Introduction: Leather Checkers Game

About: Leatherwork is's's an awesome way to express creativity! I dabbled in leather crafting in the mid 1980s, making my then 5-year-old son a leather holster for his cap gun. At that…

Who doesn't love checkers?

It's a great game for all ages and can be played batteries required!

You can make this all-leather set that can be rolled up or laid flat in a suitcase or backpack.

It doesn't rattle.

It's not wood, so it's lightweight.

It's not cardboard, so it doesn't fall apart.

It's leather, so it's awesome!

Step 1: Planning

Let's first think about the project and make some sizing decisions.

My first thought was how I was going to cut the checkers to be perfectly round--and all the same size. I tried a few different ways and wasn't happy with the outcomes.

Failure 1: I used scissors and the checkers looked like a 3-year old cut them out.

Failure 2: A little bit more ambitious, I cut a section of copper pipe and angled the rim to sharpen it. After 10 minutes of pounding, and only making a dent in the leather I stopped and called that a failure too.

Failure 3: I traced a circle on the leather and used a razor to cut it out. Ok, that worked, but the time expended (times 24+ checker pieces) wasn't worth the effort.

Finally a Success: I got online and found a 1" round hole drive punch. Within a week, it arrived in the mail and I was able to pound out the checkers the way I envisioned them.

Since I now had 1" checkers, I needed to calculate the size of my squares for the checkerboard.

A checkerboard is 8 squares by 8 squares, for a total of 64 squares.

I wanted each square to be a tad bigger than the checkers, so I went with 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" (or 1.25" x 1.25") for each square. This worked out perfectly since 1.25" x 8 squares = an even 10"

I added a 1" border all the way around, so the leather square I needed would be 12" x 12"

Step 2: Materials

Most of my materials and tools I bought from the Tandy Leather Company. I can travel two hours north or two hours south to visit a Tandy store. For me, it's worth the trip since I can see, feel and choose the materials and tools I'm buying. Plus, the smell of leather is awesome!

For everything else, I generally search online (Amazon, eBay, etc.) to find what I need.

1. Checkerboard: I chose 4-5 oz vegetable tanned leather. This is a thinner leather, more pliable and will be easier to roll and unroll. I found this particular piece of leather on sale at Tandy. You can choose the grade of leather you want to use for your project. My choice was not top of the line, but was a great deal at $25.00.

2. Checkers: I used two different colors of 7-8 oz scrap leather. Both Tandy and Hobby Lobby sell value bags of scrap leather.

3. Checkers Pouch: I chose a scrap of dark brown upholstery leather.

4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This oil can be found at any grocery store. This will be used to bring your vegetable tanned leather back to life after it dries from the stamping, cutting and dying.

5. Fiebing's Professional Oil Dye: You can choose one color if you want every other square to be the natural leather color (my choice); or you can choose two dyes to color the squares two different colors. The Fiebing's Professional Oil Dye is an alcohol-based dye, and my personal favorite. You can find it at Tandy 2110-XX for 4 fl oz.

6. Fiebing's Tan-Kote: This is a resin based formula, used as a top finish. Keep in mind that it is not water resistant. It can be found at Tandy 2220-01 for 4 fl oz.

7. Fiebing's Antique Finish: Gives the checkerboard an antique look. This finish comes in several colors and can be found on Amazon. I chose dark brown.

Step 3: Tools

When you first look at the list of tools I used for this project, it seems daunting. Keep in mind, there are alternate ways of accomplishing the same result, with or with out the tools listed. Over the past few years, as I came up with new projects, I bought one or two tools at a time. For some projects, I made that special trip to visit Tandy Leather to get what I need. I'm like a kid in a candy store!

TIP: If you're not sure how to use one of the tools that Tandy sells, go to, find the tool and you'll find the video showing how to use it. This is a great resource that I use often!

This is the list of tools I used for this project:

1. Ruler, at least 12" long

2. L-Shaped Angle Square Ruler, to insure your square checkerboard is actually square

3. Razor, to cut and trim the leather

4. Freehand Stitching Groover (Tandy 88074-11), to define the squares

5. Edge Beveler (Tandy 8076-02), to bevel the edges of the checkerboard before burnishing them

6. Scratch Awl (Tandy 3217-00), to mark the leather

7. Multi-Size Wood Slicker (Tandy 8121-00), used to burnish the edges of the checkerboard

8. Quartz/ Granite Slab 14" x 14" (Debris from a local granite supplier), used as my table top

9. Poundo Board 12" x 12" (Tandy 3461-01), used on top of the granite slab to protect the punches from damage

10. Mallet or Maul, used to hammer the punches

11. Beeswax, used to coat the 1" punch to help it glide through the leather

12. 1" Round Hole Drive Punch (Amazon), to punch out the checkers

TIP: Initially, I very disappointed with the 1" hole punch. It was covered with black "soot" or grease and was not very sharp. I took it out to the garage and cleaned it up, used a very fine sand paper on the tip and then followed up with 0000 steel wool. When using, I run my bar of beeswax over the tip to help glide it through the leather. Still, it takes quite a few pounds to get it to cut through, but it does the job.

13. Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch #04, size 5/32" (Tandy 3777-04), to punch out the holes for the drawstring on the pouch

12. Vinyl Gloves, to protect your hands from the dye and antique finish

13. Large Cotton Balls, to spread and remove the antique finish

Step 4: Making the Checkerboard, Part 1 (Marking the Lines)

1. Use your ruler and L-shaped angle square ruler to draw out your 12" x 12" square on the 4-5 oz vegetable tanned leather. You can draw the lines using your scratch awl or you can do as I did and used a pen. All the lines you draw at this point will be removed when you use the freehand stitching groover to define the lines.

2. Using your razor and ruler, cut out the 12" x 12" piece

3. Measure and mark your 1" border

4. Inside the 1" border, measure increments of 1-1/4" on all four border lines

5. Using your scratch awl or pen, draw the checkered line pattern

Step 5: Making the Checkerboard, Part 2 (Grooves and Prep Work)

1. Using the freehand stitching groover and a ruler, groove out all the lines that you've made (you'll end up with a pile of grooved leather...groovy!).

2. Find any round object, approximately 2-3/4" in diameter and use it to mark the lines to round your corners. Use your razor to carefully cut the curves.

3. You can bevel the edges with your edge beveler. Flip the checkerboard over and bevel around the edges on the other side too.

Step 6: Making the Checkerboard, Part 3 (Texture)

Here's a cool trick to use to add texture to your leather. It hides minor mistakes made while marking lines and also hides flaws in the leather.

1. Take a clean, wet sponge and dampen your leather. We don't want to dip the leather in water, just wet the top portion of it.

2. Grab your wet checkerboard and mallet. Go outside and find a rough looking section of sidewalk or slab of concrete.

3. Place your leather face down on the sidewalk and somewhere between lightly and firmly, use your mallet to tap all over the leather (you should be tapping on the backside since you placed the face down). Once you're sure you've tapped every single spot, pick it up and take a look at it. Check to see if there are areas that you missed and tap some more if you need to.

4. Set the checkerboard to the side to let it dry. If your leather has warps in it (like mine), place it on a flat surface; then place a towel over it to absorb the dampness and a heavy, flat object (books or granite) on top of the towel.

Step 7: Making the Checkerboard, Part 4 (Finish)

1. Use a wet sponge to dampen (not soak) the edges of the checkerboard. Rub the wood slicker back and forth, vigorously, to burnish the edges. Do this all the way around the board.

2. Begin dying the squares. I chose to use one color (medium brown) and left the other color as the natural leather. Use the dye carefully. Your first brush stroke on each square should be away from the edge to keep the dye from traveling to places that you don't want it to go. You may need to go back over each square with a second coat of dye.

3. Once the dye dries, use a cotton ball and spread a nice coat of Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the face of the checkerboard (not on the back). This will soak in and rejuvenate your leather. Let it sit overnight.

4. Dampen a sponge and wring out as much water as you can. Soak a bit of Tan-Kote onto the sponge and wipe the entire face of the checkerboard using circular motions, making sure you get the Tan-Kote coverage inside every cut and crevice. Allow at least 30 minutes to 1 hour to dry.

5. Gather a handful of cotton balls and the Fiebing's Antique Finish. This antique finish is a paste, which is one of the things I love about it. Grab a dab of paste on a cotton ball and begin spreading it, in a circular motion, all over the face of the checkerboard. Again, it needs to be rubbed into every cut and crevice.

6. Once the whole board is covered, you can use clean cotton balls, changing to new ones frequently, to wipe the excess off. Gently wipe in a circular motion. You choose the look you want. I removed everything except the definition of the lines and the indents from the sidewalk texture.

7. Once the Antique paste dries, you can use a second coat of Tan-Kote for protection. Keep in mind that the Tan-Kote will remove some of the antique paste, so use gently and carefully.

Step 8: Making the Checkers

1. You may already be aware of this, but just in case:

Hole punches will be damaged if you use a hammer on them. Always use a mallet or maul to pound.

Hole punches will also be damaged if you punch your leather on a hard surface. Make sure you use some sort of poly or rubber cutting board under your work. Even thick leather underneath will work, as long as you don't go through it.

If you rub beeswax on the tip of the hole punch, it will slide a bit easier through the leather.

2. Use the 1" hole punch to punch out 12 (plus a few spares) of each of the two colors of 7-8 oz leather. We've got checkers!

Step 9: Making the Pouch

1. Using a piece of cardboard, draw out a pattern for your pouch. My pattern has a mouth width of 5-1/4" and is 6-3/4" in length.

2. Mark the six holes at the top for the drawstring. Measure down 1/2" from the top and space the points for the holes 3/4" apart.

3. Cut out the pattern.

4. I chose a soft, pliable upholstery leather for the pouch. Since we will be sewing the pouch inside-out, it will be easier to turn it right-side-out when we finish. Place your pattern on the reverse (back side) of the leather you chose for your pouch and trace it using a pen. Use the scratch awl to mark the six holes for the drawstring.

5. To make the second side, flip your pattern over and trace out the second one. We do this just in case the pattern is not a mirror image on both sides. It will still line up when we sew it. Use the scratch awl to mark the six holes for the drawstring.

6. Punch the six holes on both parts of the pouch using the Craftool Round Hole Drive Punch #04.

7. Put the two sides together with the back sides of the leather facing outside. Remember, once the sewing is finished, the bag will be turned right-side-out.

8. Use clips or a bit of glue to hold the leather in place while you sew it. This can be sewn by hand or by machine. I usually sew by hand, but this time, I used 'Ol Faithful, an antique Singer sewing machine.

9. Sew around the perimeter of the pouch, except for the mouth. Double-stitch a few stitches at each top side to keep the pouch from pulling apart. Using your scissors, cut away any excess leather to keep in from bunch when we turn it.

10. Begin turning the pouch right-side-out by pushing the bottom up towards the mouth. Work it until the pouch is turned. Use the wood slicker inside the bag to push out the seam and smooth the edges.

11. Cut 12" - 18" of 550 paracord and thread the pouch, as seen in the illustration. Pulling the pouch open and closed several times will loosen the leather.

12. Drop the checkers in the pouch and tie the drawstring!

Step 10: Final Thoughts

Checkers really is a cool game and it's even better when you've made your own set.

For me, this was a fun project and I enjoyed making it!

If you followed this Instructable and made your own set, please post a pic! I'd love to see your creativity!

Tandy Leather Contest 2016

Participated in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016