Double the unplugged fun
In these days of smart phones and video game consoles, it’s easy to forget there are a lot of classic games out there that don’t require electricity, are lots of fun, and involve some real personal interaction. This double-sided game board has provisions for three such games. One side features a sixty-four square grid for checkers or chess, while the other side is drilled for Chinese checkers. For those unfamiliar with Chinese checkers, the object is to move all your marbles from one side of the board to the other before your opponent(s) can move theirs. The complete rules are available on our website.
Making the board is a straightforward affair that involves carefully constructing some templates and then using them to rout the holes and lines that create the playing areas. Take your time when making the templates so the subsequent cuts are crisp and uniform.
The checkerboard grid is colored with TransTint dyes. These concentrated dyes are mixed with alcohol and make coloring wood a cinch. The routed lines between the squares are painted first to make it easier to keep the colors only where you want them.
I’ve made several dozen of these boards and find they make excellent gifts for youngsters and newlyweds alike.
Order of Work
- Make the Chinese checkers template and prepare the blank
- Rout the Chinese checkers holes
- Make the checkerboard template
- Rout the checkerboard grid
- Cut the board round
- Paint the lines and dye the squares
Make the Chinese checkers template
Rather than making a template for the entire Chinese checkers board, it is easier to make a template for 1/6 of the board (just 20 holes) and then rotate it as you rout all the holes for play. Make your template from an 11 × 12" piece of 1/2" sheet material such as MDF or Baltic Birch plywood. Lay out the holes as shown, and extend the center line down the outer edge of the template. Drill the pivot point and the two anchor holes with a 5/32" bradpoint bit and countersink them so the heads of the mounting screws will sit below the surface. Drill all the remaining holes with a 5/8" bradpoint drill bit.
Prepare the blank
Mill and edge-glue enough 5/4 stock to make up a piece that is 18-1/2" square × 1" thick. Try to find quartersawn stock, as it will help keep your gameboard flat for years to come. The gameboards in the photos are made from quartersawn sycamore, which displays striking figure. (See WoodSense on page 64.)
Once your piece is cut to size and sanded flat, mark the center of the Chinese checkers side. Work accurately, as any error will ultimately result in the checkerboard on the opposite side being off center. On the Chinese checkers side, lay out six equally spaced radial lines to use as alignment marks for the template. Use a compass to draw an 18-1/4"-diameter circle to lay out the finished shape of the board.
Rout the holes
Drill a 1/8"-diameter × 3/4"-deep pilot hole at the pivot point you marked.
Fasten the template to the blank with a 1" screw as shown. Chuck a 1/2" core box bit in your plunge router and mount a 5/8" O.D. guide bushing on the base. Rout each 20-hole section in turn as shown until all the holes are done.
Check for center. Double-check that the guide bushing is concentric to the bit, adjusting the router base if necessary. Set the plunge mechanism for a 1⁄4"-deep cut.
Rout and rotate. Rout each of the six 20-hole sections in turn. After completing each section, rotate the template, align it with the next radial line, and secure it with an anchor screw. Before moving the template, double check that you have routed all twenty holes—it’s easy to miss one.
Make the checkerboard template
The checkerboard grid is also template-routed, but using a different bushing/bit combination. The template consists of a frame made from two 3/4 × 3-1/16 × 12-3/8" pieces that are joined to two 3/4 × 3-1/16 × 18-1/2" pieces. Seven 3/4 × 1-1/2 × 12-3/8" spacers complete the set-up. Use a stop block to ensure that the shorter pieces are the exact same length. Note that the sizing of these pieces is critical to the spacing of your grid lines. Take the time to cut them exactly as specified.
Assemble the frame. Pocket screw the frame pieces together. To ensure the inside opening is truly square, clamp two of the spacers between the short sides before attaching the second short side as shown here.
Level the corners. Trim the joints with a block plane to flush the surfaces. Irregularities can result in router cuts of inconsistent depth and width.
Rout the grid lines
Screw the template frame to the checkerboard side of the blank with a 1-1/2" screw at each corner. To prevent tearout at the corners of the squares, it is important that you rout the crossgrain grid lines first. Chuck a 1/8" roundnose bit in your router and add a 3/8" O.D. guide bushing to the router base. Check for concentricity and adjust if necessary. Set the depth of cut to 3/32" and rout all the grooves as shown.
Complete the crosscuts. To rout each additional crosscut, add a spacer, securing it in place with packing tape.
Finish with the grain. The procedure is the same for making the long grain cuts. If the spacers get stuck in place, drive in a screw “pull” (inset) rather than risking pry bar damage.
Precise Depth Control
To set your router to cut a certain depth, zero the bit on the surface of your workpiece, then trap a drill bit of the appropriate diameter under the turret.
Shape and color to wrap it up
Cut the board round. Bandsaw a bit shy of your perimeter line, and then rout to exact shape with a router trammel. (See p. 44.)
Finish shaping the piece by profiling the edges with a 1/4" roundover bit. Then rout the final hole in the center of the Chinese checkers board as shown. Paint the grid lines on the checkerboard, and dye the squares before applying several coats of your favorite finish. I used an alcohol-based dye (See Buyer’s Guide on page 70.) followed by three coats of aerosol lacquer.
Rout the center hole. Reinstall the 1⁄8" roundnose bit, and locate it over the center of the Chinese checkers board. With the router unplugged, lower the bit until it engages the screw hole, and then corral the router between clamped boards. Switch out the 1⁄8" bit for the 1⁄2" core box bit, and rout the final hole. Plug the screw hole in its bottom with a bit of dowel, and recut with the core box bit to clean everything up.
Paint the lines. Clean up any fuzzies on the checkerboard grid lines with a small folded piece of fine sandpaper. Paint the lines with a fine-tipped brush and artists’ dark acrylic paint. (I used mars black.) Try to be neat, but don’t worry if you get paint on the surface.
Dying to play. Sand the checkerboard to clean up any errant paint. Pour about an inch of alcohol into a short, wide-mouth jar, and add a squirt of alcohol-based dye. Test the mix on scrap, and add dye (a few drops at a time) or alcohol until you like the intensity of the color.
Dye every other square on the checkerboard, using a cotton-tipped swab an as applicator. Mark the alternate squares with masking tape to prevent confusion. (Don’t ask…)
You can dye the alternate squares a contrasting color or simply leave them natural.