This Instructables will show you how to make your own, unique Leather Chinese Checker Board!
I learned the art of leather tooling from my Grandpa: a master who made saddles, bags, holsters... he was a true cowboy and artist. I give him credit for my love of working with leather and inspiring me to be creative. I have taken what I had learned from him and what I've learned through my own practice to evolve my skills and come up with fun projects like this.
For those of you who have never played it is a simple to learn, strategy board game played by two to six people. It can be played individually or with partners. The objective is to be first to race your colored marbles across the hexagram-shaped game board into your home space—the corner of the star opposite to your starting corner. You can move with single moves or by jumping over other marbles on the board.
I hope you find these instructions helpful as I had no instructions to work from except prior experience from other projects. Throughout I have provided some notes on the specific materials and techniques I used, but there are areas that can be modified if, for example, you don't have wood working tools.
With a little time, patience, creativity, and a basic knowledge of woodworking and leather tooling you can create and play this fun game from your childhood on an elegant, charming, and unique game board. I hope these instructions will help guide you on this fun leather project!
Step 1: Materials
I purchased my leather working materials at Tandy’s Leather store. Other items can be purchased at a hardware store or a craft store.
-Thick Leather: 4 to 5 oz.
-Scrap Leather: for practice
-Leather Color Stains or Dyes
-Leather Finish Sealer
-Pre cut Wood Round: 1 inch x 24 inches in diameter
-Additional Piece of Wood: ¼ in. thick or less, cut in a circle same as the Wood Round.
-Paper: Tracing and/or large drawing paper
-Chisel tool: 1-3 prongs
-Assorted Leather Stamping Tools: Background, Beveler, Veiner, Border, Shader and especially a large Seeder Stamp for marble spaces
-Leather Cutting Knife or Leather Shears
-Drill with Hole Saw Bit
-Marbles: 6 different color sets containing 10 marbles each
Step 2: Cut the Leather to Size on Board
1. Lay the leather on the ground or on a flat table where you’ll have plenty of room to move around it.
2. Lay the round piece of wood in the middle of the leather and trace around the outside with a pencil. Do not trace directly around the edge of the board, allow for about two inches. The additional space will allow you to wrap the leather around the rounded edge of the wood later when attaching.
3. Using leather cutting shears or a cutting knife; cut out the leather circle. Don’t worry if the edges are rough, you can trim them later.
4. Thoroughly wet with a sponge the leather and mold the leather to curve around the edge of the wood. It may not be a dramatic curve at this point, but it will help when fitting it to the board later.
Step 3: Design, Trace, and Layout Your Board
Time to design! I created my design around the image of a blossoming lotus flower. I repeated the design in between each marble pocket for symmetry. You can do any kind of design you like! Have fun and get really creative!! If you’re a beginner at leather working you might want to check out some designs in leather tooling books or online to see how many different styles and designs you can make on leather. It’s amazing the depth, detail, and textures you can get!
The most important part of this project is the hexagram star shape and the spaces. I bought a Chinese Checker Board from a thrift shop to use as a guide. You could measure it out or find a pattern online too.
1. Draw out your design on a piece of drawing or tracing paper that is the same size as your round piece of wood. Having a mock up drawing will help you see the overall design and with spacing and tracing later.
2. When your design is finished, make sure the leather is slightly damp before tracing.
3. Lay your wooden circle down in the middle of your leather and lightly trace the circle. This will be a helpful guide. Remember you cut an extra two inches around the circle so there should be leather peeking equally around all sides!
4. Lay your paper with design on your leather in the desired area.
5. Place the paper on top. Hold it so it will not slide when you are drawing on it. You can also tape it down to keep from sliding.
6. With a pencil, gently retrace over your drawing on the leather. Don’t press too hard and poke through your paper! Sometimes the damp leather will make the paper soggy and more likely to rip when drawing. Your pencil marks will push on the paper and leave a slight impression on the leather underneath. This is an easy way to transfer your design.
Step 4: Practice! Practice! Practice!
This next part is optional, but highly recommended!
With a piece of scrap leather, transfer your design (using the technique in the previous step) and tool the design to see how it will look. This allows you to make changes, test tools and patterns without fear of damaging the large final piece. Leather can be forgiving, but it has a point of "no-going-back." Save your practice piece for later when you want to try out some color dyes too. This is where your project comes to life and you can see a glimpse of what the final piece will look like!
Step 5: Tool and Stamp Your Design
I won’t go heavily into how to leather tool, but I will cover the basics of what I did. If you’re new to it or want to gain more skills, I recommend reading some leather working books (Al Stolman is great) and watching some videos online. And of course, practice on some scrap leather. You will gain the best knowledge and skills when you do it for yourself! You can also take a class at your local Tandy's store.
Typically you should stamp your leather on a piece of hard, flat marble. Since this was such an awkward, large piece of leather I ended up stamping it on the thick wooden round which left indents on the wood, you may notice them in later photos; however it got the job done.
1. Take a sponge and dampen the leather. When the leather starts to return to its natural, dry color it’s time to tool. You may need to re-apply the damp sponge as you work to rehydrate the leather.
2. Using a swivel knife carve out the entire design that you traced on the leather.
3. Using a set of assorted leather working tools and mallet, hammer the design to create the desired texture, pattern, and depth.
4. Use a large Seeder stamp for the circular marble spaces on the board. Hammer down the inside of the circles so a marble will rest on it without rolling off.
Step 6: Cut Pocket Holes
1. Using a leather knife or shear to cut out the circles in the leather where the pockets for the marbles will be. This part can be tricky, so be safe and go slow when cutting through the thick leather. Make sure your knife is sharp as that will help cut through it easier.
Step 7: Cut, Sand, and Glue Wood Base
Many thanks to my Dad for helping me at this stage in my project. He has all the wood working tools and was kind enough to help me. If you do not have tools to cut holes in wood you can modify your leather top to not have holes. Just create a design that fills in the space in between the points of the star. Marbles can be stored in bag or box to be stored with the game.
1. Put your tooled piece of leather on the thick wooden round. Using a pencil, trace the leather cut out circles onto the wood. Make sure you know which leather cut out hole lines up with which circle on the wood! This will help you line it up later. You can make pencil marks on the wood and pencil marks on the underside of the leather.
2. Using a hole saw attachment on a drill, drill out the six traced circles on the wooden round. The hole attachment size needs to match the circle you cut out of the leather.
3. Use a router to smooth the tops of the holes. The smoothed edges will help when you are lining the pockets.
4. Take the thinner, round piece of wood and attach it on the under side of the thick round piece of wood by applying wood glue. Make sure the two pieces dry flat to ensure a level board. An uneven board will make the marbles roll everywhere! For additional grip between the two pieces of wood you could use screws.
5. Sand any rough edges when the glue is dry.
Now you have the wooden base for your game board, complete with pockets for the marbles!
Step 8: Dye and Seal Leather
When it comes to dying and coloring your leather it’s really up to your preferences. Once again, I would suggest you watch some videos, read some techniques, and practice with some colors and scrap leather yourself. You can use small brushes for the small detail work and larger brushes or sponges even for the large areas. Here’s how I did it and a few tips.
1. Using a yellow dye (I used Hi-Lite Color Stains) paint the lotus flowers yellow first. This makes the flowers stand out a bit.
2. Paint in the medium tones or brown.
3. To get the super crisp edge on the stars’ triangle home spaces lay down a piece of painters tape. A word of caution!! The tape can leave a little scarring on the leather. Apply it lightly and just enough on the edge you are dying. The clear sealer will help to mask any scarring from the tap, but be careful!
4. Finish the background with black dye.
5. Buff the board. This will remove any residue or particles before you seal it. You can use a sponge or an old rag cloth.
6. Seal up the entire board with a clear sealer using a sponge to apply.
Step 9: Line Cups and Bottom of Wood
Since deerskin can be pricy, you could use another material. Just make sure if you do use something else that it is a somewhat stretchy material that has some give. You could always just leave the pockets and underside as is and paint or stain the exposed wood too.
1. Cut out six pieces of deerskin to go inside the wooden pockets. Cut the pieces much larger than the wooden holes.
2. Apply a smooth coat of epoxy glue on the inside of a wooden pocket. Imagine you’re putting cup cake liners in a cupcake pan! Lay the deerskin, (I put the fuzzy side up) directly over it. Gently push the deerskin into the pocket.
3. Smooth out the pockets with your fingers until it is smooth of wrinkles and bumps. You may need to do little snips around the top edge of the leather to ensure it lays flat. Lay the extra skin down flat along the top edge and smooth it out. The top edge around the pocket will be covered by the leather so don’t worry if it looks uneven, the important thing is that it’s flat on the top.
4. Take a large piece of deerskin and make sure it will wrap around the underside and cover wooden round.
5. Apply a smooth coat of epoxy on the bottom side of the wood board and on the edges. Lay the deerskin down and smooth it out so it is covering the entire bottom and up around the edges. Allow it to dry.
Step 10: Lacing
Lacing is another optional element that can be added as a nice decorative note. It helps make the edges around the cut out leather circle appear cleaner and more finished.
1. Using a chisel tool and a mallet create holes in the leather around the cut hole. Use the chisel to make holes around the outer circle of the board.
2. Using flat lace do a whipstitch around the cut out hole. The basic pattern to do this is to stitch up, around, under, and through to the next hole.
3. When you have laced around the entire edge tuck the ends under and glue to the underside of the leather. Do this to all six pockets.
Step 11: Attach the Leather to the Wood
Assemble the board by attaching the leather top to the wood board covered in deerskin.
1. Cut the edge of the leather piece for a finished look. As you can see, I did a scalloped edge. This design made it easy for me to fold the pieces down around the edges eliminating the fight with awkward folds.
2. Make sure each deerskin pocket aligns with the leather cut out holes.
3. Cover the wood board (making sure to avoid the deer skin pockets) with epoxy glue. Coat the underside of the leather and attach them together.
4. Apply gentle pressure, by setting something flat and slightly heavy on it, like a book to ensure the leather dries flat to the wood. There may be some bumps where the edges of deerskin pocket pieces are laying. Just make sure to apply a good amount of glue and light pressure so the leather top will not be as affected by the bumps.
5. Using a mallet tap in upholstery tacks around the outer edge of the leather to attach it to the wood base better. This also adds a nice decorative element.
Step 12: You're Ready to Play!
You’re all done! Now get some friends and play on your unique game board! I hope this Instructable has been insightful and has inspired you to create something amazing with leather!