Good woods for chess board + advice for construction?

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Forum topic by Tallise posted 11-25-2011 07:21 AM 12027 views 1 time favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 2376 days

11-25-2011 07:21 AM

Topic tags/keywords: chess chessboard short grain butcher block project novice wood types help hardwood oak purpleheart maple walnut

Hi, I’m a bit of a novice in the woodworking world, I did take a general wood working course back in high school which included cutting, lathe work, gluing, easy furniture making like a wood box/chest thing, and a few other topics, but that was a few year ago. I have questions in 2 areas regarding a project.

This year my Brother and I wanted to make a chess board for our father and I planned to use 2 kinds of wood, cut into block strips (so it would basically be made like a shortgrain butcher block) and an epoxy or wood glue to bond them together. then clamp over night or 24 hours. then i would cut it into strips in the other direction and turn the pieces on end to the short grain side is up and then just turn every other strip around so the colors alternate then re-glue, wait 24 hours then sand and finish.

Is it ok for my tiny clamp’s surface area to be extended by clamping a cut 2×4 or something between the clamp and block strips so there would be an even pressure across the row? Or should I try and borrow some friend’s clamps and use multiple clamps per side?

2)What wood to use
I have been looking online regarding both soft and hardwoods, trying to find something that is not endangered or very expensive, but a nice happy medium of appearance, workability, and price. My dad loves oak but From what I understand It might not be the best choice. Box wood and ebony are popular for the pieces themselves but the board tiles seems to be made of anything form cherry to walnut or birch. I was wondering about maple because I’m rather fond of it. My brother thinks we should use maple and purple heart I think that’s probably our best bet, however, I’d like a second opinion and also if anyone knows how much purple heart goes for, or if would black walnut perhaps be better?

7 replies so far

View pmayer's profile


1028 posts in 3066 days

#1 posted 11-28-2011 04:17 AM

check David Mark’s site. He did a show on building a chess board a while back, and it was a great design.

-- PaulMayer,

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3875 days

#2 posted 11-28-2011 04:59 AM

A chessboard is an ambitious project. You can probably find quite a few videos and instructions to help you with the process. You may even find a local woodworker who is willing to give you some hands-on help.

You don’t need a lot of pressure to create a decent glue joint, but you will want fairly even pressure. If you put a single clamp in the middle of a 2×4 “caul” the ends will not receive as much pressure as the middle.

For the dark squares, you might find that purpleheart is pretty expensive. Walnut is likely to be a more affordable option. For the light squares, hard maple has a beautiful blonde color. Soft maple is usually a little less expensive, but has a slight gray cast.

-- -- --

View SeaWitch's profile


149 posts in 2395 days

#3 posted 11-28-2011 09:42 AM

What Peter Oxley said, +1.

Stevinmarin has a series of youtube videos on making a chessboard that are quite good. there are 7 of them.

Clamping a piece of wood across the top is called a “caul”. Here’s a little info about cauls. Yes, you can jerry-rig something with your little clamps. Lots of ways to skin a cat. You could butt up your projects against something straight and fixed, like a ledge and then clamp something straight and hard on the other side. It’s possible to just put even weight across the top with sand bags or full paint cans or bricks, you just want to be sure the pressure is even with no sharp edges pressing down. You can also put a nylon cord or strap around the whole thing (carefully) to hold it together….

-- When you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it.”   Theodore Roosevelt

View MontanaBob's profile


830 posts in 2684 days

#4 posted 11-28-2011 02:27 PM

Building a chess board is a fun project. I don’t think I would use purple heart – it can change color over time….and you will want to find out if it will bleed all over your light colored wood. I thought of making one using chakte-viga and maple, but the red wood turned the maple an ugly pink color while sanding – and the chakte-viga will fade to a orange or brown color over time, if exposed to sunlight. I have used both American walnut and Peruvian walnut, the Peruvian walnut I liked best because of it’s darker color. One tip—after you cut your strips of light and dark—- don’t change the setting on your table saw—-that way you can cut your glued strips to exactly the same size… I always make my strips long enough to have two extra just in case… The youtube by Steve Martin (Woodworking for Mere Mortals) is a great place to start…...Thats what gave me the idea to make the first one….Thanks Steve….. Bob

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2962 days

#5 posted 11-28-2011 05:46 PM

I have a chess set that is made of walnut and maple. The board is glued to a piece of heavy cloth so it can be folded in the middle.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2656 posts in 2922 days

#6 posted 11-29-2011 12:06 AM

I have made a few chess boards and learned not to mix hardwood and softwood to form the squares. I have done some in softwoods (Pine and Cedar) and some in hardwoods,( Walnut and Poplar) but if you mix them up, keeping them sanded evenly is a bit hard to do. Softwood sands much easier than the hardwood. I ended up with a wavy surface! UGH! Liv and learn (If you are paying attention) <grin>

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View Tallise's profile


4 posts in 2376 days

#7 posted 11-29-2011 03:36 AM

Thanks for all the great comments! I think I’ll be doing more research this week with the resources and advice everyone has pitched in so far :) Hopefully I’ll be able to draw up a proper plan before the weekend and I’ll definitely make a posting with pictures in that “Projects” section of my profile.

For the supplies there is a Woodcraft store near me and their online catalog has a few domestic woods I am thinking about. I figure I will make time and go down there and ask a bit of advice based on what is in stock.

I’m a bit nervous, this is my first project of this sort where the plans and wood was not already provided. :) It’s a good sort of nervous though!

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