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Subject: Making Circular Tokens and Counters with an Arch Punch rss

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Nick Hayes
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Short of ordering a die cutting machine, arch punches are the best way to produce professional-quality circular tokens and counters for your homemade board games. Originally designed to cut leather and rawhide, these sturdy tools also work well on plastic, gasket, wood, some soft metals, paper, and in our case, chipboard. They make absolutely perfect circular tokens and do it faster and easier than cutting by hand.

Arch punches come in any size imaginable, in both standard and metric increments. You can buy individual punches that match the counters you will be producing, or buy a set of commonly used sizes. Prices vary, although just like anything, you usually get what you pay for. Cheap tools generally wear out faster and produce less than perfect results.


What you’ll need:
Arch Punch (alternate link)
Mallet
Cutting Mat
Chipboard
Printed Counter Sheets
Craft Knife
Metal Ruler or Straightedge
Spray Adhesive (optional)
Label Paper (optional)

Substitutions: As with any do-it-yourself project, you can adjust these items based on what you have on hand or are willing to purchase. The vital parts are the arch punch, something to hit it with, and something to put under it so the cutting edge doesn’t get ruined.
Arch Punch: No good substitute. There is another tool called a hollow punch. In general, they come in smaller sizes and it is more difficult to remove the punched counters from them.
Mallet: Any type of hammer or heavy object will work. If you plan on using your arch punch a lot, invest in a rawhide mallet. They are easier on your punches and won’t dull the blade as quickly. The drawback is that they lack the weight of a metal hammer, so you have to swing multiple times to complete each cut.
Cutting Mat: It is possible to use scrap wood as a cutting mat under the arch punch, but if the wood is very soft, like a pine 2x4 for instance, it can splinter and rip the underside of your tokens. Also, wood will cause your punch to dull more quickly that a real cutting mat.
Chipboard: There are a variety of suitable materials that you can use instead of chipboard. Bookbinder’s board (Davey board), mat board, and illustration board are the best substitutes, but they are all more expensive that chipboard. Foam core doesn’t like the arch punches, and neither does balsa or other craft woods. With foam core, the upper surface tends to compress along the edges, creating a dome-like shape. Wood also compresses a little bit, but more importantly, it will dull your punches sooner than normal. I would suggest sticking to chipboard.

A note on chipboard: Chipboard comes in different thicknesses. The chipboard you choose will determine the feel of your tokens and counters. Single ply is about twice as thick as a cereal box. Two-ply is as close as you can get to real game tokens. Anything thicker than that and you’re going to end up with some real heavy-duty tokens. As a rule of thumb, I make my tokens not quite as thick as my game board, but thicker than my playing cards. And if you’re going to use an arch punch, you might as well make some nice, thick tokens!


Step One: Printing
(This step assumes your counter sheets are already formatted properly, include a bleed zone, and can easily be aligned front to back.)

Print your counter sheets using the method of your choice. For the best quality tokens, I would suggest taking them to a print shop and having them laser printed on some nice paper. Depending on how you will be mounting your prints, you may print directly onto full sheet label paper. Otherwise, plan on using spray adhesive. For this tutorial, I will be using full-sheet glossy labels printed on my home inkjet printer.

Step Two: Mounting
If you are using spray adhesive, spray outdoors in an area that won’t be affected be overspray, like near your car. Trust me on this one. Only spray one sheet at a time, since the adhesive will dry before you are finished mounting your first sheet. Give the sheet a couple passes of adhesive, but do not spray so much that it begins to build up. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the can.

Mount your prints onto the chipboard. To aid in alignment, I perform the following steps. Based on the layout of your counter sheets you may have to adjust these steps to suit your individual needs.

Mount front side of tokens.

Cut out the mounted token sheet and the backside sheet along guide lines.

Line up and mount back side of tokens.

The token sheet ready to be punched.


Step Three: Punching
Find a sturdy work area. I like to punch my tokens outside on the cement since my regular table is too rickety and loud to use for indoor use. Put your cutting mat down and pull out your first unpunched sheet.

If this is your first time, practice first by making a few punches on a blank spot on your counter sheet. It takes a little while to get used to how hard you need to swing the hammer so that you cut all the way through the sheet but not too deep into your cutting mat. You might rip the underside label when removing the punch if you don’t cut all the way through. When in doubt, hit it again.

Lining up the arch punch over the first token.

When you’re ready to punch your first token, center the punch directly over the token image. Your tokens should have a bleed zone that will be visible beyond the cutting edge of the punch. It is nearly impossible to perfectly line up both front and back images, so the back sides of your tokens may be slightly off center. A bleed zone will ensure that the back sides of the tokens won’t suffer from white edges.

The reverse side of the token sheet shows the bleed zone.

Hit the punch squarely with the hammer. Try not to hit it at an angle or you won’t get an even cut. If you do hit it at an angle, don’t remove the punch to find out, just hit it again from the opposite angle. In fact, if you feel like you haven’t hit it properly, it never hurts to hit it again.

Once you’ve gotten a clean cut, the counter will remain inside the arch punch. You can push it out using your finger if you want to admire your work or if you need to see through the punch for alignment purposes, otherwise just let it chill out inside the punch. It will slowly get pushed out of the top as you continue punching.

The tokens will fall out of the punch as you go.

Keep punching! This is the best part of the process, so enjoy it.

The finished tokens.


You should end up with a stack of beautiful tokens for your board game. No one will ever know that you made them yourself!
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Jim Cote
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Great article.

Black Canyon wrote:
No one will ever know that you made them yourself!

Oh yes they would, because I would tell them.
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Judit Szepessy
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Excellent article and the pictures are great too.
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Garry Rice
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I tried using one of these for the Disc Dominion set I made and it was an utter failure...I used lamination on top of my labels (and all I was trying to cut was the laminated label...so maybe it was too thin?). I've heard others say they work well as well, but maybe I'm just not using them right...
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Rebekah B
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Although I haven't used these ones, I have used similar tools in a smaller size. For me, the number one variable that determined success was what was underneath my mat. Working on a cement floor was the only way I got good, consistent results. Once I realized that, though, the tools worked beautifully.

Nice tutorial, Nick!
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Nick Hayes
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garry_rice wrote:
I tried using one of these for the Disc Dominion set I made and it was an utter failure...I used lamination on top of my labels (and all I was trying to cut was the laminated label...so maybe it was too thin?). I've heard others say they work well as well, but maybe I'm just not using them right...

I just tested the arch punch on laminated paper and double-sided laminated chipboard to see if the lamination would affect its performance. I got great results. Here's a photo:

It may be how you were using the tool. One of the most important things to remember (that I forgot to mention in the tutorial) is to hit the punch hard. Try to go all the way through in one hit. A bunch of light taps has a greater chance of ragged edges and bad cuts. If it wasn't how you were hitting the punch, then it was what you put under it. And if it wasn't that, then the tool might have been dull. Those are the only reasons I see that you might have had problems.
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Melody
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I use this technique but instead of using a mat underneath I use a scrap piece of 2x4. I move the punching area around after a few punches & have gotten great results on punching out laminated tokens as well.
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Curt Woodard
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To solve the misalignment issue, you could always use a few nails (you have the hammer already).

What you'd need to do: Use a window or light table to line up the front of the tokens and back of the tokens. Tape the two pieces together along an edge to keep them in place for the next step.

Using the nails (or a paper punch) knock a hole in 2 or more corners.

After you've got the holes in place, glue the top to the chipboard as previously explained.

Put holes through the chipboard in the same places as on the front token sheet.

You can then use nails as guide posts to align the backs of the tokens when gluing them down.

You could even use wooden dowels on a cutting rig if the nail trick is too cumbersome for you..
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Wolfgang Zelller
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Arch punches are great, thanks for putting this info together.

I would like to add some bits from my experience:

Birch plywood (at least 12mm strong) is cheaper than a cutting mat and will work fine. The surface is hard enough to allow good punches, but still soft enough so your punch won't go blunt. And it will save your cutting mat for more delicate work. Here is the pic of my punching equipment after punching my Merchant of Venus counter stickers:



The floor on which you will be punching is important. As mentioned here before, solid cement works best. So put your plywood board onto the cellar floor and punch away.

WEAR SOME EAR PROTECTION WHEN PUNCHING!



Especially when using a plywood board, the hits while punching can be extremely loud. Ear protection is cheap, use it!
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will sargent
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Great turorial, Nick. This will save me a lot of time and effort
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Brandon Pennington
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I wish they made a 5/8 and 1/2 square punch Great tutorial though, I will have to look into this.
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Nick Hayes
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TGov wrote:
I wish they made a 5/8 and 1/2 square punch Great tutorial though, I will have to look into this.

I have looked into square arch punches. One company (the alternate link for arch punches in my original post, halfway down the page) makes square punches, but the smallest they make is two inches, and it cost $125! Not quite worth it in my opinion.

I don't really think square punches are a necessity because square counters/tokens are very easy to make with a knife/rotary cutter and straightedge. I realized that while I was laying in bed the other night thinking about square arch punches (does that make me a geek?).

Of course the holy grail would be hexagonal punches.
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Mark crane
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Black Canyon wrote:
Of course the holy grail would be hexagonal punches.


I heartily agree. And I still want a square punch, with rounded corners. What I really want is a home fabrication machine that will make all the parts, and a custom box to pack them in.
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Dead Eye Dick
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Wonderful post! Thank you for the detailed info.
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Nick Hayes
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Update
I recently got some new arch punches from a different manufacturer. I wanted to add to this post a brief comparison of the two brands of arch punches.

The two brands of arch punches I tested.

The punches I used in this tutorial are made by Campbell Bosworth Machinery Co. (also linked in the original post). They come in every conceivable size you could possibly ask for in both standard and metric increments.

The new punches I just got are made by General Tools. You can find a set of seven punches in standard sizes from 1/4" to 1" for under $80 (or $107 on their site).

One thing I like about the General punches is their recessed barrel. This makes the tokens literally fall out of the punch. The C.S. Osborne punch's barrel is the same diameter as the cutting edge, so while there is no adverse affect on the tokens themselves, you have to give them a slight nudge out of the punch with your finger.

Detail photo of the recessed barrel in General arch punches.


C.S. Osborne (+)Pros and (-)Cons:
+ Higher quality construction and weight.
+ Available in any size you could need.
- Slightly more expensive.

General (+)Pros and (-)Cons:
+ Recessed barrel for easy token removal.
+ Less expensive.
- Lighter and lower quality.
- Seven-piece set includes punches you probably won't ever use.

Bottom Line
As with everything, this comes down to a choice between quality and cost.

For the average person, I think a set of General arch punches will work out just fine. They are easy to use and not that expensive. If you buy the seven-piece set, you'll get a good assortment of punches in some useful sizes but also some that have no board game related use at all. Also, one-inch tokens will be the largest size you can make unless you order larger sizes from their site (up to 1 1/2").

The C.S. Osborne punches are a better investment in my opinion because they will last longer and you only need order the sizes you will be using. You can get as many or as few as you like. The cost is slightly higher, but depending on how many different sizes you need, your total cost will probably be comparable or less than the General set, and you won't end up with useless punches.
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Curt Woodard
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I guess the challenge here would be to see if you could design a game or modify a game so that the pieces could be punched out using the "useless" punches. ;)

Is it their size or shape that make them useless?
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Tom McThorn
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This would've made punching out the Merchant of Venus game I put together a lot easier/neater. Plus some of the 18xx kits would've been nicer looking and easier too.

I may have to invest in a few of these.
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jim b
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wolfzell wrote:
Birch plywood (at least 12mm strong) is cheaper than a cutting mat and will work fine. The surface is hard enough to allow good punches, but still soft enough so your punch won't go blunt. And it will save your cutting mat for more delicate work.

I like this alternative to punching on a cutting mat- I've found it's hard to control a 'real' punch like this, also my cutting mats haven't been all that resilient or strong.

I'll look for a plywood base like this (and, use earplugs).

--
Addendum: "Never mind...."

I'm going to try a cutting mat and rubber mallet after all, as in the OP. (No plywood- and, hopefully- no earplugs, as a result.)

My scant experiences to-date have not been good, using a punch with harder work-surfaces & tools. (I may get an extra cutting mat, if ness.)
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Nick Hayes
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ExcalibursZone wrote:
Is it their size or shape that make them useless?
To me, it's their size. I can't really see using a token that's 1/4" in diameter.
ExcalibursZone wrote:
I guess the challenge here would be to see if you could design a game or modify a game so that the pieces could be punched out using the "useless" punches.

You make a good point here. You can make little circular bits to replace wooden cubes in prototypes. They don't have to have much information on them at all. You could make ring-like tokens with interchangeable inner parts. That could be an interesting device in a game. The ideas are flowing now!
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Steve Duff
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Black Canyon wrote:
To me, it's their size. I can't really see using a token that's 1/4" in diameter.


Heh, I think that's larger than the money used in Shipyard.
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Gabriel Morton
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Has anyone thought of using circular labels (i.e. the ones used for garage sale prices) printing on them, and then sticking to pennies (or in my case 50 Rupiah coins)?

I've used this to make a universal money system that travels well with several games. The coins are durable and cheap!

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Julien Griffon
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cujo777 wrote:
Has anyone thought of using circular labels (i.e. the ones used for garage sale prices) printing on them, and then sticking to pennies (or in my case 50 Rupiah coins)?

I've used this to make a universal money system that travels well with several games. The coins are durable and cheap!



I did that with cheap plastic poker chips, for Scallywags
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Nick Hayes
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cujo777 wrote:
Has anyone thought of using circular labels (i.e. the ones used for garage sale prices) printing on them, and then sticking to pennies (or in my case 50 Rupiah coins)?

Yeah, I've also heard of people doing this. I think it's a great idea for prototyping your games. In fact, it's probably one of the least expensive ways to make circular tokens.
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Carc >> BSG
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I tried this: Printed the counters on sticker paper, used a circle punch from the craft store, applied those stickers to metal washers from the hardware store. This resulted in heavier-than-normal counters with dimpled centers. I don't plan to use this method again.
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Dave Mitton
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Great writeup!

I went through a similar learning exercise, though I didn't know about arch punches, so I just used the cheap hollow punches you can find on eBay or Harbor Freight. http://www.harborfreight.com/9-piece-hollow-punch-set-3838.h... While I could get them to work, your sources look superior.

After a few mishaps where I dulled the punch and had to file it up to sharpen it, I'll ditto the comments about using a piece of plywood or scrap wood as a base on a concrete floor. I had a good sized driving hammer handy so I used that. I would hate to pound that on a table.

I found I got a better bottom cut if I had a sacrificial layer of cardboard under the punch layer. That way the punch would go clean through the material with less tearing.
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