load piece, saw away waste, shoot the edge, rotate and repeat.


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Can you be sure that one side of the hexagon is parallel to the edge of the board?
In theory yes, as long as I line up the laser correctly which is reasonably easy... the boards are PAR so start pretty parallel...

shooting board seems interesting, would love to see what folks think up!
Have you a static disc sander?

Or a belt sander you could mount on its side.

Then you could make a table and a 30° jig that would ensure you have a perfect 60° to the next side.

That's the theory....

Looks good.

Whose going to make a ticket to ride board complete with tracks.....!

Cheers James
Have you a static disc sander?
Or a belt sander you could mount on its side.
Then you could make a table and a 30° jig that would ensure you have a perfect 60° to the next side.
That's the theory....
Looks good.
Whose going to make a ticket to ride board complete with tracks.....!
Cheers James

I have a bench mounted disk / belt sander which has a mitre on the front table which allows 30 / 60 degrees - however, there is no first accurate side from which to take the next sides, and in fact it is a cheap one where the setup is probably not really as accurate as I would like... how were you thinking that a jig would help?

ticket to ride - on the list, but I might need to learn marquetry first - so it might be a long way down the list for now :)
Can you not take it from the first side sanded?

Work your way round?
However if your 30° is out you will get compounded inaccurate angles.

Perhaps go from either side so you limit any inaccuracies.

Well above my pay grade I'm afraid!

Cheers James
sadly above mine as well - the bench sander has a fence you can set to 30 degrees but I think there are few boundaries that limit my incompetence! So I wasn't getting fully accurate sanding - need to practise I think...
intriguing and worth looking at...

even better is the video linked to at the end of that one - how to do it with a simple stop on the mitre saw (which I do have!) - worth trying...
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If you look at the last video, on the third cut of each hexagon there is a gap to the stop., mitre saws are notoriously inaccurate. For example you it's very difficult to cut the four mitre corners of a frame on one and have no gaps, you need to go to a shooting board for this. Once you try to tesselate the hexagons from the mitre saw the combined errors will add up. The table saw option stands a chance as the blade is fixed in it's plane, where as the mitre saw has flex.

I actually think your first set are a darn good effort.

thank you - good spot... will try it tonight, so see how mine does... I think that you are right (as are other above), a shooting board may be best... but I like playing with machinery as well :)

thank you for your kind comment on my first set - I am not unhappy with them and they did improve as I started to progress through the stack - over 100 sides to sand they started to get better! but I would still like perfection!!!
as per Dr Al above my instinct would be to do it with a router and template, I'd give the template a couple if wings for speed, giving you the means to quickly screw the template to the ply, they can then be cut off afterwards and sanded back to the line

I love the fact that there are so many creative options! Thank you Farm Labourer - a kind offer but I already have a master it is partly the small size of the pieces which makes it more challenging...

I tried the suggestion in the video above on the mitre saw and it works well - in fact as I already have the card template you don’t need to do any measuring - cut the stop at 30deg, drop the blade down (off) and place the template by it and then the stop the other side and clamp the stop... then for the wood to cut - trim from the corner at 30deg to get the first side to go against the stop and then just go from there... It works well but I am not confident handling the mitre saw with small pieces which can’t easily be clamped down...

So I looked again at why the sanding hadn’t worked as well as I thought... and I think I was possibly being silly - as you can see from the photo below of the sandpaper - the piece that was on the disk on the bench sander was in poor condition and not sanding at all in the middle section - this meant that to sand the whole side I was having to move the piece left and right on the sander - introducing variability and my tilting it slightly off the sander at the end - giving a non accurate end result... so I have replaced the sanding disk, reset the mitre and tested it - giving I think a much better finish... so I will probably try some pieces like that (as well as having a go at some of the suggestions above!)

I'd probably find a friend who can cut you a perfect hex on a CNC router and then use that as a template to refine blanks you've roughly cut with a saw using a bearing guided cutter on a router table.
Or someone to engineer a perfect hex out of thin steel which you can then clamp down and use as guide for a marking knife. You could then use whatever process you want to finish up to the cut line

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