A whole new way to play classic hangman.
Challenge your friends. Choose a word, phrase or riddle. Play on the glowing glass board and watch the frustration on their faces grow as the hangman slowly snaps together.
My goal was to make an attractive and unique, 3-dimensional game, that while played the same, provides a much different, I would like to say ‘richer’, experience. Players have the puzzle in front of them at all times, so no more holding up of notepads, and when they get it wrong, they see the hangman come together piece by piece. Everything is built so that it comes apart and can be packed away.
The game consists of two main parts, The Hangman/Gallows, and the Gameboard.
The Hangman and Gallows, are cut and hand-carved from basswood, and are magnetically connected using rare-earth magnets.
The Gameboard is etched glass, set in a wood base and edge-lit with led strip lights. A whiteboard marker is used to write on it.
Before I start, I thought I might give some quick background reasoning.
This winter, I fell off a roof. While performing that age-old tradition of shovelling snow off a roof, the ladder gave out and down I went, shattering my heel. So I had a lot of time on my hands and very limited mobility. Which is when I rediscovered my carving knives. Couple that with waking up from a night of playing “drinking hangman” and Hangman 3D was born.
Step 1: Materials
Hangman + Gallows
- Basswood block, approx. 6”x 3.5”x 14.5” - $12
- Neodymium Rare earth magnets (27) - $10-20
- Wood Glue - $7
- 5 Min Epoxy - <$2 (had no problem with the dollar store brand)
- Stain (American walnut) - $8 (with lots of leftover)
- Finish (Clear coat Varathane aerosol)
- Make-up sponges - $1.25 (again the dollar store. make a day of it)
- Piece of thick glass, approx. 12” x 12” or bigger - $0-15 (depending where you buy or salvage it)
- Block of poplar, 4” x 4” x (1.5x the length of your glass) - <$8
- Length of 12v led strip lights, as long as your glass. <$1.50 (I bought 15ft for <$20 and still have 14 to play with)
- 12v transformer - $0-8
- Switch (optional) - $0-5
- Small Project Box (optional) - $0-5
- Length of wire (a few feet is plenty) - steal it from something
- Heat-shrink tubing - $5 (for a big variety pack)
- Glass etching cream - $20
- Adhesive-backed Vinyl (drawer liner) - $1.25
- Gelatin powder - $3
- Black rubber or strong foam, approx. 1/8” thick - $4 (from a sewing or upholstery store)
- Paint brush
- Assorted small scrap wood pieces and wood screws (for glue jigs)
- Wood Stain - Clear coat protective finish spray (Varathane)
- Tape (masking or painters tape)
The poplar can be any wood, but you want something light-coloured, straight grained and knot free, so that it closely matches the basswood, especially for finishing.
Pretty much any 12v transformer will do, as the led strip is so short it draws very little power, my lights are 8” long and use less then 100mA, so I used my smallest transformer at 250mA.
The switch is optional. I salvaged mine from a floor lamp. Really any switch will do, but consider how you will install it and aesthetics. I embedded mine into the wood base, so I wanted something black and clean, which set in near flush.
The project box (optional) is for hiding the wiring if you are using a switch. Otherwise not really needed. I used a 2-AA battery holder box I got at a dollar store with some string lights.
Step 2: Tools
- Wood carving knife (you can get by with one sharp one, I used two, a fixed blade and replaceable inside curve or hook blade)
- Fine tooth saw, preferably a coping saw as the thin blade and clearance gives you a lot of flexibility and control
- Table saw
- Vice and/or clamps
- Sandpaper, variety between #80-#400, (wet/dry sandpaper works great as it is strong, but you can always glue extra paper to the back of your sandpaper)
- Drill + drill bits
- Soldering Iron
Extra Tools - that come in handy
- Band saw
- Drill press
- Mitre box for hand saw
- Fine file or triangle file
- Rotary tool and cutting bits
- Compound saw
Step 3: Hangman - Creating the Figure
Hangman - Figure
The hangman figure is carved from a single block of wood. I found this to be the best way since you always have lots of material to hold while carving and it ensures parts and joints fit perfectly after you cut them apart.
First, either free-hand draw the figure onto the block or you can find a figure online, print it and trace or glue it on the block. I did this using both front and side profiles of my figure. Next, cut away all of the excess material around your figure. Use the table saw to cut down your block to just what is needed. This leaves you enough excess material to build the gallows later. Finally cut away the remaining material around the figure, being careful not to get to close to your lines. If you have one, a band saw does this job best; otherwise your coping saw will work fine.
Now carve. This is a gradual, but really enjoyable process. I am an amateur carver, so I will give you some of my own amateur tips. For further knowledge check out Beginning carving, or this instructable.
-I like to keep a reference image(s) handy that I regularly refer to as I carve.
-I also continuously use a pencil to mark my carving, identifying the lines of the shoulders or where thighs and calves meet. This helps to maintain shape and proportion.
-Don’t forget to step back. It is really easy to get caught up carving one area just right, and before you know it, it is a lot smaller than everything else. I fell into a rhythm of carving everything a bit and moving on, so that no one area of the figure was considerably ahead of the rest.
-Since this was new to me, I choose to start carving the shape of the figure right away, (the roundness of the limbs, the curve of the thighs) which meant I quickly had a figure with 2x thick limbs as desired, which I then carved down to final size. I am sure a good carver could comfortably strip away a lot more material quickly, taking it down to near final size before shaping it, but this way worked well as it allowed me to get a feel for the knife and the wood, make mistakes and almost create a practice figure.
Sand your figure starting with 80 grit and work up. (Save your sanding dust! It is handy later.) An 80 grit can take off a lot of soft basswood in a hurry though, but is excellent for quickly smoothing up rounds like the shoulders. It is going to be difficult, but critical to sand with the grain, I realize that is standard, but basswood is so soft and light grained sanding marks really stand out in finishing. Also, since this is a 3D figure in solid wood, you are going to be sanding end grain, edge grain and face grain all blending into one another. Heck, the head is pretty much a sphere. If anyone has some great tips for this, I would really appreciate them. I have heard a few carvers say that sanding is the price you pay for the joy of carving.
Separating the figure
Carve as much as you can before separating the limbs, the more finished it is, the better the joints will line up and the less ‘eye-balling’ you will have to do later.
To separate, first mark all your cuts on the figure, making them as straight and symmetrical as possible. Secure the figure in your vice or with clamps, using a towel/blanket to protect the wood. Carefully cut your lines, making sure to keep an eye on where the blade is on both sides of the figure as you go. Sand your cuts with sandpaper on a block, being careful not to sand too much or to change the angle of the cut, regularly check your joint and make sure the pieces still match up nicely.
Step 4: Hangman - Embed the Magnets
Embed the magnets
Each joint consists of two magnets, one in each of the parts being connected. You want to mount the magnets flush to the surface, as close to the center of the joint as you can. You also need to make sure the position of one magnet exactly corresponds to the other on the piece being connected. For example, if you are joining the arm to the shoulder and one magnet gets set too far forward, the magnets will want to come together, which means your arm will be shifted forward and no longer line up. I did it before I found a better way, and ended up carving out my hole till it was right and filling in the gap later.
Drilling the holes is easiest done with a drill press, but a drill works fine, you just have to clamp the piece down (tricky for the hands). Get a drill bit the same diameter as your magnets and another very small bit, like 5/64. Mark your hole on one of your pieces; drill a pilot hole with your small bit and then drill to your magnet diameter. This helps prevent the bit from travelling. Drill as perpendicular to the face as possible, so the magnet will sit flush. Set in your magnet, checking the depth. If it is good, snap on a second magnet and cover the top of it with pencil or sharpie. Now you can put the two pieces together just how they should fit, and the second magnet will transfer a mark onto the undrilled piece, giving you an exact drill mark.
Shallow holes mean the magnets sit proud and the joints can’t come together right, so this is one case where too deep is better. If you drill to deep, there are 2 options. First, these magnets are strong, they don’t need to make direct contact and you can get away with a little gap. Second, if you are like me and that just doesn’t feel right to you, you saved your sanding dust, so just shove it in and pack it down.
The last step is to glue them all in using epoxy. Elastic bands are your clamps and Que tips without the tip mix and apply the epoxy easily. My own hard-learned experience says don’t expect to glue them all at once; epoxy doesn’t have a very long working time. Also glue one side of each joint first, and then come back for the second. Each magnet has 2 poles, so accidentally gluing a magnet backwards means your joint now repels. You can just use a marker to identify the sides and avoid it though.
(To reduce cost you can get steel rod the same diameter as your magnets and cut little discs the same size using a hacksaw and file. I tested this and it works, but it is a much weaker connection.)
Step 5: The Gallows
I designed the gallows based on the finished dimensions of my hangman figure, and the left over basswood stock. The base is 3.5”w x 8”l x 3”t and the post stands 15” above it. As my hangman stands 11.25” tall, that gave be 3.75” for the noose and the space below the figure. Everything is joined with butt joints using wood glue. The base is a simple rectangle with the legs glued to it and one 3/16” thick piece making up the plank deck. I created the plank grooves in the top using a v-chisel, but it can be done with your carving knife and a square, making angled slices. The post is reinforced with 4 angled pieces cut at 45 degrees. This is where a mitre box comes in handy, but it can be done carefully using your square as a guide. Regular clamping doesn’t really working for something this size, so make your own gluing jig using some scrap wood. Any scrap with straight edges works, but you do want one board around 10” x 10” to use as a base. Screw down 2 pieces onto your base to make a 90 degree corner and set on the pieces to be glued. Screw on additional scrap wherever needed to attach clamps and keep your pieces tight and in place while the glue dries. For gluing the angled pieces, use the cut-offs leftover from when you cut them to press the joints together, since they are already 45 degrees. I then embedded 4 magnets into the post and stand to connect them, which might have been over kill, but it is definitely a strong connection.
The noose is carved in the same fashion as the figure, except it is made of 2 pieces and glued together after carving. The rope grooves were hand drawn and cut using a fine file but they can also be done using the carving knife and some 80-grit paper. Do not worry about sanding the grooves excessively, as they will stain darker and add a nice effect. I started with a 3/8” noose loop and then created concaves for the head and neck to fit into. This lets you keep the proportions of your figure (no stretched neck) and ensures the hangman snaps together just right every time. I used a rotary tool with a small cutting bit to create the hollows, as it was much faster than hand carving. To create the fit between the noose and the figure, use a test, cut and retest system. Coat your figure in chalk and press it onto the noose, the transferred chalk lets you know where you need to cut further. When done, mark where your magnet will go and drill a hole right through, so that the head and the torso snap to the different sides of the magnet in the noose.
Step 6: Finishing
Finishing is tricky, and I definitely did not get it how I hoped I would. I am now happy with it, and have plans to add a final touch to the figure in the near future.
Basswood is really prone to blotching and the figure is a whole combination of grain on top of that, so prepping the wood is necessary. After a bunch of research, I carved out some test pieces and tried a few things that I had on hand. I did read great things about Charles Neil’s Blotch Control, but I didn’t have the time or money to try it. Instead I tested basic wood conditioner, spray matte varnish, thinned lacquer, and my eventual choice, DIY gelatin sizing. Gelatin sizing is similar to hide glue sizing, a traditional way of conditioning wood and paper, but gelatin can be found at any grocery store, unlike hide glue. It leaves a thin coat of what is essentially glue all over the wood which controls stain penetration. I went with a 3.5% mix, which was a 7g packet into 200ml of water (g to ml is really 1:1 when dealing with water). Mix it together, let stand over night, and then heat it on your stove using a double boiler to about 120F. Use a cloth and wipe a thin coat onto your wood. When it dries, the hot water will have raised hairs all over your piece, sand them down using a 400-grit paper gently; you do not want to remove the sizing.
This is where the magnets come in handy, you can use anything metal at your disposal to snap your pieces onto so that you won’t leave marks when sizing or staining. It doesn’t even have to be scrap, just throw down some wax paper onto the metal first to prevent messes. I grabbed a handful of screws and snapped them onto my pieces to use as handles while finishing, and then just set them into a block of wood I had drilled holes into, leaving them to dry. For the block I made up some pointed risers that just slot together and come apart for storage.
I stained my game using American Walnut, but go with whatever suits your fancy. I have also noticed many carvers use oil paints in washes, to achieve any colour and still show the wood grain. To apply the stain, I have to recommend make-up sponges, easily found at any dollar store. Just dip it in your stain, dab it on a rag until close to dry, and pat it onto your wood. You get great control and can achieve a very even coating. I also noticed that due to the sizing, what stain goes on with your first coat, is pretty much it. Second coats do not seem to really add or darken the color. If you need to, you might have to spend some time and sand it down. If anyone knows a trick for this, I would love it if they shared.
For the final protective layer I used Varathane spray in a satin finish, and applied 5 very thin coats.
Step 7: The Gameboard - Glass
The gameboard consists of etched glass set into a wood base. It is edge-lit with led strip lights. I broke it down into 3 parts, the glass, base and wiring.
Pretty much any type of glass will work, but you do want something thick, as it is going to need to take some force. Glass shelves ‘harvested’ from furniture and entertainment units work great.
(I imagine that’s the origin of my glass, spending its days as part of some modern shelf unit. It might have been charged with holding up some silver picture frames. Or possibly even something as important as the router?)
I was immediately hooked on the shape of the trapezoid, which I got from the local ReStore, a source for reuse and salvage; I bought 3 pcs for $4.
Design your gameboard using the dimensions of your glass. Don’t forget that the bottom inch approx. will be hidden in the base that holds it, so leave room at the bottom. I designed mine using Illustrator. I found the font online, called Basic Font, and the blanks are just underscores. After changing everything to outlines, I sent it to my local printers to be cut in vinyl for $10. There are lots of ways it can be done, even using Publisher, saved as a pdf and printed as a multi-page poster. You can then glue the paper to your dollar store drawer liner vinyl and cut everything out with a craft knife or swivel knife. I did this for my test piece and the etching came out nearly the same as the bought vinyl. Cutting out the vinyl is easy if you have spare piece of glass you can tape or temporarily glue your vinyl down to. The hard surface makes cutting curves easier.
Stick your vinyl stencil to your glass and rub it down so it is well adhered using the backing paper you removed. It is very slick so you can really press down without damaging the vinyl. When you are ready to etch, definitely follow the manufacturer’s instructions, as it is really corrosive. I accidentally left a rag with cream on it lying on the concrete floor overnight and it had eaten away a decent spot by the morning. In general, good ventilation, gloves, eye protection and make sure you have water and your cleaning station nearby. Apply the cream using a paintbrush and get it on thick, you shouldn’t be able to see glass where you want to etch. Wait 5 minutes and wash it all off. It seems to take a couple minutes for the etching to really show, but that is it. Now just keep it safe while you build everything else.
Step 8: The Gameboard - Base
My base was a lot more complicated then it had to be, a lot. When it came time to make the base I refused to buy any more materials, we were trying to clean out a lot of scrap from the shop, and I had these bits of 1.5” square stock poplar lying around so I made it work. My design for the base called for sloped sides so that at the top it was the exact same length as the glass at that point. The base similarly had to be the same length as the top edge of the glass. I felt this created a nice sense of symmetry and balance. This meant that my ends needed to be cut at 31.7 degrees, and the sides at 58.3 degrees.
Here is the easier way. Make a block with 45 degree ends and sides angles that allow for the widest base possible.
-Joint and/or glue up a 4” x 4” block using 4 lengths of 2x2 or 2 - 2x4, (I’m using these as they are common sizes).
-To cut the groove for the glass, measure the thickness of your light strip and subtract it from the thickness of your block, then divide that number by two. That is how far to set your table saw fence away from the inside of the saw blade. Raise your blade up to cut at least a 5/8” dado, the deeper you can go, the more surface to hold the glass. Run your piece through the saw, flip it and run it again. You now have a dado the thickness of your lights and you just need to move the fence away enough to cut out the remaining material in the middle.
(Block width – Light strip width)/2 = distance from fence to inside edge of saw blade.
-To cut the side angles take the width of your light strip and add a ½” (this will give you ¼” on either side of your dado). Subtract that number from the width of your block and then divide the result by 2. Set your fence to this distance and make a mark on the fence at the same height as your block. Now you can just raise your table saw blade up and angle it until it just touches that mark, which sets your angle. Move the fence away and set it to the full width of your block. Raise the blade up just a bit so that it will clear your material without changing the angle. Now you can run your block through, flip it and run it again, cutting both side angles.
-To cut the end angles measure the thickness of your block and add twice that number to the length of your glass, which is how long your block needs to be. What I mean is, if you are using full 4/4 lumber, your base will be almost 4”, if you are using standard 2x2 or 2x4, you might only have 3”. In either case to cut a 45-degree angle, your height and length must be the same. That way, when you cut your ends using your square, mitre box, or the best your mitre saw, the top will be exactly the same length as your glass and will taper down at 45-degrees from there.
Length of base = Length of glass + 2(height of block)
Step 9: The Gameboard - Wiring the Lights
I won’t go into great detail regarding wiring the led strip lights, but instead refer you to a couple of instructables, and there are tons more I’m sure you know.
To choose a power supply, here is my quick math I used:
I have a 12v Led light strip
It uses 24w/5 meters or for 300 leds.
24w/300 = 0.08w per led
Using 12 leds = 12*0.08 = 0.96 w
Power (Watts) = Voltage (volts) X Current (amps)
0.96 = 12*(amps)
amps = 0.08 or 80 mA
Therefore I needed: 12vdc, <1w, >80mA.
I choose a 12vdc / 250mA supply.
I hope this is right as this is a newer area for me, but it seems to work well.
To choose a switch I didn’t need to worry much about its rating, as the lights are such a low draw, instead I went for aesthetics, choosing one that was satin black to match my finish, with a rocker and low profile. Also important is that it has a lip to it at the top, so that any imperfections in your cuts will be hidden. I got my hacksaw and salvaged it from an old lamp, so it is a 2-terminal, 10A-125VAC.
I soldered all of my connections and then covered them with heat shrink tubing.
To install the lighting into the block measure the distance from the center of your light strip to the point where the connecting wires can comfortably bend down at 90-degrees, measure off the centre of the block that distance and drill a hole straight down using a bit much smaller then the size of your glass groove. You don’t want to accidentally wreck your groove. You should be able to drill right through to the bottom, at which point you can drill from the bottom up until you reach your groove bottom, using a bit large enough to accommodate the wires (I used a 5/16” bit).
-For all your drilling, I found it really useful to wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit to mark your depth distances, stopping when you reach the tape. I had a drill press but found this was just faster then setting it to depths over and over.
To create the groove for the ‘IN’ wire from your power supply
Raise your table saw up to 1/8”, pencil a stop mark on your fence so you cut far enough that the power line will meet the hole going up to your light strip and set your fence to half the base width (minus 1/16” to be precise, to acknowledge blade thickness). Run your block through up to your mark to create a centered groove for the ‘IN’ power line.
At this point, if you don’t want a switch or are using an in line switch such as from a lamp, then you can just connect the wires from the light to the power supply line and fit it into the groove you made.
If you are using a switch like I did, then you need to mark out where you want the switch to go. I got pretty precise with this part, trying to measure in 64ths, but you really don’t need to. Instead, measure and mark it out as close as you can easily and then cut it out smaller. You can gradually enlarge your hole, testing the fit as you go until it slides in snug. Drill a hole big enough for your wires running from the bottom of your switch hole towards your connection point.
If you are using a switch, then you will likely need the project box to contain the excess wire needed to make connections. Measure your box and mark it out on the bottom of your base where all the wires will connect. Chisel or carve out the space so the box will sit flush with the bottom. Again this is where taping a depth to your drill is great. Mark the depth of your box on the bit and drill a whole bunch of holes in the wood to be chiselled out. This makes removing the wood easier, and gives you an idea of when you have reached your needed depth. To feed the wires into to box, just fit it into place and drill through your holes one more time.
Wire everything up
Install the lights, switch, power ‘In’ line and project box (after staining and finishing) and connect everything.
Power supply Hot - Switch
Light strip Hot - Switch
Power supply Neutral – Light strip Neutral
The final step is to mount rubber or a similar material into each side of the glass groove to hold the glass gameboard in place snugly. This is needed because most likely your led light strip is a lot thicker then your glass is. Cut the strips just wide enough that they sit flush with top of the base, and glue in place, using scrap wood, cardboard and/or cardstock to wedge in and apply pressure. You will likely have to do one side at a time.
Step 10: Hangman 3D - Finished
Finally it is time.
Fit in the glass, snap your hangman together, plug it in and take a second to sit back and enjoy. Or if you are like me, you are already sitting, because my foot really hurts, ha. Grab yourself a whiteboard marker and have fun. I am healed enough that I can get around with a cane, so I think I am going to go build something bigger this time.
Thank you so much for reading my first instructable. Any tips, advice or criticism are always appreciated.
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