Sitting in a friend's backyard, I spied a giant wall-mounted Scrabble board through the window. Since then, I've been obsessed with obtaining one of my own. Her's was from Restoration Hardware and came with a hefty price tag (*cough* $1,600 *cough*). But luckily, it was no longer available! Hooray! (Hooray?)
It turns out that I am not alone in wanting one. The Internet is full of 'em. Pottery Barn has one and several Etsy sellers have them, but off-the-shelf wasn't for me. Of course there are multiple DIY tutorials as well. As per usual, I looked at everything that was out there, and then did it my way. I'm thrilled with the result, though I would change a few things now that I've done it once.
Making the Game Board
I decided printing a poster was the best way to get a good-looking board with the least amount of effort. I built the scrabble board in InDesign. The font is Futura which isn't the standard scrabble font, but it is Trivium's font so it was on brand. I also opted to replace the white SCRABBLE letters on the left with TRIVIUM for more branded goodness.
I had the poster printed through Zazzle. Final size was 40" h X 43" w. I went with their standard weight paper in matte finish (it does have a bit of a sheen to it still). I left an extra ½ inch around all sides of the game board so I could lay the frame over it. The poster did scratch more easily than I would have liked and I ended up nicking it a couple times, but after several clear coats (read more below), it's much more resilient.
One thing I would change — the Double Word Score and Double Letter Score boxes, don't have the little triangles jutting out like their Triple Word/Letter friends do. In my reference image, I couldn't see them, but I should have checked other boards. I didn't want to spend the time (or money) to redo it, but if I ever make another one of these, I'll fix it.
Making the Backer Board
I could have gone bigger, but I based my dimensions off the fact that I wanted 2-inch wide tiles and I knew that I needed the entire finished product to fit on a sheet of ply which is 48" X 96". I ended up using a piece of countertop underlayment, but really any solid piece of decent plywood would be just fine. We left an extra 1½ inches on all sides with1 inch in the middle between the game board and the chalkboard. That meant the final board was 43" X 63.5".
I decided the easiest way to make the gameboard magnetic was to use galvanized sheeting for the backing. I could get 36" X 48" sheets at the Home Depot for ~20 each, or I found sellers online who would send you custom sheets in larger dimensions for a lot more (~$150). We're broke, so I went with the smaller sheets which would require a seam. I suspect a local sheet metal supplier would also be a good source for sheet metal if you don't want to seam it — call around! To trim the sheets, I used metal sheers that touted a "straight cut" for trimming and butted two factory edges against one another at the seam.
I used Gorilla Wood Glue to adhere the metal to the plywood because that's what the Internet suggested. It worked fine, but required pressure while setting up to avoid bumps. I used heavy 5-gallon paint buckets. I did get a few spots near the edge that didn't fully adhere, but all that was getting covered with trim, so I wasn't worried. For the seam, I smeared some of the same Gorilla Wood Glue in and let it dry. When everything was set, I gave it a light sanding with 150 grit sandpaper to add a little tooth to it. I could still feel small imperfections along the seam, but once the poster was on they disappeared. Time for the game board and chalkboard!
Adding the Game Board and Chalkboard
I have taught myself this lesson time and time again. There is only one worthwhile spray glue — Super 77! Do not use Elmers. Do not use Gorilla. Super 77 is repositionable if you only spray one surface and permanent if you spray both. It has a very fine mist spray and it rarely "spits." I've only had a couple issues with the nozzle clogging. I had to learn this lesson again on this project because Home Depot was out of Super 77, and ended up having to track it down from a local artists and craftsman supply store. Funny aside, it turns out we had Super 77 the whole time, but it was hiding in a storage bin in the other room. Sneaky.
To adhere the game board, I started by just spraying the back of the poster and then laid it out to get it positioned correctly. Once I was happy with it, I pulled up half of it and sprayed the metal side and the poster again to get a good, permanent bond. Then I laid that side down and repeated the process on the other side. It's important to work your way out to the edge when putting down the poster to avoid bubbles and wrinkles.
For the chalkboard I used an adhesive-backed vinyl I found on Amazon. I was a little trepidatious because I've used the vinyl before and it hasn't been a great surface for chalk, but it seemed like it would be the most resilient, so that's the route I went. The adhesive was very sticky and picked up lots of dust, so make sure your workspace is clean and dust-free before putting this down. And similar to putting down the game board, you have to work your way from one side to the other to avoid wrinkles and bubbles. I ended up having to start over because I had too much debris on my vinyl and it was showing through. In the end there was success!
Making the Tiles and Tile Boards
The tiles themselves are 2" w X 2¼" h. I ended up using ¼ inch Poplar stock which ended up being a nice weight for the tiles, but when I first got started I was worried they would feel thin. We use a lot of Poplar because it's cheap and finishes nicely, but it skews green, so staining can be a bit tricky. To counter the green you have to use a stain with a little red in it.
We ripped a 6-inch board down to 2 inches, then set up a jig on the chop saw and cut the 100+ tiles to size. The game uses 100 tiles, but every good escape room owner knows it's good to have spares! From there I sanded the edges on the belt sander with 80 grit sandpaper to clean up any rough spots left from the saws. Then I hand sanded all the corner edges with 150 grit sand paper to lightly round them over so the tiles weren't so sharp. After a final pass with 220 grit sand paper, these puppies were ready for letters.
To add the letters, I used black permanent vinyl cut on my Cricut. I've had great luck with Oracal permanent vinyl which you can get on Amazon or at your local Michael's. I added the letters to the raw wood and burnished 'em real good. Once the letters were on, I stained them. To make the tiles magnetic, I used 2-inch wide magnet tape, which I cut on a paper cutter. I let the stain dry for about 48 hours before trying to stick the magnets on. I did some tests with the thinner magnet sheets that have adhesive backing because I didn't like that the tape curled. If you have the ability to unroll the tape and stick it to a metal surface to let it rest, I would recommend doing that.
I used a similar process to make the tile holders. The backs have strips of sheet metal (cut from scrap used to make the board backing) and hold 7 tiles. I added a rope so I could hang them on the board when it was finished.
Because the board would be hung in the lobby where there's lots of sun, I knew I wanted to add some UV protection and I needed to protect the poster from scratching, so I got myself some UV top coat and a couple cans of Satin Deft. Similar to the Super 77 shout out, if you're using a spray can clear coat, Deft is the best I've used. It dries fast and has a very fine mist spray that builds well. Plus no spitting! And it's great for coating paper.
Be sure to mask off the vinyl side before adding the clear coat. I started with a crosshatch coat (horizontal and vertical passes across the entire board) with Deft for the first layer. Then I added the UV coat with the same crosshatch pattern. This coat took a full 24 hours to fully cure and I ended up adding a smudge or two when I touched it to see "is it dry yet?!?!" So keep that in mind if you're doing a UV coat. Once cured, I added two more coats of Deft with the same crosshatch pattern. Between these last two coats, I lightly sanded with a fine steel wool to get a smooooove surface. It also cut down on the sheen. I left this to cure for ~48 hours before adding the trim boards.
I followed a similar process for coating the letter tiles and the trim boards. And voila! At one point, I was worried it might not be big enough. It's big.