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Project Information

First important stuff: - What is inside this Traditional ~27" square table using turned pedestal and 4 legs?

  • Top: Curly Maple and figured Walnut alternating squares with more Maple/Walnut/Bubinga framing main board, all edged with more 8/4 walnut hosting decorative edge beading.

  • Table apron: Walnut mortise & tenon construction with edge beaded corner posts, plus felt lined full length drawer made from 12mm birch plywood for storing game pieces. Apron bottom piece is simple 4/4 Walnut mitered frame with edge bead to match the top and corner posts.

  • Legs: Walnut turned pedestal (purchased from Adams Wood Products ) with 4 custom beaded legs made from Sapele.

  • Most of the wood used was from the "scrap" bin, except for a single 8' length of 4/4 walnut used on apron. :)

  • Finish:
    Entire piece has 3-5 coats of Arm-r-Seal as top coat. Used Behlen's Brown Maple to improve the walnut color. Sapele legs were too orange and recolored to match walnut finish. Top used a coat of BLO to highlight all figured wood, then sealed and gain fill top using many coats of Shellac; followed by Arm-r-Seal urethane

Hope you like it.

The completed table is not nearly as interesting as the story behind it. :O

BUT Might want to get your favorite beverage now, as this long post describes a project that should be called:
"Chess Board from Hell" or "How to not make a chess board table"

It all started almost 5 years ago.
Was working on another project and my youngest son noticed some small squares of maple and walnut in scrap bin. He asked if he could have these pieces, and then made a small 3×3 checkerboard. When completed he asked "Dad, Can you glue these scraps to make me a chess board?"

Must understand => My son at time was enamored with playing chess. He was taking lessons once a week, played in local chess tournaments about once a month and was highest ranked member of his elementary school chess club. Being the typical proud and supportive dad, my answer: "YES! I can make a chess board from wood." My son was so excited he asked if WE could start working on it together right NOW. As if I had received a commandment from GOD himself, I promptly pushed my project to side and started making a chess board with my son!

He ran inside and grabbed his portable vinyl roll up chess board to make sure that we got it right. My son worked in garage with me for awhile: Found more scraps of maple/Walnut, cut strips of each, and then edge glued then together. He stops me: "But wait Dad, that is strips not a checkerboard?" After explaining that the strips would be cut up into more strips and rotated to make checkerboard pattern, we looks at me, says "That is good idea! But wood glue takes too long to dry, I am out here, let me know when it is done! Thanks! " as he rides his bike down drive way. Knew he would never last for the many hours required for completion, but I had a glimpse of passing it along. :)

I continued working in hope my son would return to help, and managed glue up a checkerboard of curly maple & walnut squares that Saturday. Sunday saw me sharpening plane blades, and attempting to flatten a piece of wood with tremendous amount of wood figure. When it was done, but still unfinished, my son insisted that he beat me in a game of chess that evening.

The chess board was ignored for a couple of weeks, and when I try t find the board to apply a finish a month later, son says: "Dad, MY chess board is broken. It is warped and curved like a potato chip?"

Attempting to correct the warp that appeared mostly at edges, decided to frame the chess board with mitered frame attempting to anchor the edges. Added a 1/8" of curly maple, 1" of Walnut, and 2" of Bubinga to edges. Spent the entire weekend making a 45 degree miter jig for table saw, cutting wood, making 45 degree biscuit slots, gluing the accent frames, and finally flattening the board - one more time. My son is relieved that sits flat again and we play chess that night on it. This time after the game, I sticker the assembly to ensure that any residual moisture from frame does not create more warping. Couple days later, find that I have nice looking board with ripples and lumps across it just like a Ruffle's potato chip. #@#@&%!!

At this point, become worried. Tried to be careful with grain orientation of each board during assembly, even drawing out the rotated strips and attempting to balance the wood stresses. Being a amateur klutz wood worker, started searching WWW for checkerboard/chess board plans, tricks, and tips. What did I learn? Checker boards must either be made from veneer or thin wood strips bonded to rigid substrate, or you can expect to have it crack/wrap in as little as a few weeks. Being one who dislikes veneer projects, and wanting to salvage OUR chess board project; made a decision to use science to solve the warping problem! Can balance the stresses by using a thick veneer technique.

Maybe 2 months later I make a panel from almost useless walnut scraps (sap wood, pin knots, ugly flat sawn grain) same size as existing framed checker board. Then using laminating epoxy and vacuum bag process to make a sandwich consisting of 3 layers: walnut panel, 12mm birch cabinet plywood substrate, and checkerboard; held perfectly flat against an 1" thick aluminum tool plate. (I used to do a lot of epoxy/fiberglass/Kevlar/carbon work for another hobby, and had this stuff laying around). Once the assembly was fully cured (48 hours), trimmed the laminate sandwich on table saw. The new laminate board was flat, but had ugly edge. I added the 8/4 Walnut edge to hide my laminate. Now we had a really nice chess board! Once again the unfinished chess board mysteriously disappears into my son's domain.

About a month later, MURPHY's LAW visited the project. Son presents the board and says it no longer sits flat on table, and rocking knocks over the pieces. No finish had been applied, and I was expecting to see some minor movement after about 30 days when the epoxy had fully cured. Now that laminate shrinkage was complete, I planed the bottom walnut side flat with #4 & #7 planes. After removing little less than 1/8"from a corner to corner warp from the bottom, I needed to remove some thickness from top to balance the stress. My small planer would not handle the top, so I drive over to local Wood Workers Source. Paid them to run the top through the large belt thickness sander to even out the two sides of laminate, and make the top/bottom parallel to each other. Was also able to finish sand both side in preparation for finishing. :)

After using the board for a few hours, wife suggests that need to add a drawer under neath to store game pieces. Spend next month tinkering on improvements. Find time to make the mortise & tenon table apron, cobble together a 1/2" thick drawer using extra drawer slide from work bench project. Also make a 2" thick frame as leg (complete with routed double ogee shape) under the board. As before, bring the piece into the house before adding the finish to show it off, and let me clean the dust out of garage in preparation for finish work.

My son/wife were happy, the promised chess board was almost done. Project Over??

Soon realized there was a problem….. It weighed too much, over 65 pounds! The top alone was 40+ pounds. My son was not able to easily pick it up and move it where he wanted to play chess and was not being used. :(
Wife asked, "can you make this into a table, maybe put some legs under it?" Son asks, "How about a single leg that looks like a chess piece?" Chess board from hell strikes again….

It was at this point Murphy entered my life with a long series of unfortunate events that forced a stop to all wood working for several years. The unfinished project was set aside, family moved to new home, and board was buried in wood working excess wood pile. Finally after 3 years of being ignored, I am able to start tinkering with wood again. :)

Where to start on this abandoned unfinished project?
  • Pedestal leg?
    Before my hiatus, tried to find some local turning help making a large chess piece as pedestal leg. Local folks with large enough lathes quoted $300-$400 for turning services with me supplying wood. I found large wooden chess pieces from Malaysia that cost hundreds of dollars as one option. Due cost limitations, decided to use a conventional pedestal leg. Ordered a generic 6" diameter turned pedestal from Adams Wood products. All standard legs offered from Adams were too long, and more than I wanted to spend. So I hand drew a custom template with graph paper and circle template.
  • What about checkerboard top?
    The top had been thermal cycled in Arizona garage for years without any finish on it. After checking the top in 105 degree garage, and stabilized in 75 degree interior for a week; found a very small 0.005"- 0.010" bulge dead center of the top, and similar depression on bottom regardless of temperature/humidity. Also could feel the edge between the white/dark squares in a few places. With #7 plane set to cut less than 0.001" shavings, and 10 degree back bevel on blade to increase cutting angle; I flattened the top, hopefully for last time.
  • Table Apron?
    The apron corner posts have some minor dents/dings from move and storage. Steamed out the few I could fix, patched the rest; so now only a wood worker would be able to notice the hard life already applied to this piece. The existing 8/4 apron base was too thick, weighed too much, and made the table look out of proportion. Made a new 4/4 bottom plate for the apron to help force the eyes to see top instead of bottom if apron. I assembled the table and proudly declared almost done, it needs to be protected with a finish (again).

  • Time for finishing
    The assembled table looked really strange. The walnut was many from different sources, different ages, and much of it had that streamed grey/purple tone. Color spread across piece was hideously amazing. While some shabby sheik designer might have thought it was nice looking, I decided to tone all the walnut to more uniform and darker color. Using Behlen's Brown Maple dye stain reduced 50%, rubbed the wood to a more uniform look. Sapele legs were too orange and recolored them to match walnut finish with combination of Behlen's Brown Maple dye stain, followed with light coating of GF Antique Walnut glaze.
    Brush finishing of flat smooth top was complicated: Toned the beaded Walnut edge frame with 50% reduced dye stain, then used a coat of BLO to highlight all figured wood, then sealed and gain fill top using many coats of Shellac. Being a giant Klutz; had to battle with bad batch of shellac (local big box sold me 10 month old stock), which forced complete strip and refinish on checker board top a second time. Also rusty on my brushing technique and had to 320 sand/recoat the Arm-r-Seal twice to get rid of brush marks.

The "chess board from hell" still obtained the last laugh. About an hour after applying the final coating of Arm-r-Seal to top, noticed 4 spots were the finish crazed and is wrinkled in star patterns. Have no clue how the last coat become contaminated, followed the same 400 grit sand, 000 grit scuffing, mineral spirits clean as all the other layers. Being too depressed about defects to sand it all down and try again, I assembled the table, and moved inside the house for use. Maybe at some point in future I will sand the finish down and spray a proper table top coating?

That's the story. Thanks for reading this Klutz'd project post.

PS - Pictures taken during early phase of this build in 2014 were lost due a crashed PC, sorry that all I can share is finished project.



· Registered
328 Posts
Beautiful Chess Board/ Table, Job well done.

· Registered
10 Posts
What an adventure. Loved the story and the outcome, well done. Thanks for sharing.

· Registered
2,215 Posts
Looks really great, love the base.

· Registered
2,984 Posts
That's a beautiful chess table-would be nice by a fire some rainy evening, with a snifter of cognac!

· Registered
128 Posts
that is one sweet looking chess table.

· Registered
73 Posts
Awesome chest table and outstanding craftsmanship.

· Registered
186 Posts
OMG beautiful, what an amazing chess table

· Registered
8 Posts
The Chess Board From Hell is a beauty. Hope you have been enjoying every game, win or lose. Well done and thanks for sharing, Joe