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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Custom Commissioned Bento Box

I had a request a few months ago to make the Bento Box, but in emerald green, sapphire, and pearl white resin. Of course I said yes and that it would be no problem - I had wanted to make this out of resin to reduce the layer lines and make it sturdier anyway and this was good motivation to do so. Before you click away, if all you wanted was to see the finished set....

So, yeah, I'd say it was a success! It is sleeker, more beautiful, has quality of life upgrades from the original, and feels like a more quality piece when held.

Does that mean that it was super easy to do and came out exactly how I intended? Absolutely not. I'd like to walk you through the process of transforming this set.

To start, what makes this different than the original set?

I designed the original Bento Box as an example set for the 3D print contest held by the US Tak Association a couple years ago. I have since made a couple for various tournament prizes and have been very pleased with the overall form and function of the piece. However, this commission gave me the opportunity to throw off the self-imposed 3d-printed only restriction and explore some other methods that would lead to a higher quality product.

To start the project, I needed to find a sheet good from which I could make my masters. I wanted something without layer lines that would also be dimensionally stable and easy to work with given my current tools/knowledge. I went with 3mm acrylic as the most affordable option that fit the other requirements. It's a little brittle, but I wasn't making the set out of it, just the masters. Turns out, just like lumber, manufacturers don't tell you the actual size of the material and what I received was acrylic sheets that were ~2.8mm. that doesn't sound like a big deal, except that I had already begun the design work while awaiting the sheets and had to redo, since each part of the Bento Box proportions hinge on the size of the pieces and -.2mm loss at this size would have made some sloppy walls and very loose storage. 

With my designs adjusted I began making masters for moldmaking. I started with the pieces and board. I used the CNC to make the board and a laser cutter for the pieces.

I also used this opportunity to upgrade my game scoring token, which was way too chunky in the original design. I went with a small trophy cup token that fits in slots similarly to how the standing stones work.

After the board was made, I needed a way to make the box. Due to the very thin sheets of material and the holes in the board, a traditional 2-part mold would not work. I tried a few different things and could not come up with a good way to do this as a single, prebuilt assembly. So, I decided to pour my own sheet goods. I made a mold of a sheet of acrylic, poured resin in the mold, and then machined the resulting sheet of resin.

This "solved" the problem of the enclosure. The quotes are because I'm basically solving a problem by creating more work for myself (kinda the opposite of what you want when making molds for production).

The next step was to work on the piece trays and blockers. I 3D printed these because they would be an internal component (making me less concerned with layer lines) and would also be much easier to prototype and get into production this way.

I had a couple great thoughts when redesigning these:

First, I would reduce the amount of material I needed for the bento portion of the box by removing the dividers - the piece trays would become the props that hold up the blockers in the center instead of being additional pieces. The stiffness of the resin vs the original filament aided in this transition.

Second, one thing that annoyed me about the original Bento was that the pieces would fall over in the tray once you removed enough and then they were hard to grab and continue play. So, I divided and staggered the piece holders, making each hold 5, aiding reserve counting during play as a side benefit.

Once all was designed and mocked up, I needed to make the molds so I could make everything out of colored resin. I used 3 different moldmaking techniques during this process. The board halve, piece trays, and sheet good slab were all made using open-top molds. The pieces and trophy marker were made with a squish mold. And the capstones were made with a cut mold. Here they are!

Molds done, all that remained was pouring, assembling, sanding, sealing, and double checking everything :)

The pouring went as expected. It took a couple tries to get the right color and to learn how each mold wanted to be handled. I work in an unheated garage and this step was also hampered by the weather. Resin likes to cure at room temperature or a bit higher. The thinner the piece, the longer it takes to cure because it does not produce enough heat to aid curing with the exothermic reaction. Here was my solution, though it still took a full three days to cure (it was a 24 hour cure resin) for each batch.

The assembly was fine, but man are <3mm pieces hard to line up square and plumb.

Sanding was quite a chore and always is for resin. The pieces were doubly hard due to their size. I literally sanded until my fingers bled because there was no good way to hold them without my fingertips scraping the sandpaper.

Once sanded with various grits, I sealed with urethane for a gloss finish and then let cure. 

I played with the set for a couple days and adjusted a few things. Then I took glamor shots and mailed it off!

So, problems...

The magnetic closure is a bit weak due to the weight of the set (I had designed it with the 3D printed heft in my brain).

The assembly was tricky. I'm rethinking the box design and will tweak this for the next iteration.

This set cost quite a bit in materials and time - way more than I sold it for :)

And why did it take me so long? Well...

I had other projects:

And went to PAX Unplugged to run events.

And redesigned the USTA tournament set:

And made Chrimmus gifts:

And took some hikes:

And helped remodel a friend's bathroom from the studs out:

And all the other life stuff too :)

Thanks for sticking around to the end. Let me know if you enjoy this kind of stuff and I will take that into consideration next time I want to send out a wall of text and pics :)

If you are interested in custom work, you can take a look at my website. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

PAX 2023

 Hello all!

I'm back from PAX and dreading going back to the real world :). The convention was back to full capacity (and then some) for the first time since COVID. This put a strain on some of the events, but as with every board game convention I have attended, the attendees are all super well-behaved. This is what you get when you build a gathering around people that have chosen a hobby which relies heavily on rule following.

This was the first convention for my oldest child and they had a blast! We left at 3am and filled the 8-hr drive there with D&D podcasts and chatting, getting settled into our hotel room about noon. Two friends met us there and we snaked through the aisles and admired all the wares, ending up on the game library end of the hall and claiming a table. From there it was game after game after game. We played some co-op and some 'take that' games, mixing in a light card game or a snack break to keep mental and physical energy up. A quick walk across the street to the brewery for dinner and then we were back to the table, where we stayed until they kicked us out at midnight.

We started day two with cheese boats from The Marketplace. I had never experienced this dish before, but it's a Georgian dish and it was a wonderful, buttery start to the day.

We decided to paint miniatures as our first stop of the day. This involved more waiting in line than actual painting, but we made the most of it getting to know our line neighbors and joking around with each other. I wasn't a fan of the paints we used (speed paints (aka contrast paints)), but now I know to stick with my acrylics and oils! I got it to mostly turn out the way I wanted in my allotted time.

From there, I had to run back to the room to get the Tak supplies and set up for the tournament. We had a great turnout this year - selling out in 5 minutes!!! Next year we will explore adding more events to this growing convention. 

The tournament was Swiss format and everyone got 4 rounds in before our time slot expired. Everyone walked away with something (besides some great games of Tak), including copies of my Level I book, USTA coins, stickers, and the PAX medal. 

After the tournament, I booked it to the hotel room to put away my things and we were back out onto the streets of Philly to walk to our dinner reservations. We had Little Nona's and it was the best meal of the trip. Little Nona's is a back-alley Italian joint. And I literally mean we ate in their extension which is an alley with a roof on it. The food and service were spectacular.

From there it was back to the convention center and back to board games! We had a couple hours to play games from the library and filled them with a replay of one of the games from Friday as well as some Princess Bride themed games and the first few rounds of a Viking-themed exploration game. We had to cut that one short so we could get to our escape room appointment...

...which we solved! Barely beating the buzzer (3 minutes left on the clock), we solved the Game of Stones themed room. This was also my oldest child's first escape room, so I'm really bringing them into the fold of board game (and adjacent) nerd-dom.

It was too late to go back to the hall after that, so we went to the room and played card games until our eyes crossed.

Sunday is always the worst day because it means leaving, but we made the most of our few hours there. Breakfast at Schmear It and then a run through the expo hall to pick up the things on our list. Then some sad hugs goodbye to our friends and a long car ride home, where my oldest refused to nap...right up until they fell asleep :)

Yesterday was my recovery day, which basically means laundry and house chores and worrying about what all I missed at work. But, I did find time to play my Tak Open match against Abyss and do some crafting. Nothing I can share at the moment since I'm making Christmas gifts, but I will post after the holidays.

I did install my quick swap kit from Snapmaker so that I can go from laser to CNC to 3D printing in a couple minutes instead of 15 minutes of removing and reinstalling tiny screws. I look forward to getting my shop fully operational next year, once I have fulfilled my non-Tak promises.

If you are interested in getting your project on the waiting list, please see my site and fill out the contact form.

That's all for this episode. Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by!

My Creative Process

I published this in the summer Capstone Quarterly this year and didn't ever publish it here. I'm sending it through now (12/5/23): 

Hello all!

I have been in the garage working hard to get my GenCon prizes done in addition to finishing out the administrative work of the latest USTA Beginner Tournament and putting the final touches on my intermediate level strategy guide Mastering Tak: Level II - the road to greatness. With all this creative output, I have been doing some self-analysis and pondering over my creative process in general. In this post I would like to walk through how I go about a project.

Most of my projects are chosen instead of assigned. The USTA may need a prize for an upcoming event, but that can take the form of a capstone, a board, a full set, a trinket, a trophy, or anything in between. Other projects are begun because an idea struck me and I am curious to see if it can live outside my brain, where physics and other annoying things dwell. And some projects are started so that I can work on a particular skill that I am interested in or have not used in a while and want to ensure that it does not atrophy.

The creative freedom allowed by this relationship with my projects can be paralyzing. If I have the ability to work on anything, that can lead to working on nothing. Philosophical problems like Buridan's Donkey examine this problem. In this hypothetical situation, a hungry donkey is placed between two identical piles of hay and starves because it cannot decide which to go to since they are identical in every respect. The modern crafting world actually compounds this problem of choice with the availability of software and hardware that can bring to life almost anything.

So, I combat with a two-fold approach - constraints and "crappy drafts".

Paradoxically, constraints enable creativity. By assigning or discovering limits to a design, you give yourself both direction and challenge, which turbocharge the creative process. Imagine the difference in productivity between asking you to "build me a doo-hickey" and "you have 3 weeks to build me a wooden top that looks like a Viking shield". Both are projects, but I guarantee that the more highly constrained version will produce better results. Therefore, I highly recommend making a list of constraints after envisioning a project. After you have this list, you can determine which are "hard" constraints and which are "soft". A hard constraint cannot be worked around. An example would be a firm deadline, the form of a project (i.e. if you are making a Tak set, it must meet the requirements of a Tak set), or a fundamental restriction like "you can only use 3D printing to form your parts". Soft constraints are everything else - materials, tools, budget, current skills, etc. The soft constraints can be adjusted. I can learn new skills, increase the budget (if I have it and the project warrants it), and acquire more tools. Additionally, I can look at the basics of the project and stretch some of the parameters (i.e. Tak requires differentiation of walls and flats; what if we do this by inscribing a 'W' on one side instead of physically standing it up?). After examining the constraints, I get to the second part of my anti-paralysis.

"Crappy drafts" are the cold water approach to swimming. Don't be like the kid that slowly walks into the water until it reaches their thighs and then runs out screaming. You have to just jump in and get wet first. Your first draft should be crappy. Don't spend all day adding embellishments to your flats before seeing if the general shape feels good to play with. I generally like to sketch some things on physical paper, then roll those ideas around my head, then prototype them. Design software can help reduce material wastage, but there is no substitute for a physical prototype. Therefore, I like to get one of these as quickly as possible, so I can discover pros and cons of an idea as quickly as possible and adjust the direction of the project early. Luckily, hobby-level 3D printers exist. 

After I have crappy draft that falls in line with my constraints, the rest of the project is just a matter of refinement and "Ah-ha!" moments. I live for the Ah-ha! They are why I craft. Some of these moments put the current project onto a new track. Other times they inspire future projects. But they are always an enjoyable rush.

The last advice I want to give in this article is to learn your tendencies. I am impatient when it comes to getting my ideas out of my head and into the world. This can lead to rushing steps that shouldn't be rushed. This is exacerbated by the fact that I have a limited amount of "hobby time" and like to accomplish as much as possible during those short spans. I have learned to deal with this by always having multiple works in progress. This allows me to not rush x project because I can go work on y project. For example, last weekend I was in the garage with a project running on the 3D printer. While I was babysitting the first layer of that, I was sanding pieces from another project. Then, when the first layer finished, I put a coat of primer on another set of pieces and went inside to do some final editing on the computer. This allowed me to let the 3D printer work and the primer to cure without me hovering over everything getting frustrated at how long it was taking.

I hope you enjoyed a peek behind the scenes. Feel free to ask me questions!