Mah Jongg, Anyone?



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I've never played. I don't even know all of the rules. But I ran across a web page about it recently, and became somewhat fascinated with it. Fascinated enough, in fact, to embark on engraving my own set of tiles. Sure, anybody can go slap down $80 or $100 at Toys'r'Us for a set of plastic Mah Jongg tiles, but what fun is that?

I started out with an old "TrueType" Mah Jongg font, modified the glyphs a bit using FontForge, and drew a few more from scratch. Initially, I used TrueTypeTracer to convert them from TrueType directly to g-code, but found that since the fonts are outlines, even using our smallest engraving bit (0.005" with a 60 degree 'V' point) the images on the tiles were somewhat indistinct. I decided to try engraving them as filled characters rather than outlines, so I added the font to my list of system fonts and then exported each glyph one at a time to png format using InkScape. I then imported them into EMC using its built-in image-to-gcode function, which resulted in filled-in symbols.

I picked up some 3/4" thick pieces of cherry and poplar wood from the "scrap" bin at the local lumberyard, glued them together back-to-back, and re-sawed the result down to 1/2" thick on the table saw. I then cut them into strips and cut the strips into tiles.
After a fair amount of sanding on the belt sander, I had 152 blank tiles that were very close to identical. I gave them all a coat of clear polyurethane, and set to work engraving and painting them. (Note: Since making this set, I bought a used surface planer on eBay, which makes getting all the tiles the same thickness _much_ easier!)

While it initially seemed like an insane project, after perhaps 20 hours of work I have approximately 1/4 of the tiles engraved and painted. When they're all complete, I'll give the whole batch a few coats of polyurethane on all sides to give them a glossy finish and protect the paint.

Here's the engraving setup; a heavily modified MAX-NC cnc milling machine being driven by custom-made motor drivers and operated by EMC software running under Ubuntu Linux.

Last, but not least, I want to point out that every single piece of software listed in this post is open-source, free software, including the operating system on the machine I'm writing this on and the web server hosting this site. Stop paying Micro$oft big bucks for crappy, bug-ridden, insecure software. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate all the work people have done on this stuff that they've then shared with the world. I'd also like to express my appreciation to Tom Sloper, proprietor of Sloperama Mah Jongg site, and Scott Nicholson, owner of the highly informative and entertaining Board Games with Scott web site. Thanks, everybody!!!

P.S. - Here's the completed set of tiles. Now I'm working on a nice wooden storage case, with a glass front to display the tiles while sitting on the shelf.

Carrying Case
I finished the carrying case last week. The hardest part was getting the glass mounted in such a way that it would help the lid hold its shape, stay in place, and not break. I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out.

I also made a set of tile holders that hold a players tiles at a convenient angle for viewing.