The 4th of July—often the kickoff of summer in Seattle—is finally here—and we’re celebrating with DIY Americana art, barbecues, and yard games galore.
I got the idea for yard Yahtzee from someone who stopped by our booth at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I had seen the yard version before and was familiar with the game, but this woman mentioned the idea of doing scorecards on a whiteboard, which to me just filled out the game and made it more of a complete set (versus having a few blocks of wood).
To play Yahtzee at the base level, you need five dice, a cup to shake the dice in, and score cards to play the game. Each turn, you have three rolls to get a specific combination of dice that’s marked on your scorecard. You can only do each combination once, and each combination has different scoring levels.
I loved working on the yard version because a lot of people have made their own renditions, and I was able to draw a lot of inspiration from what’s already out there. That said, there was also a lot of room for improvement around whiteboard scorecards and plastic tubs for storing dice—we’ll get to why those made for mistakes a bit later.
Yahtzee was one of my favorite games growing up, and one that we played a lot (usually indoors at the kitchen table). Taking this outside and making it a summer activity was really fun for me—I hope you’ll love yard Yahtzee just as much as we do!
Step 1: Make Your Cuts
Cut a 4x4 into five equal cubes with a chop saw or circular saw. A 4x4 piece of lumber should actually be 3 ½”x3 ½” (but it can vary by a 1/16” or so), so measure the width first and then match your cut to that measurement. If your saw blade isn’t wide enough to cut through 3 ½” of material, you may have to turn it around and cut from the opposite side to make it all the way through the lumber.
For this project, I used scraps from the wedding arch I created last spring—that arch has been the gift that keeps on giving. Green lumber–wise, you can go with Douglas fir or cedar 4x4s. Doug fir will be the least expensive option. If you want kiln-dried lumber, you can get clear Doug fir, which will definitely be the most expensive option. The biggest limiting factor will be what’s available in a 4x4. Just like the green lumber we used for the cake stand, you’ll want to let it dry before you cut it into cubes—so that it doesn’t split. Let it sit in a warm, arid place for a week or two, until it feels dry to the touch for a few days.
Step 2: Sand
Sand the pieces with an electric sander or sandpaper. They don’t need to be perfect, just splinter free. I used a 150-grit—it’s a good middle ground.
Step 3: Download the Yahtzee Dice Template
The template has all the patterns you'll need for the six sides of each die. Cut a square from the template, and place it on one side of the cube. Then burn through the paper—right onto the wood for each dot.
Step 4: Wood Burn the Dots
I upgraded my wood burning kit for this project and went for one with a few more tips, including one that’s called a transfer tip. This is a big, round tip that’s perfect for dice dots.
To avoid having to draw out pencil lines on all the sides and erase them later, cut out a square from the Yahtzee dice template and use it as a guide. Then use the wood burner to burn through the paper and then the wood. If you’re using the paper template, don’t hold it on the paper too long, unless you want to be left with paper soot on the wood. Instead, hold the burner just long enough to make a mark on the wood, then remove the paper and go over the dots to make them darker.
If you don’t feel the need to be exact—or if you have a better eye for symmetry than I do—just freehand it. You can also make the dots with paint applied with a round sponge paint dotter.
If you have dice handy, grab them to remind yourself where to put all the different numbers. Here’s a fun fact: all the opposing sides of the die add up to seven, i.e. one and six, two and five, etc. The one, two, and three appear either clockwise or counterclockwise—neither way is right or wrong, it just depends on the dice you buy. Basically, if you start with the one and the six on opposite sides, then you put the two to the right of the one, you can’t mess it up as long as the opposing sides add to seven. A fun fact to throw out next time you’re playing yard Yahtzee with friends!
Step 5: Seal
When you’re finished burning the dots into the die, grab a spray-on polyurethane to finish the wood. It’s super easy to apply and will help protect the game. For a more sophisticated look, you can stain your dice before finishing them.
Step 6: Create a Whiteboard or Blackboard Scorecard
There are a few different ways to do scorecards—the simplest of which is to use the paper ones from the classic Yahtzee game.
Another option is a whiteboard. Using a traditional Yahtzee scorecard as a guide (we found a picture of one online and printed it out on a full page so it was closer to the size of the whiteboard), take a ruler and an acrylic paint marker and carefully copy the information over to a whiteboard. Feel free to shake up the language and, based on how well you know the game, omit some of the details. This is your chance to make the game your own (and even add in a new combination). Use a dry erase marker to keep score, then simply erase for the next player.
Here’s where this can go wrong: using a permanent marker to create the scorecard. Dry erase markers actually erase permanent marker, which means keeping score could dismantle your scoreboard.
I’d recommend using a blackboard to create your scorecard. The same principles apply to this design as to the whiteboard: use a permanent chalk marker or an acrylic paint marker to map the grid and the details, then write out the scores with a piece of chalk. You can pick up small blackboards at a craft store like we did, or if you want to DIY your own, you can use our chalkboard calendar directions as a reference point.
Step 7: Choose Your Bucket
On Pinterest, I saw people shaking dice in the same metal buckets and bins you see people use for drinks. I thought it was a great idea and definitely more attractive than a plastic bucket, but then I realized that 4x4 wood cubes in a metal bucket is the loudest sound you’ve ever heard—and it’s already pretty darn loud in a plastic bucket! The metal bucket might look good on Instagram, but it’s not worth it in real life. I’d go with a five-gallon plastic bucket—it’s practical and something you probably already have on-hand.
Step 8: Play!
This project is super simple to make, doesn’t take very long, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s something about taking a classic game like Yahtzee and switching things up. Playing in a different setting makes it even more engaging.
Head to the yard, get those dice rolling, and have a safe and happy 4th of July!