When my family gets together there will inevitably be a round or two of Mexican Train Dominoes. There’s just something about sitting around the table with your loved ones. The right game can make that a super fun experience. For us that can’t be spoons, because we are far too competitive and it turns violent. It cannot be Clue because everyone cheats. Monopoly is out for the same reason. And most card games are out because there is always someone who thinks it’s too much work to learn the rules. (I still have no idea how to play Hearts, Pinochle, or Poker.)
Mexican Train is our game.
I’ve wanted to try my hand at making a set of these using the X-Carve and some lumber my father brought me. The result is free plans for you, a tutorial to make a set for yourself, and a bunch of tips and tricks about what works and what doesn’t. Because I like to make all the mistakes first so you don’t have to!
This post is sponsored by Inventables, the maker of the X-Carve CNC carving machine. All opinions, screw ups, and face palm moments are mine entirely. If you have thought about getting a CNC, I can with only the smallest amount of bias totally recommend an X-Carve. Keeping it real here – I am no tech genius. Mechanics are a struggle for me. I got my masters degree in history guys. So for me the CNC learning curve was more of a 90 degree angle. I’ve have been on the phone with tech support enough times to tell you they are awesome, and that the thriving community of X-Carve users are incredibly helpful as well.
Back to the dominoes.
Carve File and Inventables Link
You can find the carve file for these dominoes here on the Inventables website.
Because this is a CNC project supplies are minimal, but there are some different options for cutting them out. So you won’t actually need everything on this list.
One more thing: As an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases. This disclosure pertains to all the links in this post. You can learn more about affiliate links here.
X-Carve CNC machine
60 degree V-bit
Wood – you will need something around 1/4 – 3/8″ thick, and about 31 x 11″ in dimension
paint or epoxy
craft syringes if using epoxy
sander and/or planer
band saw, table saw, and/or miter saw
mineral spirits or other finish (I used Walrus oil)
A box (to store them)
Here’s a look at the process of making the dominoes
How to make a set of Mexican Train Dominoes
Step 1: Wood selection
You’ll need a piece of wood about 31″ x 11″. I found that somewhere around 1/4-3/8″ thickness works best, with right in the middle at 5/16″ probably being my ideal.
A planer or a large bandsaw are really handy here in terms of finding the right size wood, otherwise you’ll have to look at gluing pieces together or finding just the right piece at your local woodworking store. Alternately, you can split up the Easel file to accommodate smaller pieces of wood.
Step 2: The Carve
This is where you set up your carve, then go work on something else or grab a bowl of cereal or something. Carve time on this comes in around 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Step 3: Add Color
You can either choose to fill the carved holes or paint them. I’ll tell you right now – filling is more work. I decided to give it a whirl so I could make a recommendation one way or the other, and I can now positively say that you will save a lot of time if you paint.
That said, if you prefer the filled look – and it does look great – epoxy is the way to go. Here’s a link to the pigments I used. I used West Systems epoxy for the simple reason that that is what I had on hand. I ordered these craft syringes on Amazon (they are cheap). If you decide to go this route you WILL need those. Promise.
I keep tuna cans around for mixing, and they work really well. Just mix a small batch at a time. It’s really hard to explain how much I used. I can tell you that it will only take a couple small batches to get the hang of how much you need. Fill the dots one number at a time. They will look like they filled quite nicely…and then they will spread. Don’t stress it.
Orrrr you can skip all of that headache and paint. Up to you.
Step 4: Plane and/or sand the board
If you are paying close enough attention you will see that the outlines of the dominoes in my photos are not as deep as on the Easel file. That was a modification I made based on experience. I did try to set it so the carve went all the way through in order to save this step, but found that the required bit was simply too small to make this effective. Instead I deepened the lines so they are easier to cut.
Step 5: Cut out strips
Cut the dominoes out in strips. But not the way I did it. Cut them out in short columns so they are end to end, rather than long rows so they are still side by side. This will make the cutting apart process faster and safer.
See? Told you I made all of the mistakes first.
Chop the individual pieces apart using a miter saw, band saw, or whatever saw you will be the most safe with. I was not a fan of the miter saw for this, as it tends to fling the pieces.
Step 6: Finish
I put a very small round over on all four sides of mine, which you can see in the photos. My recommendation is actually NOT to do that, as it ended up making them a little tricky to stand on their sides. When I do this again I may elect to give them the slightest hint of a soft edge using my benchtop sander.
Finish with whatever you like. I used and recommend Walrus oil. Check out how it brought out the curl in that maple and the grain of the walnut. I also like that it is food safe, in case a kid decides to suck on a domino (kids are weird).
Now, I know you are wondering where the photo of us happily playing dominoes is. Sadly, I attempted to edit photos in a state of exhaustion and deleted them all just before sitting down to write this. So there’s that. But I was somehow left with this:
For the record, I set up and staged that game, so that’s a lot of excitement over a game he was rigged to win. I mean, it’s not even a two person game, soooo… Also, we aren’t that big of slobs, I was going for an artistic something-or-another with the popcorn.
Once more, here is a link to the project file. A big thank you to the good and patient folks at Inventables. Check out the project pages for a ton go great projects to get started (or continue) your CNC carving journey.
Also, is there something you want to see done? Shoot me a suggestion and maybe we’ll make it happen!