Checkering as a Hobby - Custom Checkering by Sherry Abraham

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Checkering as a Hobby


So, you would like to try your hand at checkering? Here are a few tips to help get you started.

First of all I would like to start off by saying that checkering takes a lot of practice. You'll need good eye/hand coordination. It's not something that you can learn overnight, or that you can learn, leave it for a few months and come back to with ease.

Tools may be purchased at Brownell's. Last I checked they did have the power tools, hand tools as well as other things that you will need, including the checkering cradle and vice.

A company called DEMBART also makes hand tools. I have found that the older Dembart hand tools, with interchangeable heads, are a a bit too wiggly and are probably not very good for a beginner working on a serious project. They are, however, very affordable, so you may want to try one out at first on a practice stock, and see if you want to continue your venture in checkering. You may purchase the better tools when you've decided that you do want to continue with the craft. I purchased most all of my tools from J&R Engineering. Unfortunately, Jon Dorion at J&R passed away some years back.

When purchasing the hand tools, you may want to start out using 20 - 22 lines per inch. The larger the checkering, the deeper you'll have to cut to get nice sharp diamonds. If you start out too fine, it will be harder to see and correct your mistakes.

I use the NSK Power tool. Most power tools, on average, run about $1200. Blades are about $130 each and will need to be sharpened occasionally (depending on usage and the type of wood & finish you are cutting). Sharpenings will run you about $30. The blades may only be sharpened a few times before they become too small to use. I have modified my power tool guide so that I can use smaller blades. Hand tools vary in price.
You could easily invest a small fortune getting started in this craft. Should you buy all of the necessary tools and decide that checkering is not for you, let me know what you have for sale and I may be able to match you with a buyer for your tools.

I use a Brownell's cradle (modified to extend for longer stocks) and a vice that allows for any-angle access, as well as a home made, sturdy table. The vices are made by Wilton and are a two piece unit. You'll have to check with Brownell's for exact pricing. I also use a nice comfortable office chair on wheels.

There are many types of hand tools, some are for "hand checkering" only. No power tools needed. They have a guide on one side, the cutting edge on the other so that you may follow the last line cut for even spacing. Other hand tools are single edged. I use a short and long tool for clean up and scribing the patterns on. You'll need both, the double edged tools and the single edged tools for hand checkering. Should you decide to purchase the power tool, you'll only need the short and long single file hand tools.

Patterns may be purchased at Brownell's. There is also a wide selection of patterns in the Monty Kennedy book, simply titled "Checkering" You could also take rubbings to copy patterns on other stocks.

I use a template pencil to draw on the patterns. These pencils may be found at Walmart in their sewing department. I have found that the black works best. It will also stay on long enough to scribe your pattern on, but it will easily wipe off with your finger and a little rubbing.

I draw all my patterns on freehand and with a straight edge. Every stock is different, some have a bit more wood on one side than the other and most are not totally symmetrical. Nothing that is hand done is perfect, so it is best to fit the pattern to the stock, making it pleasing to the eye instead of trying to trace around a pattern and have it come out uneven or lop sided.

Each pattern must include a set of master lines. These are the lines that you start out with. I used a diamond shape, (mine is 3.5" x 9") made of cardboard or pliable plastic (I use a piece of old x-ray film.) Lay the diamond into the pattern somewhere and draw a line in either direction using the template pencil. These lines must also coincide with the lines in your pattern. Most store bought patterns already include these master lines. There is more information on this subject in the Monty Kennedy book.

The main idea is to start out with a nice straight line. If you start out with a wavy or curved line, each line you make thereafter will also be curved and will accentuate with each line you add.

I use a desk lamp to work by. It's one of those with the elbows so it allows for easy adjustment while working. I also use a 100 watt light bulb so that I can see everything. Make sure the lamp you buy will accomodate the 100 watt bulb.

Some folks will want to purchase an optic-visor/ It straps over your head and will enlarge everything for you so you can see what you are doing. This especially will come in handy for the finer lines per inch.

You'll also want a vegetable brush to clean up your work when you are finished.

For more information on the subject of checkering, there is a good book by Monty Kennedy, simply called "Checkering".. It maybe found at most large book stores and on line at

For some, this art will be fairlly easy, for others, it will take a bit more training and practice.
Remember, if you do decide to attempt checkering on your own stock and it doesn't not come out the way you anticipated ... I can fix just about anything!

Hand tools
Power tool
Template pencil
Straight edge
Vegetable brush
"Checkering" book by Monty Kennedy

This should be all you need to get started. Remember....this takes a LOT of practice. Don't expect expert results within the first few days or even months.

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