Making Floor Dominoes with Guest Poster Dave Owen
posted on September 13, 2010 by Kim Adams

Editor's note: We are thrilled to have one of our favorite guest posters, Dave Owen, back with a tutorial on his latest LumberJocks project, "Floor Dominoes"! He first posted pictures on his gallery over at LumberJocks.com last week, and they were wildly popular, with many of Dave's fellow 'Jocks asking for instructions. You've got 'em here first, folks! A huge thanks to Dave Owen for sharing this project with us. I'm guessing there will be lots and lots of sets of Floor Dominoes under the trees this year!

A few additional notes:
  • We have inserted product links into Dave's article - not to imply that he used all Rockler products, but to make it easy for our readers to find all the tools and finishes that Dave mentions on our website
  • If you aren't feeling quite up to this size project, be sure to check out the Rockler Domino Templates for making regular-sized double-six dominos
  • This post is considerably longer than our usual posts, but we think you'll find it well worth it! Enjoy!
  • I call this set "Floor Dominoes" since they are much too large to use on most tables. The following tells how I made them, and some of the things I learned while doing so.

    Set size: I chose to make a double-nine set rather than a double-six set, even though more than twice the work was involved. The reason is that a double-six set has 28 pieces and 168 pips, while a double-nine set has 55 pieces and 495 pips.

    Wood selection: Wooden dominoes are not for the "serious" domino player since irregularities in wood color, grain, and construction make them easy to "read". This problem is relatively unimportant for this kind of set, but can be minimized by selecting wood as nearly uniform as possible, and by using care when making them. My first set was pine and unfortunately warped and did not machine well. This second set was made from scrap Philippine mahogany, and while not the ideal wood, it was both stable and light weight, and turned out to be quite satisfactory.

    Domino size: A domino is normally twice as long as it is wide - making a square of each end. These dominoes are 2-3/4" x 5-1/2" x 5/8", but I could have made them any size. I should note at this point, that the size of the pips has a significant bearing on the size of the domino. Pips are laid out on a square grid with nine possible pip positions, and the size must be adequate to accommodate not only for the pips, but also for the space between pips and around the perimeter. I used AutoCAD to try out various pip sizes and spaces before I settled on a size. Following is a close-up photo of the "3-7" domino.

    Pip cutter: A core box router bit would make a pip similar in shape to that used in most dominoes. This would likely work well with a plunge router and a template, but perhaps because my bit was dull - or that I was using a drill press - or the pine was too soft - or more likely all of the above, it simply didn't work well for me. The pip holes had both rough bottoms and rough edges — leading me to switch to a Forstner bit and colored dots.

    Coloring pips: If I had been successful in cutting smooth, accurate pips with a router bit, I could either have left the pits natural or painted them. While thinking about making pips this way, I found the easiest way to color round-bottom pips was to paint the pits quickly - with little concern about mis-placed paint around the edges. After the paint dried thoroughly, it would have been a simple matter to re-sand the faces to remove the excess paint. With good pip holes, this would have worked nicely, and would likely have been about as fast as the flat-bottomed holes and colored paper dots system I used.

    Cutting blanks: For a number of reasons, cutting accuracy is very important when making domino blanks. In addition to needing to be identical in size, blanks must also be perfectly square in order to have accurate alignment of the pips. When cutting the blanks, I made a number of extra blanks beyond the 55 for the set for test purposes, and to have matching blanks available if needed for replacement.

    Division line: I cut my division line on a table saw using a 1/8" blade, but for a more finished look, a "V"-shaped router bit could have been used. I made the division cut after all pip holes were drilled, but before sanding.

    Drilling: My layout and drilling method is simple, but difficult to describe — but I'll try. A drill press, a fence, two fence stops, and four identical drilling "spacers" are required. Before starting the actual drilling setup, I marked (as accurately as possible) the exact drilling center of the pip on one end of what would become the "1-1" domino. No further layout marks were required.

    Spacer blocks, the width of the combination of a pip diameter plus the space between pips, is what makes it work. Since my pips were 1/2" in diameter with 1/4" space between, my spacers were 3/4" wide. Except for convenience, spacer height was unimportant, but the length was about the same dimension as a domino width.

    After making the spacers, the next step was to establish the fence location. First, I tightened a 1/2" sharp-pointed Forstner bit into the drill press chuck and lowered it so the point barely cleared the marked domino blank. Then two end to end spacers were placed between the marked blank and the fence. The sole purpose of this step was to make certain the fence was located so that the point of the bit would fall along the exact longitudinal centerline of the blank. The marked domino was held snugly against the spacers and fence while moving the fence until the sharp point was directly above the pip mark. The fence was not tightly clamped until the domino was turned end for end several times to fine tune the centering.

    The next two steps established locations of the fence stops. With the rear spacers still in place and the mark directly beneath the point, I located one stop by putting a spacer between the long end of the domino and a stop while centering the sharp point of the bit directly above my pip mark. After turning the domino end for end, the second stop was located in the same manner. With the setup complete, every hole for either double-six or double-nine sets can be drilled by moving only spacer blocks. Neither the fence nor the stops will require further relocation. The dominoes also do not require clamping while drilling. Simply hold the domino firmly against the fence, stops, and guides. For one final test of my setup alignment, in a spare blank I drilled all 18 holes for a "9-9" domino.

    If the above is confusing, perhaps the following drawings will help.

    This method of spacing and drilling will work with dominoes of any size, and I thought it was reasonably fast. Drilling all 495 holes for my double-nine set took about an hour and a half. The following picture shows the entire set after drilling.

    Routing: Domino edges and corners need to be softened. I used a 1/8" roundover rather than a larger one to retain as much of the flat edge as possible. A chamfer bit would also have worked well. I completed all routing and division cutting before sanding.

    Sanding: Even with a sharp blade, some sanding was necessary. Faces and backs had to be sanded individually, but edges were sanded about a dozen at a time. I did this by carefully aligning and clamping the dominoes together and using an electric finish sander. I was careful not to round over the end dominos — but in retrospect, it would have been a good idea to use spare blanks at each end of the queue to eliminate that problem.

    Finishing: I knew that "floor dominoes" would get rough use, so I chose to use a penetrating finish (Danish Oil) rather than a surface finish. Tung oil or any other penetrating finish would have worked as well.

    Paper pips: I used AutoCAD to lay out and print sheets of various colored dots on heavy, matt-surface presentation paper. Rows of dots about 5/8" in diameter allowed a little tolerance while cutting out finished dots with a 1/2" paper punch. I liked being able to choose the exact colors I wanted, but I could just as well have simply cut the pip circles out of heavy colored paper. I applied casters or wheels — a rope handled, open-top "box" — a wooden wagon — etc.

    Shortly after completing the dominoes I had a number of visitors. It was a pleasant surprise to find that both adults and children enjoyed playing with them. Any toy or game project that is well enjoyed is worth the effort. I hope this information will be helpful to anyone who would like to make a set. If there are any questions, please post them.

    About Dave Owen:
    Dave Owen is a 79 year-old retired Architect who lives in Florida. The cutie-patootie in the first picture is one of Dave's five great-grandchildren! You can find more of Dave's woodworking ideas in his blog on LumberJocks.com as well as in two previous guest posts for Buzz Saw, Woodworker shares a *few* new uses for the Universal Fence Clamp and Even more new ideas for Rockler Universal Fence Clamps.

    posted on September 13, 2010 by Kim Adams
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    Comments

    One thought on “Making Floor Dominoes with Guest Poster Dave Owen”

    • dave brook

      I think your idea of spacers and turning domis is great! i was stumped with this until i saw your brill ideas. well done

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