Leather Chess Board
Jim Ammon creates beautiful leather works including his hand tooled, hand dyed game boards.
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Talent and fate seem to have drawn craftsman Jim Ammon to leather work. After taking a leather class in high school, his instructor noted his obvious talent and hired him to work after school in his shop. It was a love that never developed past being a hobby. That was until eight years ago when he was in a car accident that left him unable to work in his flooring job. His desire was to think of something he could do full time that he would enjoy and that wouldn’t tax his back. Of course the choice was his life long hobby. Today in addition to being an avid bagpipe player, he creates beautiful leather works including his hand tooled, hand dyed game boards.
Materials and Tools:
3/8" particleboard (backing)
5 to 6 oz. vegetable-tanned tooling leather
water-based leather glue
hand stamping tools and knives
straight edges and poly mallets
alcohol-based leather dyes
leather antique paste
water and sponge
clean cotton rag
table saw or jig saw
*The stepping-stone provides weight to help adhere the leather to the backing.
1. Cut particleboard into desired size, either a 16-, 20-, or 22-inch square piece.
2. Cut the leather to size. Note: May be cut out of a full hide.
3. Glue the leather to the particleboard with a water-based leather glue and place a heavy weight (stepping stone) on it to dry over night.
4. Trim the excess leather around the edges of the wood using a utility knife.
5. Lay the cardboard pattern for the checkerboard lines on the leather and mark the chess game outline with an awl.
6. Wet the leather with a sponge and water. Cut all the straight lines into the leather with a straight edge and a swivel knife.
7. Hand-tool the border on the board around the edges of the chessboard. The leather must be wet during this process. After the tooling is complete, let the board dry. Sign and date the leather while it is wet.
8. The board is now ready to dye.
- Wear rubber gloves
- Apply dye with a wool dauber, brush or rag
- Start with light colors and proceed to dark colors so as not to dilute the lighter colors.
This step in the process is the least forgiving of all because the dyes are very permanent. One slip or splash and there’s not much you can do to mend the mistake.
9. After the main body colors have been applied and are dry, a medium brown dye can be lightly applied over the entire surface. The brown dye is applied with a block of wood that has several layers of cotton rag wrapped around it, depicting an almost wood grain or cork appearance to the leather. Last, the border of the board is covered and only the center squares are spattered with brown dye using a toothbrush.
10. After the board has dried, spray the first 4 to 5 coats of lacquer on in thin even coats. Do not saturate the leather but build a barrier to seal it for the next step.
11. Once completely dry, smear dark brown antiquing paste on the entire board, filling every tool and knife depression.
This must be done quickly so the antiquing does not have time to dry before wiping it off the entire flat part of the surface. Several throw away rags or paper towels are used for this process.
12. After about an hour or so the surface needs to be cleaned off with clean rags and water. They should be just wet enough to remove the residue. Wipe dry and clean with another rag.
13. Paint the board with desired acrylic paints that complement or highlight the dye colors. This step is completely done by hand.
14. Final touch up or inking can be completed once the paint is completely dry.
15. After touch-ups are completed and the piece is dry, spray the final 2 to 3 coats of lacquer on in heavier but even coats.
16. After the board has had enough time to dry, a poplar wood frame is cut and stained with red mahogany or black stain. Nail the poplar frame to the board.
17. The board is flipped over and marked and routed out with a keyhole for hanging.
18. Cut a piece of felt and glue onto the back of the board to protect walls and tables from scratches and to finish off the back of the board.