I finished a chess board

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Project by Tony Ennis posted 10-24-2009 09:05 PM 4035 views 8 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have a friend who did me a great favor. We had been playing chess in the office. His son also started playing in school. So I made him a chessboard as a token of my appreciation.

Unbeknownst to me, my son wanted the chessboard. He didn’t mention it because I didn’t say I was giving it away. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think anyone cared. Great communication, eh?

So I wrote a note to my friend on the bottom of the board. My son was, “Man I can’t believe you’re giving that away.” I realized then perhaps I had erred. So I made another for him. Here it is with larger images.

The board proper is made of maple and walnut. It’s hard to go wrong with that selection. The frame around the board is cherry. I had never used cherry before. I really like it. If you look close you can see the a mahogany inlay around the playing area. This wood was a poor choice on my part, but it is the way it is. I should have used something with more contrast.

The squares are 1/4” thick and glued to a 1/2” plywood substrate that’s let into the frame.

I finished it with polymerizing oil and paste wax. I didn’t stain it.

Here’s a link to a multi-part posting detailing the construction of the first chess board. I made lots of time-wasting mistakes which you can hopefully avoid.

-- Tony

19 comments so far

View Napaman's profile


5534 posts in 5086 days

#1 posted 10-24-2009 10:31 PM

very nice…I can see the mahogony…and I bet in person you can see it better…it does blend in but I like it…

nice gift!

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View spud72's profile


333 posts in 4503 days

#2 posted 10-24-2009 10:34 PM

Nice job Tony. I plan on making a chess board for my brother for Christmas this year. I intend on refering to your blog for tips.

Thanks for the posting.


-- Guy,PEI

View branch's profile


1142 posts in 4163 days

#3 posted 10-24-2009 10:44 PM

very nice work did it take you long

View degoose's profile


7281 posts in 4363 days

#4 posted 10-24-2009 10:51 PM

I like the sweep in the base of the border..
the combination of timber is classic,... and the stripe of Mahogany would be more noticeable in real life…

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View CanadaJeff's profile


207 posts in 4618 days

#5 posted 10-25-2009 12:23 AM

Did you have any trouble gluing it up and warping? I had that issue last time with 3/4 stock, but am thinking of trying it again with 1/4 stock like you did. Any tips?

View Tony Ennis's profile

Tony Ennis

139 posts in 4145 days

#6 posted 10-25-2009 12:33 AM

branch, it took me a while, but I am slow. There’s some elapsed time waiting for the glue to set.

I did board #2 in about 1/3 to 1/2 the time as board #1.

On board #1, I can tell you I spent more time fixing mistakes than I did working on the board.

Here’s the tip: When you edge-glue the alternating strips together to make checkered board, make sure the board is square. On board #1 I apparently tightened the clamps unequally and made a trapezoid. Not much – but enough to hose the works. It was a lot of work to fix that. I had to glue on slivers of maple and walnut to the defective edge and then plane them true. Waste Of Time.

Now, how long would it take someone who’s quick, assuming there were plans and the shop is ready to go?

Day 1-
Resaw and plane the board strips… 1 hour.
Mill the borders. 2 hours (there are a few set-ups)
Cut the substrate – a few minutes.
Prepare the strips for edge-gluing – 70 minutes
Glue them up – 20 minutes
Glue the inlay into the border – 30 minutes
Here ends day #1.

Day2 –
Cut the board into alternating strips – 1 hour
Edge glue them, and to the substrate – 2 hours
Plane the inlay flush to the borders – 30 minutes
Cut the arcs in the borders and sand/scrape – 1 hour.

Day3 -
sand/scrape/plane the playing surface – 1 hour.
Fit the borders and cut the miters – 2 hours
Glue the borders to the board – 30 minutes

Day 4 -
Fix the crappy miters :-P 2 hours

Day 5 -
Finish sand – 2 hours.
Apply oil & wax, a few days elapsed, very little work.

So the total work, at the absolute minimum, is 16 hours. I am slow and was making all the measurements up, so it was at least 32 for me. If you had enough clamps you could probably make 2 chess boards in the same amount of elapsed time.

-- Tony

View Tony Ennis's profile

Tony Ennis

139 posts in 4145 days

#7 posted 10-25-2009 01:05 AM

CanadaJeff – I seem to recall I did have warping issues. I decided that the pipe clamps were “right” and pushed all the boards down against them. There was a chance for a wiggle between the clamps but it worked out in my favor. Look at the 9-part blog posting about board #1 and you can see where I use a machinists’ vise to keep the board flat. Of course this is hackery. A real woodworker would avoid the problem instead of fixing the symptom.

This is exactly why it is essential to do dry-runs on the glue-ups.

If I were doing a production run I’d build a special-purpose clamp and call it a fine day.

Tip #2 is to pay close attention to the corners where the squares come together. I could never get my strips exactly the same width. This means that as they are assembled into a square sometimes the corners won’t come together perfectly. No one will notice if the occasional corner is off by 1/32”. If they are really off you may have to shift a strip to make them look right. Bear in mind, if you do this, your board’s edges won’t line up – they will be offset and you’ll have repairs to make.

The right answer is to take great pains to cut the strips exactly the same width.

-- Tony

View branch's profile


1142 posts in 4163 days

#8 posted 10-25-2009 01:15 AM

hi tony thanks for that might try one some day god willing making a lot off things for cancer recherche paying back some dues

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4586 days

#9 posted 10-25-2009 01:51 AM

#2 went to your son ? This board is great


View blackcherry's profile


3345 posts in 4832 days

#10 posted 10-25-2009 03:29 AM

Tony you might think that you error on giving the 1st away but you may have planted a seed of giving in your son subconscious at less I hope so. Anyway the boards are beautiful and enjoy play with your son. My son and I played he was quit good I was so so but the time we spend playing together was quit special. Enjoy and keep making sawdust thanks for posting…Blkcherry

View Karson's profile


35270 posts in 5409 days

#11 posted 10-25-2009 04:34 AM

A great looking chess board.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Mike_in_Ohio's profile


33 posts in 4458 days

#12 posted 10-25-2009 02:56 PM

Nice looking board!

-- Mike

View Mytoya's profile


212 posts in 4224 days

#13 posted 11-01-2009 05:34 PM

Great Job!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where the pieces done on a scroll saw or lathe? I would love to try a chess set. I don’t think it would look as good as yours.
Thanks for sharing.

View dustygirl's profile


862 posts in 4737 days

#14 posted 11-01-2009 06:18 PM

Awesome looking board and chessmen.

-- Dustygirl..Hastings,Ontario.. How much wood can 1 gal chuck if 1 gal can't cut wood?

View Tony Ennis's profile

Tony Ennis

139 posts in 4145 days

#15 posted 11-01-2009 06:19 PM

I did not make either chess set! Pictures 1 and 3 feature the set I bought for this board. It is boxwood and ‘ebonized’ boxwood. Pictures 2 and 5 feature my ebony and boxwood tournament set.

You’d have to have your game on to make a set as nice as these.

These pieces would be done on a lathe. The details on the knight are carved by hand. If you look sharp you can see the knights in the ebony set are a little nicer than those in the all-boxwood set. You can usually determine the quality of a wooden set by looking at the knights. My ebony set is ‘entry level’ as far as nice sets go. I bought it as a present to myself when I got my first job in NY in 1987.

Note this knight in a set that's a step up from mine.=

A similar quality set...

This is a high-end set. Remarkably expensive. I think it is clear where the money went. I will never be wealthy enough or good enough to consider something like this.

And a lower cost set. Note the pieces all look great – except the knights – the expensive pieces – which to my eye are sorely lacking.

Sorry, I could yammer about this all day :-D

The thought of sharpening lathe tools intimidates me to the point of not buying a lathe, so I’ll be buying all my sets.


There is no reason at all you can’t design a gorgeous chess set and execute it on a scroll saw. Check out this technique to make a cabriole leg. That isn’t me :-) You can use this exact same technique to make 3-D shapes from 2-D drawings. The video drags a little, but the idea is you trace a front-view of the knight on one side of your blank, and a side-view on an adjacent face. You cut out one way, tape the waste back on so you have a block again, then make the other cut. Now you have a blocky 3-dimensional piece your can shape with a rasp and sandpaper. I made a crummy yet wholly usable little knight using a bandsaw some time ago.

I would bet a skilled clever person could make a nice set using a scroll saw. Of course, you’d play to the strength of the scroll saw, not the strength of the lathe ;-)

I read some other comments about wood movement and chessboards on lumberjocks. Now I am paranoid. Only time will tell if this wooden board – held tight in the cherry frame – will explode due to wood movement. The squares are glued to a plywood substrate. Board number 1 is a year and a half old now. As far as I know it hasn’t failed.

-- Tony

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