Introduction: Solid Wood Intarsia Chess-board

Picture of Solid Wood Intarsia Chess-board

I really enjoyed making the last chessboard and I wanted to make another one.
I didn't want to make the same type board so I started thinking of a different way to make it.
I have been wanting to try my hand in Intarsia for some time now, so I decided I wanted this board to be made in this method. Intarsia usually forms a picture using diff color woods, rocks, or yarn/thread depending on what you are working with. This chessboard is simple squares (lots of them) glued individually to a backer-board. I then framed with solid wood edging.
The square tiles are made from Maple and Cherry individually cut, rounded over with a router, sanded by hand, buffed (Tripoli only) and finally glued into place on a 1/4" backer-board (I recommend 1/2"). A lot of people would recommend using hardboard or MDF due to its flatness, but I don't like the fact that it will swell if it has gotten wet, so I used 1/4" birch ply-wood doubled-up.

I really really really want a 3D Printer so I included a 3d model for the 3D printing contest. please throw me a vote.
Sketch-up plans here

Step 1: Gather Your Lumber

Picture of Gather Your Lumber

Checker/Chess boards consist of 64 total tiles on the playing field. That's 8 rows and 8 columns, 32 tiles of each color.
I used 1/2" thick cherry and Maple.
So, to break it down, you need to have 1 board of each color 1.5" X 53".
***Note, If you are going to try this checkerboard with larger squares, when figuring your lumber needs, take into account the kerf of your saw-blade. Mine is 1/8". If you need to cut 32 squares, each cut will eat away 1/8 off of your length. So include your kerf in the length of the board you are using. There are 32 cuts, that means that by the time you get to the last tile, your saw-blade will have eaten away 4" worth of the board.***
I started by ripping the boards into finished widths of 1.5".
Moving on...

Step 2: Cross-cut Each Square Tile

Picture of Cross-cut Each Square Tile

Now switch your table saw rip blade to a cross-cut blade.
I used my table-saw with my miter sled and a stop-block for repeated accuracy.

1-by-1 cut each square and keep them in order of cut by placing them in a line. Do one color at a time, and be sure to cut a few of each color extra. After you get them cut and while they are in order label them with numbers in order of cut.

After you have all 64+ a couple extra tiles cut, its time to move on.

Step 3: Round the Top Edges of Each Tile

Picture of Round the Top Edges of Each Tile

I used a router with a 1/4" round-over bit. I didn't raise the bit all the way to make the full round-over profile. Mmy goal here is to simply take away the sharp edge on the top of the tile. Take your time, try not to let it sit on the router bit, as this tends to make burn marks on the profile. These burn marks are especially difficult to sand away on end-grain, so keep moving. Another thing to keep in mind is tear-out. this will happen at the end cut of end-grain. As the router bit cuts along the end-grain, the bit will simply tear out a piece a nice size splinter at the end of the cut.. There are a couple ways to combat this. The most reliable way is to use a scrap piece. Hold it against the work piece and as you get to the end of the work piece you follow through with the cut into the scrap piece. This is what I would normally do, but in this case I have 64 squares with 2 sides with end-grain, 64 X 2 = 128 end-grain cuts. You could try using the same scrap block over and over. This way works as well...  I free handed it, my first cut is at the back end of the cut, then I go to the beginning and finish the entire cut...
Once you have rounded all 256 of the top edges, it's time to sand them...

Step 4: Sand the Tiles by Hand

Picture of Sand the Tiles by Hand

Sanding is painfully long and boring but sooo worth it in the end. So set aside some time for this.
I started by sticking some 320 grit sandpaper to a flat board. Then one edge by one edge get rid of the sharp definition on the tops of each tile from the roundover profile. Just hold the block at a low angle, and slide the piece across the paper. Next, holding the sandpaper in one hand and the tile in another I smoothed and removed any burn marks and tool marks left from the router on the rounded top edge. At the corners on the tops of each tile you will notice a well defined point, sand it a tiny bit to remove the definition of the top corners.
I think I spent 4 hours sanding these tiles one edge by one edge. I even moved into the living room and did this while watching some TV with the family.

After they are all sanded we still aren't done with them little buggers!

Step 5: Buff the Edges of Each Tile

Picture of Buff the Edges of Each Tile


I buffed (just the edges) all the tiles! ALL 64 OF THEM with their 4 sides each.
This process is more preventive maintenance than anything. If there is any glue squeeze-out in between the tiles, the glue should snap right off the tile without doing much, if any harm to the tiles themselves. It absolutely SUCKS sanding dried glue spots in hard to reach places.

Step 6: Glue the Tiles to the Backer-board.

Picture of Glue the Tiles to the Backer-board.

A lot of improve here... I used 1/4" plywood for the backer-board. I have some 1/2" plexi glass that I picked up from a local plastic company's trash. I laid strips of this down until I got the width of the board, then placed the plywood backer board in place, then clamped 2 straight edges at 90 degrees to each other to give myself straight edges and a perfect 90 degree corner to start with, along with the flatness needed.
Once you have everything ready. Separate the wood blocks by color and turn the tiles over and sort them in order of number (the reason I do this is to match the grain from tile to tile of the same color.. Make 8 rows and 4 columns of each color.
Get a damp rag, small bowl of water and glue ready.
One tile at a time, put a drop of glue about the size of a large pea on the bottom center of each tile and place the tile in it's proper location. Don't put too much glue on, you want to avoid squeeze-out.
When you get to the last tile push all the tiles against the clamped edges and screw another straight edge firmly against one of the open sides.
A bag of sand would work next, but I have a very heavy very flat granite sink cut-out. I laid wax paper then  a towel over the tiles (for protection) and then gently placed the granite slab on top.
Its best to walk away from it and let the granite slab give the even pressure it needs. If you apply pressure un evenly, you risk making the pieces slide. I let it sit over-night and I was happy to see all of my tiles glued securely in place and no glue squeeze-out. I then glued the backer-board with the squares to another piece of 1/4" plywood. No clamps, just the towel, the granite slab then some weights and a rather large tree trunk section for added weight.
I then let this sit over-night.

Step 7: Add the Trim

Picture of Add the Trim

Now I needed to frame the outside of the board to hide the ugly plywood and tie all the tiles together. I decided to
use some scrap 1/2" X1/2" walnut sticks rounded over on one top side of each stick. to form the first section of the frame. I cut these at a 45 degree miter and glued the bottoms and the actual miters. Use cation, you do not want any mess.
I used cargo straps and bar clamps to hold everything together while the glue sets.

At this point you should still see the ugly plywood. Its time to remove the excess. I used my router mounted in a table with a trim bit. This works great to get it flush, but leaves very ugly tearout, so sand it to make it pretty and clean.

Step 8: Add More Trim

Picture of Add More Trim

Now I need to hide the ugly plywood edges. I decided to use some Blood-wood I had leftover from another project. Do this the same way you did the trim in the last step. Miter the corners to proper length and glue them in place with the cargo straps.

Once the glue is dry, unclamp it and sand to 220 grit.

Step 9: Decorate the Corners

Picture of Decorate the Corners

Next, I cut each corner at a 45 degree angle and glued walnut and cherry to form the new corners. Then using the disk sander I sanded the attached pieces flush to the blood wood.

Step 10: Make Some Feet for the Board

Picture of Make Some Feet for the Board

I wanted the board to sit off the table a bit so I gave it some feet to stand on. I used some walnut scraps I had in the bin. These walnut strips already had a router profile so I just had to cut some pieces, miter and glue them together. I then used a router in a table with a rabbeting bit and rabbited a groove on the inside of the top of each feet. Next using a chisel, square the rounded corners.
Once that was complete, I sanded them up to 220 grit. Finally, I applied glue to the newly formed grooves and layed the chessboard in place and placed some weight on top. Let it sit a couple hours...

Step 11: Sand and Finish the Chess Board

Picture of Sand and Finish the Chess Board

It is now time to sand and finish the board. I sanded the entire surface and edges up to 320 grit, then using a compressor, blow the dust off.
Wipe the board down with mineral spirits to check for any glue spots and wipe any fine dust left behind off. If you are happy with it, its time for some Tung oil.
I gave this two coats of Tung oil and let it dry for 24 hours.
After the Tung oil is completely dry, I sanded (lightly) with 400 grit.
Blow it off and use a tack rag and wipe the board again. I then sprayed 1 coat of sealer, let it dry and then 2 coats of satin or semi-gloss polycrylic.

This board was really fun. I hope to one day teach some grand-kids how to play on it!
Thanks for looking


mattkreuz (author)2015-12-24

MADE IT ~ took me a while since I was busy, but I finished it in time for Christmas. the trim is Asian bloodwood, the feet are some sort of mahogany, the squares are Canadian oak and an unknown wood that I found on a pallet that came from overseas. tell me what you think, guess what kind of wood that is on the top

SlickSqueegie (author)mattkreuz2015-12-25

You did indeed make one! And a very nice job as well. Most impressive!

My guess for the wood is walnut and ash? Am I close?

Thanks for raising the bat!

GrantT2 (author)2015-05-04

Did you ever make the pieces for the board or no?

bganev77 (author)2014-11-17

Super stylish. Fantastic work and design.

Bill Boone (author)2014-11-13

Great work. I don't have the room or table saw so limited on the board.
I do intarsia though and the above image of Nautical Chess pieces patterns by JE or
Use scroll saw making compound cuts.

michaelgc (author)2014-06-08

Beautiful chess board! Good Work

SlickSqueegie (author)michaelgc2014-08-29


longwinters (author)2013-09-03

Just wondering why did you not round the edges before you cross cut the tiles?
Then you would just need to round the cross cut side
Those round edges do produce a far superior look over flat stock lay ups
Great job

Thanks, It's just the way I did it I guess... I wanted all round-overs exactly the same so I figured I should do all sides of the tiles at the same time withe the exact same setup.

Rich99 (author)SlickSqueegie2014-05-18

super excellent project... i just wish you had a clamp/jig whilst rounding over all those edges.

Centure (author)2014-02-08

Nice one, my chess-mad-friend's birthday is coming up soon and this would be the perfect gift. I just need the pieces :D

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2013-07-24

Congratulations!!! You won the first prize. :)

I must have missed this one. Thank you very much.

Kiteman (author)2013-07-22

Oh, that's lovely - I can't wait to see what pieces you make to go on it!

SlickSqueegie (author)Kiteman2013-07-23

Thank you Kiteman!
That task is proving to be more challenging than I had thought. But they are in process.

Kiteman (author)SlickSqueegie2013-07-23

Looking forward to it!

M.Hawse (author)2013-07-19

Absolutely amazing. Excellent work.

SlickSqueegie (author)M.Hawse2013-07-20

Thank you.

shazni (author)2013-07-13

This is beautiful.. I simply love the colors of wood.
You are very talented ... Can't wait to see more :-)

SlickSqueegie (author)shazni2013-07-19

Thank you so much! :)

SlickSqueegie (author)2013-07-13

Thank you. Matching the grain was simple. Just keep the tiles in order after you cut them all, then number the bottoms.

mortero (author)2013-07-11

A master piece, congratulations.

SlickSqueegie (author)mortero2013-07-11

Thank you so much!

thegrendel (author)2013-07-11

Nicely done. Consider doing a go board next.

SlickSqueegie (author)thegrendel2013-07-11

LOL that would be quite the challenge!

saosport (author)2013-07-11

THis i s beautiful. Well done.

SlickSqueegie (author)saosport2013-07-11

Thanks very much!

lsippell (author)2013-07-11

This chess board is a work of art, but the way you are routing the round over on the squares is just asking for maiming your fingers! Use a rubber bottomed push block and that way if something slips it's not your fingers that get caught on the bit.

But again, it's beautiful and I am going to make one.

SlickSqueegie (author)lsippell2013-07-11

I was wondering when the safety squad would show up :) You are right, It is not safe to do it this way. Common sense is the best safety feature in any shop.

SlickSqueegie (author)2013-07-11

Thanks eldrake. I numbered them to keep the grain running the same. If you notice, each tile's grain is matched with the next tile of the same color.
I'm not sure if I understand what you mean by "Also, if you cut the 1.5" strips with the grain running across the strips (instead of length-wise),"
I don't know of any lumberyard that will sell a length of wood 53" long with the grain running crosswise. you could essentially run a full length strip through the round-over and get 2 sides done. But this doesn't help with tear-out when going across the grain. in all honesty, it only took about 20 - 30 minutes to round-over all edges. The sanding and buffing is what ate a lot of time...

paryl (author)2013-07-11

Really great job. I never would have guessed how nice a bevel on all of the squares would look... this is truly gorgeous.

SlickSqueegie (author)paryl2013-07-11

Thanks Paryl. I wasn't sure how it would turn out either but decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I am really happy with the results. And this is probably the best finishing job I have ever done. The finish is breathtaking when you see it in person. I was showing it to a neighbor and he asked me if the tiles were plastic? lol

SlickSqueegie (author)2013-07-09

Thanks Wroger

BigMrTree (author)2013-07-08

What a great looking chessboard!! You are a fine craftsman with great attention to detail, thanks for sharing your work!!

SlickSqueegie (author)BigMrTree2013-07-08

Thank you very much. I really love making this stuff... Sharing it is a bonus. Thank you again for such a great compliment!

gcanders (author)2013-07-08

Beautiful! I love bloodwood, and it works so well in your project. I have only have only made chessboards using the same design I used in making end-grain cutting boards, but this is something I really want to try, and will do so. Thank for posting it.

SlickSqueegie (author)gcanders2013-07-08

You are very welcome. It's my pleasure to share. Thank you for the great compliment. :)

dcthelaw (author)2013-07-08

You should also make the pieces. That way it's a full board.

SlickSqueegie (author)dcthelaw2013-07-08

That is in process right now! :)

redfoxtrystman (author)2013-07-08

Love it


About This Instructable




Bio: I've built houses, decks, custom cabinets, furniture of all types. Ive done furniture repair and restoration, residential and commercial remodels, restaurant seating and tables ... More »
More by SlickSqueegie:How to Make a Canvas Wrapped Floating Picture Frame Cheap and EasyCafeteria Banquette Seating (booth Seats)DIY Sanding Cord - for Wood Turners
Add instructable to: