How To Make A Chess Board: Guide To Drawing, Scoring and Wood Burning Techniques To Create Homemade Chess Checkers Board
What To Expect From This Article
- Types of Wood to use for your Project
- The "Pros and Cons" of certain Wood Characteristics
- Cutting, Sanding and Preparing your Wood
- Measuring and Scoring the Grid
- Staining, Painting and Wood-Burning Techniques
- Ideas for Customizing Your Board!
Make A Chessboard At Home
Do You Like Playing Chess or Checkers?
Do You Enjoy Wood-Working at Home?
Have You Ever Considered Creating a Unique Chessboard of Your Own?
Now You Can with these Simple Do-It-Yourself Instructions for Making a Chess or Checkers Board at Home!
Be advised: this is a simple yet somewhat time consuming project.
Certain factors like whether or not you use stains, paints, varnishes, and wood burning techniques on your project, will take extra time to allow for drying.
Creating your own chess board can serve for a number of purposes. You can make it as a family project with your children and or spouse, or you can sell them. You could always make one and keep it for your own personal use or give it as a gift! Whatever your reasons are for wanting to learn how to make a chessboard at home, this article will take you through the process, step by step.
Some Of the Boards I Have MadeClick thumbnail to view full-size
What Types of Wood Are Used To Make Chess Boards??
There are basically two types of wood that can be used for this project; Hard Wood and Soft Wood. Hard wood is sometimes preferred by people who purchase chess boards because it is sturdy and less likely to bow with age. The downside to Hard wood is that it is heavier than Soft wood, and a much harder wood to wood burn, and less absorbent to staining or painting techniques. Soft wood is easy to wood burn and is less resistant to staining.
Some of the most common wood types used professionally in making chess boards include: Birch, Erable, Maple, Macassar, Rosewood, Walnut, Elm, Teak, Mahogany, Aspen, Sycamore, Ebony Maple, and Pine, to name just a few.
Personally, I prefer Pine because it is a local, medium-soft wood, is easy to wood-burn, and I find that it makes for a great looking chess board when you are finished. You need to make sure you keep your board flat when not in use. Leaning a board against a wall or similar actions can cause warping and bowing, especially in high humidity areas. Consult your local lumberyard or hardware store for more information on your local wood availability. View the chart below to choose the type of wood you will use for your project:
The Most Common Types of Wood Used in Making Professional Chess Boards
Also Known As... (General Latin Name)
Type of Wood and Characteristics
Origin of Wood
Wych Elm, (Ulmus Glabra)
Typically, a Dark Brown Color with "Curly" Grains. The Best Wood is harvested from the tree roots themselves
Northern and Western Europe/Great Britain
Buttonwood, (Platanus occidentalis)
Ranges in Color from lighter "Flesh" Color, Red, to Dark Brown. Receptive to Staining and Varnishing
North America: Canada and New England down to Florida, West through Texas, and North Through Wisconsin and Smoky Moutains
Sagwan, Rosawa, (Tectona grandis)
Varies in Color. Resistant to Staining as the wood is "Oily"; not recommended but Highly sought after Hard Wood.
Southeast Asia, India, Indonesia, Burma and Malaysia. Also cultivated in the Caribbean and Africa
Olive Brown Color with many Grains; Difficult to work with.
South America, especially in the Amazon of Brazil.
Macassar, Golden Ebony, Tendu, Camagon, (Diospyros celebica)
Very Expensive! Reddish-black Reddish-Brown in Color. Difficult to work with but if used correctly, provides a "Shiny" and well Stained Finish
Indonesia, Philippines, and the East Indies
Folding Chess Table
You Got Your Wood! What's Next?
After you have found and purchased the right wood for your project, you will need to do some preparation before you begin. The first thing is that you want to make sure the wood is relatively dry, particularly if it was purchased from an outside store or if it is a freshly milled product. If the wood is too wet it will not hold the stain or paint chemicals and will make for more difficult wood burning. Store wood Flat in a warm, dry place until it feels dry. This could take up to a week or so if the wood is very damp, but it is worth taking this step to ensure satisfaction at the end!
Once the wood is dry you will need to do some measuring and cutting. I strongly advise caution while doing this! Children and people who are under the influence of alcohol should never use power tools! Always wear proper clothing and protective gear including safety glasses. It wouldn't be as fun playing chess with one hand!
- Safety Glasses!
- Measuring Tape
- Table Saw (preferred; other saws may be used, but remember: Safety First!)
- A Stainless Steel Square or Straight Edge Ruler
- Coarse and Fine Sandpaper
Once you decide what size board you would like to make, it is time to cut the wood to size. I usually choose either 12"x12" or 24"x24" as it makes it easier when measuring the grid.
You may choose any size you want , however. For the purpose of this article, I will be using a 48"x48" squared piece of Pine wood that will be cut to become (4) four individual 12"x12" boards.
Make sure that you have adequate lighting and space before using any power equipment!
- First, with the tape measure, measure 12" from the top left corner of the wood and make a mark with your pencil.
- Next, take the tape measure from the top and drag it down to 12" and mark the spot with your pencil.
- Take your square or straight edged ruler and draw a line from the pencil mark at 12" on the top of the wood and drag the pencil just past the 12" mark that is intended to be your crosscut.
- Do the same from the across pencil mark and they two line should intersect at a 90 degree right angle.
You will now have enough wood to make four 12"x12" individual boards; we will be making 1 Chess Board in this article.
Cutting Your Board
After you have made your square you need to cut it out. Make sure you are in a well lighted area and wear your safety glasses while cutting!
- Put the flat edge of the wood against the saw's guide wall.
- Adjust the blade so that it lines up with your reference line. Begin cutting and cut all the way through the whole board.
- Repeat the above step by rotating the wood to cut the other reference line that you drew; cut all the way through the board.
- Now you should have four 12"x12" square pieces of wood. Choose the one you would like to work with.
- To check that the wood is square, measure from corner to corner all 4 corners; they should be the same length, within a 1/16". If not, you may either start over or try to fix the problem by re-cutting. This is usually not a problem if you measure and cut correctly.
Preparing the Surface: Sanding The Wood
If you have very rough and slightly uneven edges from the saw cut, you may use the planer to smooth out the surface. If there is only a little roughness, coarse sandpaper should do the trick. When sanding, you may sand by hand (as I do) or use an electric sander.
- The next step is to use the coarse sandpaper and sand the entire surface of the wood on all sides. Sand with the grain (the natural lines in the wood) from side to side, one area at a time, until the whole board is sanded.
- Take the Fine Sandpaper and repeat the above step. Taking your time and sanding evenly will make a huge difference in the quality of your finished board!
Making The Grid
Now that we have a nice smooth wood surface we will need to get out our tape measure and pencil and begin plotting the grid. The grid is the lines that make the squares on the board.
First, we have 12" of total surface to work with and we need 64 squares, so our measurements have to be consistent. For this board, we are going to make a 1" border around the edges of the board. This counts towards the aesthetics and look of your board.
- Measure and mark 1" out from the board's edge at each of the four corners.
- With a ruler, draw a straight line from corner to corner, forming a border around the edges of the board.
Now we have a 1" Border framing the board. We will now measure, mark and draw the lines that will make the individual squares:
- From Inside the border, measure 1 1/4" and make a mark with your pencil.
- Repeat this every 1 1/4" (7 marks) at the top and bottom of the board (Make sure you measure from same side of boarder or marks will not line up!).
- With a ruler, connect the marks by drawing a line from top to bottom on all 7 pencil marks.
- Turn the Board clock wise and repeat above 3 steps.
- Now you should have 64 individual squares and a border around them.
- Mark the squares that you will wood burn/paint/stain with a light "X" to avoid coloring the wrong squares.
Remember, you are working with wood and when you wood burn later, the lines will be thicker than a pencil mark. Measurements may be off by a hair, but it is OK as long as the finished product looks square. Imperfections will be hidden in the contrasat of the squares (black and white).
Wood Burning Tools
- Practice on a piece of scrap wood before using tool on your board to familiarize yourself with the tool.
- If you make a minor error, don't worry; shallow wood burning can be generally sanded or blended in.
- Allow the tool to rest periodically so that it can stay hot enough to be efficient.
Scoring and Wood Burning the Grid
Now that we have our grid marked it is time to make the lines permanent. We will need:
- Stainless Steel Ruler
- Wood Burning Tool with a Universal Point
Wood Burning Tools are very HOT and can Burn Skin and Start Fires!
Never leave a wood burning tool unsupervised and do not allow children access to them!!!
- First, you want to make sure that the area that you are working in is safe.
- If your wood burning kit didn't come with a rest for the hot tool, you and bend a metal coat hanger so that you can rest the tool on it without touching any services.
- Before plugging tool in, screw on a "Universal Tip" into the tip of the tool. You may need to tighten with metal pliers once the metal heats up and expands.
- Plug in the Tool and allow to heat up to maximum temperature (5-15 minutes depending on model).
- If you are new to wood burning you may want to practice on a scrap piece of wood to get the feel of the tool.
- Align the stainless steel ruler along the pencil line.
- Using a Universal Tip and applying firm pressure to the ruler, slowly drag the tip of the tool along the ruler's edge.
- The slower you drag, the wider/darker the line
- Continue doing each line, taking your time.
- Use Latex Gloves while staining as stain is hard to remove from skin.
- Always stain and paint in a well ventilated area and where a face mask when practical.
Should You Paint, Stain or Wood Burn Your Squares?
Now that we have the grid completed we must decide on whether we want to stain, paint or wood burn each individual black square. As illustrated in the photos above I manually wood burn each individual square. This is very time consuming but is rewarding as it is nicer to look at and lasts a lot longer than stains or paints.
Wood Burning Method: If you decide to burn each square individually as I have, I suggest you switch the tip to a shading tip which will cover a larger area while burning. This method will take a while but it is my favorite! If you decide to Stain or Paint the squares, there are a few different methods:
Free Hand Painting/Staining: This method is suggested for those with a steady hand and who have experience in staining and painting in small areas. You just stain or paint the squares with a small brush or rag. Definitely the fastest method for those with confidence in their staining/painting skills.
Masking Tape Method: Although there may be several ways to mask a board, I find the easiest way is to cover the entire board with masking tape and then cut out the squares you want stained/painted with an X-Acto knife. Be careful as these knives are very sharp! Do not peel away the tape until paint or stain is completely dry. I recommend 24 hours.
Adding Details To Personalize Your Board
Most Woodburning Kits come with several burning tips. Some of these tips can be shapes, designs, or stamps. You can get very creative while designing your board.
If this is a gift for someone you can make it a theme board or burn their name into it. Also, as the artist, you can write a personal message on the back and sign it. Your imagination is the limit!
Wood Staining Basics and Techniques
Polyurethane and Lacquer Application Techniques
Sealing and Coating the Board for a Nice Finish!
Once the board is dry you will want to protect your work by sealing it with a Polyurethane or Lacquer coating. This will seal in your hard work and provide a shiny protective layer that will provide years of enjoyment and use of your custom home made chess board!
Polyurethane tends to leave a great finish and can be "flat" or "shiny" depending on which finish you choose.
Lacquer leaves a nice glossy finish but is les resistent to scratching; I recommend using polyurethane over lacquer in my projects.
Another option which is more expensive but the best way to finish is by using an Epoxy-Based product that is often used in commercial environments such as bar tops because of the strength of the finish. Although this is the most expensive and difficult method of sealing, it is by far the best; a properly finished board can last for a very long time!
More Woodworking Ideas
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- How to Use Wood and a Wire Cage to Make Two Projects in One Weekend
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After you allow your board to dry for a few days it is ready to use or give as a gift. You will enjoy many years of use if you store your board properly, regularly clean it (with wood cleaner such as Pledge). Keep your board dry and out of direct sunlight. Your friends will be amazed at your creation!