How To Make a Double-Sided Checker Board
Whether you’re relaxing by the lake, or having some quiet family time in your backyard, board games are great fun to have around. They’re even more fun to play if you built them yourself.
I set out to make a single-sided wood board game of Chinese checkers but quickly realized I had to do something with the underside. Checkers was the easy answer, as my 6- and 8-year-old kids both enjoy playing.
Start the Hexagon
With the center of the template marked and a line drawn through the center separating the template into two equal parts, Brown drew a 5" radius circle, then added two more marks on each half of the circle.
Brown added six lines at 60 degrees to the center line by using a straightedge to connect the main intersection drawn in the previous step. He then added two more lines parallel to the initial centerline. Ensuring these lines end cleanly at the outer tips of each triangle will help keep the next few steps clearer.
Divide and Conquer
Measure the distance between the initial short arcs you drew on the circle, divide that distance by four, then mark off those intervals on the upper and lower horizontal lines. Add longer lines connecting the newly added short lines, making sure these new lines are parallel with the angled lines in the previous photo.
Lots of Intersections
With the lines complete, you can drill a hole at each of the intersections. Be sure to keep the pencil marks clear, as you don't want too many intersections.
Drill the Holes
Using a drill press, bore 121 holes in the template. Ensure the bit you're using will accept your template guide accurately.
Part way through the process of drilling the holes, Brown realized the underside of the template was chipping out heavily. The template needed to sit flat on the workpiece to rout all the divots evenly. Brown then started boring holes about 3/4 of the way through the template so the underside would remain clean. The rest of the hole would be bored with the router while routing the divots in the workpiece.
Simple Veneer Trimming Jig
Using just a few materials Brown built a simple veneer-trimming jig in order to quickly and accurately cut veneer strips to width. Here he's using a thin spacer the same width as the strips of veneer he wants to cut in order to set the location of the fence.
Ripped to Width
Once the sections of veneer are cut to rough length, Brown trims one edge straight. He then places that edge against the fence, clamps a 3/4"-thick pressure platen on top of the veneer and cuts a strip of veneer.
Crosscutting to Size
Once the strips are cut and taped together, Brown trims one edge square then proceeds to butt that edge up to the fence and crosscut cross-grain strips to size.
Final Veneer Assembly
Brown lines up the strips as they are cut, shifts every other strip, then starts taping the strips together. One square of veneer will have to be cut off every other strip and re-taped onto the other end of the veneer assembly. In this photo you can see a darker square was just cut from the opposite end and is waiting to be taped in place.
Next, Brown positions the four lengths of edging at a 45-degree angle to the cut, secures them with clamps and 3/4"-thick caul and makes the cut.
Mating 45-Degree Cuts
With the contrasting edging taped to the main veneer assembly and one end of each piece of edging overlong, align each corner, clamp it down, and use a sharp knife to trim the mating edge of veneer.
After gluing on the solid wood edging, and flushing it with the board's surface, Brown opted to add a slightly rounded profile to the edging with passes on both sides of the game board.
Sand it Smooth
In order to help keep the veneer on the Chinese checkers side of the board intact, Brown applied a few coats of finish before routing the 121 divots. Though unorthodox, this approach worked great.
Finally, the Routing
Work your way through the series of holes in the template as you plunge rout all the divots. There's a fine line between plunging too quickly and causing chipping, and plunging too slowly and causing burning.
A Bit of Colour
Rather than add colour to each of the 10 divots in each start triangle, you can speed the process by adding colour to just one of the divots. Colour could be left off the game board altogether.
I used veneer on both faces of Baltic birch plywood for this project, but there’s nothing saying you couldn’t use solid wood. The Chinese checkers would turn out great, but using solid wood leaves you with a few decisions regarding the checkers face. To produce the checkers design you could add inlay into the wood, carve shallow grooves, or use a pyrography pen or paint to mark the squares. There are probably many other options too.
If you do go with veneer, make sure to use plywood that is smooth and has no voids. Starting with a piece of plywood that’s flat is also important. I used a vacuum bag to quickly press the veneer to the plywood, but a host of clamps and cauls will work quite nicely on a smaller project like this. Just do your best to distribute clamping pressure as evenly over the surface as possible.
I found marbles hard to come by. I checked all the local stores, but they didn’t have six different colours in the shape and size I wanted. I ended up ordering 9/16″ diameter marbles online for about $7.00 US, and shipping doubled that price.
Create the template
The Chinese checkers holes – all 121 of them – can be drilled many ways, but I opted to create a routing template in order to make accurate, even holes. With the template I could quickly rout more boards down the road. Friends and family are always happy to receive handmade gifts.
You can find templates on the Internet, but it’s not too hard to lay out your own pattern. This way you have full control over how large the pattern of holes will be. I was aiming for a board about 20″ square and wanted the hole pattern to extend to within a few inches of all four sides. I cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood (1/2″ would also work) to the same size as the finished board and marked the center point. I then added a horizontal center line, dividing the piece of plywood in half. From the center point I drew a 5″ radius circle with my trammel points and small wood beam. Without moving the trammel points, I then put the non-marking trammel point on the intersection of the circle and the horizontal line and marked two short arcs across the circle, repositioned the trammel point to the other intersection of circle and line, then marked two more short arcs across the circle. This left me with a center point, one circle, one line and four short arcs crossing the circle.
Using a ruler, I connected the intersections to leave a series of 60-degree lines. I also added an upper and lower horizontal line to complete the outer shape of the board. The board now had a hexagon in the middle of it, with a series of six triangles surrounding the hexagon. Erase any layout lines that extend too far, as you want to keep this looking as simple as possible and avoid confusion as to where any holes will be drilled.
Template hole locations
To locate the hole locations, measure the distance between where the two short arcs cross the circle, then divide that distance by four. This distance will be marked on the upper and lower horizontal lines to give you a series of intersections. Every fourth mark shouldn’t be needed, as there will already be an intersection there.
Connect the marks on one horizontal line with the marks on the other horizontal line, creating a series of lines. These lines should all be parallel to some of the existing lines. These lines will have to be drawn in at 60 degrees to the left and 60 degrees to the right in order to fill in the area between the outer lines. Where each of these lines intersects is a location for a hole to be drilled. Cross-reference what you have with the photos in this article to ensure you’re on the right track. If you want to be extra clear, add a small circle around each intersection so the next step – drilling the holes – is clear. This whole process seems quite complex, but once you start drawing it out it’s much simpler to follow.
Drilling 121 holes
My general approach was to make a 121-hole template to guide my router in creating all the holes in the game board. I would use a 5/8″ outside diameter brass template guide fixed to my router base, and a 1/2″ diameter, round-end core box bit to produce the divots in the game board. When making your board, ensure you have a router bit that will not only produce properly sized holes to locate the marbles, but also that your bit will fit cleanly through the brass template guide. Finally, ensure you have a drill bit that will bore perfect holes for your template guide to fit into.
The drill press will bore all these holes at a right angle to the face of the template and will save your upper body from getting quite a workout. I started out by drilling the holes closest to the outer edge of the board then worked my way inward. It took me a while (I’m a slow learner, I guess) to realize each hole was blowing out quite heavily on the bottom side of the template. This was going to leave me with a template that wouldn’t sit flush and even on the game board when it came time to rout the holes. My solution for the holes near the middle of the template was to stop drilling all the way through. This gave me a flat and even center area, as well as the outer edges, to place on the game board. The router and 1/2″ router bit would take care of boring through the last bit of material and would reduce blowout drastically.
To make insertion of the template guide into each of the 121 holes a bit easier, I countersunk each of the template holes slightly.
The last step was to flip the template over and scrape off all the chips and splinters so the template would sit flat on the workpiece when the time came to rout the holes.
I used a very simple jig that runs in my table saw’s mitre slot to rip strips of veneer to size. A 3/4″-thick base, a solid wood runner, a solid wood handle, a solid wood piece to secure the leading end of the jig, a fence to butt the veneer up against and a top platen to apply even pressure are all the parts needed. A few hold-down clamps make the task a lot easier and more accurate.
With the jig assembled, I ripped a strip of material to the width I wanted the veneer strips to end up at. I used this piece to locate the fence while I screwed it in place. It must be parallel with the kerf.
The checker board pattern was to run to within a few inches of the board, and another species would frame the pattern. This meant the checker board squares were going to be about 2″ square, and the pattern would be about 16″ x 16″. I crosscut two contrasting species of veneer to about 20″ long, ripped one edge straight with the jig, butt up that straight edge against the fence to cut the strip to width and repeated until I had four strips of each species. I lie – I ripped a couple extra, just in case.
Now it was time to join the strips using veneer tape, alternating species as I went. When dry, I marked a perpendicular line on the 20″ long x 16″ wide sheet, aligned the line with the kerf in my jig and crosscut one end of the veneer sheet straight. I was then able to use the same setting for the fence to crosscut 2″ wide strips, each now made up of veneer squares. I numbered the strips as they were cut from the sheet, so I could put them together in order.
Alternate the pattern when taping the strips back together. Do this by lining up the strips in the same order they were cut, then sliding every other strip to one side. This also means that every strip that got moved will need to have the end square cut off and re-taped onto the opposite end of the length to form a 16″ x 16″ square pattern. At this point the four edges of the sheet should be straight. If they’re not, use the jig to trim off a very small amount in order to straighten the edges.
Frame the checker board
I cut four strips of zebrawood to frame the checker pattern. I cut them wider than needed so I had some waste to trim off after the game board was pressed up. I also cut them a few inches longer than needed. Though a bit trickier, I thought mitred frame corners were much nicer looking. I lined up the four frame pieces, placed them on the jig at a 45-degree angle to the kerf, clamped them in place, and cut one end of each piece.
I then taped each piece to the checker pattern sheet, making sure each piece of frame veneer had one mitred end and one overlong end. With a sharp knife I cut the overlong piece of veneer to length by using the mitred frame end as a scoring edge. The resulting corners fit together nicely and were taped together.
Or ‘cauls and clamps time’, if that’s the approach you’re taking. I cut the plywood core oversized and used my vacuum bag to press the checker pattern onto one face. In the meantime, I straightened two edges of zebrawood veneer and taped them together. By this time the checker pattern was dry. so I removed it, flipped it over, and pressed the zebrawood veneer to the other face.
To protect the game board and finish it off visually, I mitred 3/8″-wide white ash edging to the four sides. When dry I flushed the solid edging material with a router equipped with a straight bit and a piece of plywood attached to half of the router’s base. With the router bit adjusted to the same plane as the underside of the piece of plywood attached to the router, I was able to flush things up. A bit of belt sanding perfected the joint.
To finish off the solid edging I opted for a slight roundover, so I routed that to both sides now.
I was ready to clamp my Chinese checkers routing template to the game board, but then I started to worry about chipping out the zebrawood veneer while plunge routing each hole. Not wanting to make a mess of all my work, I thought it might be safer, though slightly unorthodox, to apply a few coats of finish to the zebrawood before routing the 121 divots, as the finish might hold the wood fibres together. In hindsight, this worked like a charm.
First few coats of finish
After a proper sanding I used an aerosol can of Varathane Professional Clear Finish to apply a few coats to each side, as it’s very durable. I let the finish cure for an extra few days. The plan was to complete the routing then apply a final coat of finish, which would cover any minor scratches made while routing.
Routing 121 holes
Once the finish cured, I clamped the routing template to the board, set up my router with my 5/8″ outside diameter template guide, installed a 1/2″ cove box bit in my router, set the depth and proceeded to plunge rout all the holes. The chamfer around all the holes in the template sped the process up quite a bit. There was absolutely no chipping whatsoever – rarely does a plan work out even better than anticipated.
A touch of colour
Most Chinese checkers boards have 60 coloured divots, but to be honest I didn’t want to do that much work. I opted to colour the outermost divot to correspond with one of the six marble colours I had.
Rather than purchase a set of players, I opted to make a simple set out of wood. You could spend a lot of time making a stunning set, but I opted for something quite simple. Using some maple and walnut lengths, milled to about 1-1/4″ square, I cut chamfers on all four sides to end up with two lengths with octagonal cross sections. I sanded the eight faces, then crosscut the parts from this length, eased their edges and applied a few coats of finish to each piece.
Final coat of finish
I sanded both faces and applied one last coat of finish to both sides. I think the hardest part was waiting at least 24 hours before being able to play our first game. Sadly, I lost, but I’m getting used to it.