They look cool. True. And they are quite useful, especially if you have one or more players who like to give their deice the ol' spin "for luck" and send their bones skittering across the room. But the cost is outrageous. Twenty-five dollars for a wooden version of the Monopoly Box Lid we used to roll six-sided dice into? Thank you, no. I'm sure the product is very good, but for that kind of money, I want a little control.
There's a ton of videos on YouTube that show you how to very complicatedly make dice trays. You can sure do that if you want to. But I don't have the time, the patience, or the tools. I just have the vision, in my head, of the dice tray that I want, and I have a 40% off coupon for Michael's. That's more than enough.
And I have made a couple of dice trays out of picture frames. One of them is quite cool; it came with plastic pieces on the corners that resembled metal brackets, and so it was halfway to looking like something found in a dwarven keep to begin with. The problem with picture frame dice trays is that they are elusive, unless you want to break glass, fish pieces of glass out of a crevice, and yadda yadda yadda. Basically, you need something deep enough to act as a reservoir for the dice, but the glass has to be behind the wood completely, so that when you unscrew the back of the frame, everything comes out nice and neat.
I know you think that's easy to find, and if you're looking for regular picture frames, you're right. But we want high (or deep) side walls, and those frames only come around once or twice a year. I suspect they are being bought up by gamers for the explicit use of turning them into dice trays, because as picture frames, they are kinda crappy.
Here's how I solved that problem. I can make a dice tray for about five bucks, unless I need to buy a can of spray paint. Then it's, I dunno, seven bucks or something. But the thing is this: my dice tray is one of infinite possibilities. Any color I want, any interior felt I want, stain or paint, simple or complicated, I am only beholden to my level of craftsmanship.
Wal-Mart sells the 10" square frame with just enough lip on it to qualify as usable (right). Dollar General sells an 8" square that is chunky and deep and just right for a DM to have behind his screen or any table where space is a premium (left). For the pictures below, I will be using both, as I did not get complete pictures from either build.
Inside here, in the corner, is a rough spot where the wood was split, or a knothole, or something. Ordinarily I wouldn't have bought this, but it was the last one, so I am just going to take extra care with the steps below.
Note: it will not fit. It just won't. It never does. But go ahead and make your square cardstock match your seemingly accurate measurements. Now, try to slip it in. Did it hang on one side? Two? Those are the sides you will trim by minute increments using your straight edge. And don't cut two sides at once. Cut one side. See if it fits. If it does, cut the other. If it doesn't, trim some more. It sounds tedious, but it only takes a couple of minutes to adjust. Just go slow and take your time and don't get in a hurry. When you're done, you should have a square piece of cardstock that falls right into place and requires the flat side of your hobby knife to lift up out of the dice tray. That's what you are looking for.
Once completely sanded, I like to prime the tray. This takes a couple of passes to get even coverage on the inside and outside walls of the tray.
I spray the inside, but just to overspray the inside edges and corners. Occasionally I will sand back the primed dice tray with fine grit sand paper to keep the smooth surfaces.
Once the primer is dry, you're on your own. You can paint the tray a solid color, or use a faux finish of some kind. You can create a "theme" for your game or a particular character. I've done everything from faux marble to hammered metal (and there are tutorials online for anything like that you want to do). But for a first-time project, you may just want to go with staining the wood.
This was a tray I made for my player who has a warlock that made a pact with The King in Yellow. I used antique silver Rub 'n Buff to make the edges shiny like worn down metal. This may be the coolest tray I have done to date. It got gasps and profanity when my player brought it out at the table.
This tray was made just so see if I could do it. I wanted to make a faux marble finish, like the old Vampire rpg books, you know, green mausoleum marble. It turned out better than I could have hoped for. You can't see it, but there are some flecks of blood in one corner.
Here's the wood, stained and sealed with a gloss coat. It looks surprisingly good. I've also done several dice trays using the 8" art panel that turned out gorgeous with a couple of coats of stain and some intentional sanding back to distress the wood. It really picks up an antique or a nautical appearance.
If I'm staining the wood, I don't prime the tray. I use a gel-based stain, and it's pretty cheap but it's also a little finicky to use, so I will just wipe down the tray with a damp cloth to remove the dust and grit and let it air dry before applying the stain. I always apply heavy and wipe it off, and do a minimum of two coats to really bring out the grain of the wood.
While the paint or stain is drying, you can start on your felt insert. Craft felt is very inexpensive and comes in a myriad of colors. You can buy it with a sticky back, and it's a little more expensive but also easier to work with. Or you can get regular felt and trust your glue-fu. Don't worry if you mess it up. Felt is cheap. Cardstock is cheap. Glue is cheap.
If you are using adhesive felt, peel off the back and stick the cardstock insert to it. Don't use the edge of the felt to save cutting; the felt edges are wonky. Stick the square down so that there's at least a half-inch of felt or more around each side.
If you're using regular felt, first apply a thin, even layer of Tacky Glue or your favorite craft glue. This, even coat. Use scrap cardstock to scrape it thin if you need to and be sure to cover the whole surface of the card. No globs, no glorps. You are going to stick the cardstock insert to the felt and use a heavy cylindrical object to smooth the cardstock out so that you don't have bumps in the felt on the other side. No bumps in the felt is your only concern right now. Also, excess glue. Wipe up any oozes immediately. If you'd used adhesive felt, you wouldn't have to do this, but no, you wanted teal felt in your wooden dice tray for some unfathomable reason, so here we are, rolling felt and wiping up glue.
After the felt and the cardstock are one, take your straight edge and your sharp craft knife and cut away the excess felt. You may have to adjust the fit as with the insert above. That's okay. It's also okay if you cut a hair too much and there is a gap. You can center the felt in the middle of the tray and no one will notice the gap. I know this because the first one I did had a 1 mm gap and I've been using it for years and to date no one has noticed, or cared.
Before you apply the felt to the inside of the tray, you will want to seal the wood and your paint/stain job. You can use flat or gloss, and the choice is entirely up to you. But I'd recommend two coats just to be sure you get everything.
Now you can put the felt in. Simply apply more glue and repeat. Again: no bumps. Use a Sharpie to roll across the interior and remove lumps. Something else you can do, if you are afraid of commitment, is to not fasten the felt to the cardstock. I have found that the backing on the adhesive felt cuts great and if you are diligent and patient, your felt will slide into the tray and stay there, even when you want to turn it upside down and shake it. Now you have a rolling surface that you can swap out as the mood strikes you.
Last thing I do is probably not strictly speaking necessary, but it's classy and we are all about class here at the North Texas Apocalypse Bunker. Take four 1" furniture pads and affix them to the corners. Yes, those are the same non-skid pads I use to make tokens with. Just stick them into the corners, slightly offset from the edges, and you are done.
My players love their trays and use them for every game they play. Good dice rolling habits cannot be learned early enough.