Leather Bound Book With Replaceable Pages and Built in Checkers Game




About: I'm the kind of person who's mind doesn't stop. Literally, I take medication to fix that just so I can sleep at night. I have an unhealthy obsession with making things and believe, firmly, in sharing what I ...

I have an obsession for anything journal related to the point that I can't pass a book or art store without picking up a new one. I keep a journal for personal thoughts, one for drafting my projects in, another for work, and still another for drawing in, etc.

Recently, I was sitting with some friends at a local coffee shop and noticed some folks, at another table, sitting around a checker set, when it occurred to me that enjoying a game over coffee would be a fantastic way to waste a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, carrying around a board game, all the time, would be impractical and having an impromptu game would be, pretty much, out of the question.

That's when I realized that it would be a novel idea to incorporate my journal, which I tend to carry with me all the time anyway, with a board game that could be started up at a moments notice without any extra weight in my backpack. Now, sure you can download chess and checker games for your tablet or smart phone, but how many people actually do? There's a definite difference between playing a computer game, and the tactile feel of the pieces between your fingers.

I've made quite a few of my journals, out of leather, using a simple process that allows me to replace the pages once they fill up. I've used a variety of different weights and types of leather, however for this one I opted to use some 2-3oz vegetable tanned leather that was pre-dyed a charcoal gray. There's no real reason for the choice other than that's what I had on hand in the size I needed for this project. The paper I use is 24lb premium, tho I have used lighter 20lb on some of my other books.

To create the pages, I use a traditional jig that both folds the pages and punches the stitching holes at the same time. It's creation is pretty simple and can make the process of book binding a lot easier making it a worthwhile step to add.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies



  • 60 pages of 24lb premium paper or 75 pages of 20lb
  • 9"x13" piece of Veg. tanned leather. 2-3oz is preferred however you can use heavier weight. You can also use chromium tanned leather if you prefer.
  • Fiebings Leather Dye
  • Beeswax Leather Polish (You can find my instructable on how to make your own here; High Grade Beeswax Polish)
  • Five 6"x9" pieces of 1/4" plywood

Step 2: The Page Jig

The page jig is a simple piece of equipment that will make the process of book binding profoundly easier by folding the pages and punching them for stitching in one motion.

To create the jig, you need to cut five 6"x9" pieces of 1/4" plywood, MDF, or whatever you have on hand. It's comprised of two pieces in a 'V' shape that are at a 33 degree angle with a board on each end securing them in place. Ensure there is no gap between the boards where they meet at the tip of the V, tho you can reinforce it with some duct tape for strength.

The final piece of plywood is tapered along one edge, and small holes are drilled along that edge where sharp pins are set into place with epoxy. For my stitching pattern I used a series of 6 holes where each hole is punches 1" starting from center. This should leave a 2" gap between two groups of 3 holes. You can see an example of this in the final image of this step.

Step 3: Cutting and Carving Your Cover

The piece I worked with was 8.5"x13" which is designed to fit pages that are 8"x5.5", making its final size of 8.5"x6". You're not limited to this size and your book can be whatever you feel you need based on the pages you're using. I was using simple 8.5"x11 pages that were cut down a bit, but you can easily use 14" or even greater. Just remember to adjust the size of your cover accordingly. The formula is simple; Page length+binding thickness of 1"+cover overhang of .5" per cover (1"). For the height of the book, ensure you leave .25" cover overhand on the top and bottom.

Carving and Tooling;

The design and pattern is entirely up to you. I opted to use a basket weave tool for the majority of the cover leaving the spine blank. For the checker board, I made each square .55" with the entire board centered on the front page. I could have used the entire cover, but that would have distorted the board and I didn't feel it would have looked as good. First I scored the shape of the board using a ball tool, then carved the lines in with my leather carving knife. Instead of dying the squares different colors, I opted to keep the book one solid shade and used a texture tool on alternating squares to recess them a bit, leaving their opposites flat.

Finally, you need to punch the holes for your stitching. You can use the template you created for your pages to make this process a lot easier. I recommend using 5 bundles of 12 pages so your holes should reflect that. The holes in my rows were punched roughly 1/16" apart.

Step 4: Prepping Your Pages

Using your jig makes this entire process 100x easier. Simply insert no more than 6 pages at a time into your jig, then using your pin board, push down until the pages fold up and the thread holes are punched. Repeat this step until you have 5 bundles of 12 pages each. You'll need to add more pages if you decided to use lighter paper. Optimally it would be 60 pages for 24lb and 75 pages for 20lob.

Trimming Your Pages;

When you fold and fit your page sections together, you'll notice that your inside pages tend to stick out a bit because of the thickness of the fold. Now would be a good time to trim this excess off, if you want the edging of your pages to all line up, however it isn't necessary and looks pretty decent with varied page lengths. You can also decal the edges by clamping your pages between two boards, and trimming using a table saw. It's a technique I 'accidentally' stumbled on a long time ago and still use today, and can look pretty decorative. Finally, you'll need to trim the height of your pages, if necessary, to fit the size of the cover you've chosen.

When you're done folding and trimming your pages, you should clamp the crease between two boards to coax them to be as thin as possible. Leaving them like this for 24 hours should be long enough, however you can wait until your book is completed and press the entire finished item afterwards.

Step 5: Stitching Your Pages

I recommend using two needles at each end of a 16" length of thread. Start from the outside center of the book and bind the middle grouping of pages first. This will set the baseline for the rest of the bundles. Stitch in an in/out pattern, reversing it as you change direction at the last hole, where your two ends should meet inside the book as you see in image number 3. Tie off the ends, ensuring your stitching is nice and tight and snip off the ends.

**Note** Experience has taught me that if you start on an outside bundle and work toward the other side, you may find you have difficulty getting everything to fit nice and evenly. It's best to start at the center bundle, and work your way outwards. I can't give you a specific reason why it's better, only that you should trust that I've had my fair share of frustration from crooked binding until I figured this little trick out.

Step 6: The Bookmark and Checkers

If you're going to have a checkerboard book, you need a place to store your checkers right? Sure, you can create a little pocket to hold them, but that just encourages them falling out and getting lost. For my project I created a bookmark with a tassel that holds the pieces making it functional as well as practical. The bookmark itself is made out of a 1"x7" piece of 2-3oz leather with a modest cross hatch design on it and a V groove tail. A hole is punched at the top for a 12" leather thong to pass through. This thong will be used to hold our checker pieces.

The Checkers;

I needed checkers that were roughly .5" in diameter. Unfortunately, I didn't have a punch that would create these pieces, so I used a scrap piece of pipe, (an old curtain rod) and sharpened one edge using my bench grinder. This worked perfectly and I was able to create all 24 pieces. Next I punched a smaller hole in the center of each piece so that the thong could pass through it for storage.

Finally I used some black Fiebings leather dye to darken half of the pieces. I also decided to dye the bookmark itself, but this isn't a necessary step.

Step 7: Protecting Your Leather

Once you've completed your book and your pieces, you should protect them from staining and dirt. I recommend using a high grade beeswax polish, however you can use your own favorite product, if you like. If you'd prefer to make it on your own, I have an instructable for a high grade beeswax polish on instructables you may find useful.

Step 8: Finished

That's it! If you're half as obsessed with journals as i am, you will love the added bonus of having a travel game to go along with it. Couple that with the fact that it has a never ending possibility for pages to be replaced, and you'll have a book that should last you a good, long time.

As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable and thanks for following.

Papercraft Contest 2015

Second Prize in the
Papercraft Contest 2015

Leather Contest

Finalist in the
Leather Contest

Epilog Contest VII

Participated in the
Epilog Contest VII



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    9 Discussions


    3 years ago

    loved how the checkers design is functional and beautiful at the same time. One question tho, you say you made it to replace the pages on the book. The way it's bound, does it mean you would need to unbound all the pages when replacing them?


    The leather working is very impressive. But the built-in checkers makes it unbelievably awesome.

    1 reply

    I brought it to a meetup at Starbucks with a few friends. The table went quiet for a bit so I whipped it out. Made for a nice afternoon.


    3 years ago

    I really wanna make this but a few im missing several of the tools needed can you tell me if my replacements will be alright?

    Table saw --> Jig saw

    6oz mallet - 8oz mallet

    Thanks! :D

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Absolutely. Every item on the list can be substituted, even the leather. If you can't find veg tanned, use chromium. Heck, the first one I made using a recycled leather jacket. I recommended the 6oz mallet because it's thin leather and you want a light touch when tooling. If you're careful an 8oz will do just fine. As for the jig saw, just make sure your lines are straight and it'll be just fine. It's just for the jig anyway which doesn't have to be perfect.

    Sam Freeman

    3 years ago

    This is fantastic. I'm sure several pages are serving good use keeping track of scores. I can easily see a Go board living on the reverse side too. Nicely done.

    1 reply
    antagonizerSam Freeman

    Reply 3 years ago

    A little tooling on some of the pieces and you can have a chess set as well.

    The Rambler

    3 years ago

    That's awesome! What a great idea, and well executed.


    3 years ago

    I LOVE IT! I think this will be my next book binding project. It's amazing to know that there is another person out there that shares the same passion for journals as me. Definitely on my to-do list.