DIY Scrabble Tile Family Tree

I avoid using real names on this little blog, but this project was just too good not to share.

Here’s what I made for two of our grandmothers (one on my side and one on D’s — the two with the largest families) for Christmas this year:

Scrabble Family Tree

I wish I had taken better pictures of this — and I don’t even have any of the second one! I’ll have to take one next time I visit.

Cute, right? I’m a big Scrabble fan, and I thought it would be neat to hang in a game room, office, or kitchen, even if you aren’t a big Scrabble fan yourself. Those tiles are so iconic, and I love their raw wood look. I used the names of all our grandparents’ descendents, but this would also be precious with words of a certain theme. For example, to hang in the kitchen — sauté, cook, bake, roast, broil, delicious, oven, stove, pots, pans, spatula, spoon, knife, fork… Or for the family room: family, love, laugh, enjoy, play, games, movies…

Step One: Planning the layout.

To start, I planned the layouts. I measured a Scrabble tile and calculated how many would fit vertically and horizontally on my paper. (I used a 12″x12″ sheet of scrapbook paper, so I could only have 15 across and 14 down, max.) Then I made a list of all the people whose names should be included.

I typed all the family members’ names into an online crossword-generator. (Note: put each name in as both the clue and the answer.) There are lots of generators out there, but this is the one I used. One nice feature is that it lets you specify the size of your crossword. Also, if you don’t like the crossword formation that it outputs, you can resubmit the form and you’ll get a whole new randomized crossword. Just keep refreshing it until you like the way it looks.

The only catch is that sometimes the generators will omit a few of the names/words you put in, so always be sure to double-check. You wouldn’t want anyone to be left out! I actually ended up using a crossword formation that excluded a few people, but after transferring it to Excel and playing around with the placements for a while, I was able to fit everyone in. All that to say, the generator is a great place to start — but feel free to tweak it as much as you’d like to make it look the way you want it to.

My favorite part of the crossword pictured is the top-left corner — I love the way Troy, Tori, and Cathy all fit together so nicely… and that was all me. :)

Once you’re happy with the crossword, print it out (or keep your computer handy) so you can replicate it with the tiles.

Step Two: Get your tiles and set them up.

Now that you’ve got it down on paper, figure out how many of each letter you need. A standard set of Scrabble tiles only contains a certain number of each letter, so you need to determine how many sets you’ll have to acquire. This is where I thought it was going to get ridiculously expensive. For my two boards, I was going to need 6 Js. There’s a single J in each standard set of tiles, so they’re hard to come by. There are people on eBay and Etsy who sell individual tiles, but I’m willing to bet that most of them either don’t have many Js in their stashes or would charge an arm and a leg for the most coveted tiles. (One seller even had a disclaimer that you could choose your tiles but don’t even bother asking about Js.) I realized that because of the shortage of Js (as well as a few other letters I needed), I’d definitely have to acquire multiple sets of tiles. I started at Amazon, but the replacement sets seemed so pricy… then I realized you can buy an entire set of Scrabble tiles directly from Hasbro for just $8. (Each set also includes a nifty little drawstring bag and 4 racks — basically the whole game minus the board.) It adds up when you need 6 Js, but I figured I could swing that for grandparent presents, and I’ll find another use for the extra tiles. (I’m thinking a set of coasters.)

Get out your tiles and put them in place. Don’t glue down yet — just make sure you have all the tiles you need and that they will all fit on the paper.

Step Three: Gluing down the tiles.

I’d recommend starting by reinforcing your scrapbook paper. I used mod podge to glue mine to a sheet of cardboard to add some strength.

As for the tiles, I started by marking the center of my 12″x12″ scrapbook paper and found the center tile(s) for my crosswords. I used a hot glue gun, but I think some other kind of glue might be better — as long as it’s strong. After gluing the center tile(s) down, I worked outward, making sure to keep the lines as straight as possible. But don’t worry about making it too perfect — I discovered in doing this project that Scrabble tiles themselves aren’t perfect. The printed letters are all crooked and different thicknesses… and when you’re playing Scrabble on a standard board, try as you might, it’s nigh impossible to get them (and keep them) straight for the whole game. That is, have fun with it, and don’t stress over it. A little imperfection just gives it character.

Step Four: Framing your creation.

I bought two 12″x12″ shadow boxes from Michaels (luckily on BOGO!) that allow you to change the depth. Scrabble tiles aren’t very thick, so this project only required a very shallow shadow box. I added a little picture-hanging wire, and now it can be hung on the wall.

The grandmothers were both surprised and touched to receive these. They showcase their children and grandchildren in a totally unique way. Of course, someday these will be outdated… We all joked that next time someone in the family has a baby, they’ll have to make sure the name they choose will fit on the board. :) Alternatively, you could add a date in the corner to make sure future grandkids don’t feel left out.

What do you think? If you try this out on your own, please share pictures! I’d love to see what you came up with. Also, any suggestions for types of glue to use?

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