Introduction: Solid Wood Chess-board

Picture of Solid Wood Chess-board

I love playing Chess. Especially in the summer, sitting outside in the shade with a good friend and a cool beverage.
I have gone thru several boards thru-out the years and I have always wanted a good solid wood board. When the Toy contest opened and I saw the Maker-bot as a prize, I knew exactly what I wanted to enter.

In this instructable I am taking you through the steps of making a Chess-board.
The wood used for the squares are Cherry and Norway Maple, the border is made from Norway maple. All of the wood used was harvested from local tress fallen during storms. After a really bad storm I ALWAYS drive around with a chainsaw offering to help and haul away some of their larger pieces (so glad I have a trailer).

The actual squares are 1-1/2" X 1-1/2". The whole board with the border is about 12-1/2" X12-1/2".

Step 1: Plan and Gather Your Lumber

Picture of Plan and Gather Your Lumber

I'm really not one to draw up and go by plans. I really don't even like following plans. That being said, I do sketch ideas and make notes to figure out my rough needs for a project. This does have draw-backs at times, but I'm still able to "wing-it" with most projects.

A Chess/Checker-board consists of 64 squares total (8 columns and 8 rows).

After a quick sketch and some math, I found a couple of boards. The boards I have are rough sawn 5/4 boards (VERY ROUGH).

Step 2: Mill Your Lumber

Picture of Mill Your Lumber

My boards are in very rough shape,
The first thing I had to do was  put a clean edge on each board. I had to clamp my straightedge to the boards and rip a clean edge on each. Then, with the newly clean and straightened edge against the fence I ripped them to about 4" wide and cross-cut them to 28".
You should have 1 Cherry 4"X28" and 1 Maple 4"X28".

The next step is to clean up one face on each board. I used my joiner to accomplish this task. The end result should be a board with 1 clean and flat surface.
Next clean up one edge on each board to square it with the face of the board.
Mark an "X" on the cleaned edge of each board, (the cleaned face should be quite obvious (but if its not mark the "X" on the face that you squared the edge on.

With the X edge against the fence and the X face on the table of your table saw rip 2 strips from each board 1-1/2" wide.
After you rip the boards to finish width you will have some strips about 3/8" thick. Set them aside for use on the border of the board.
Now crosscut the 4 boards to 14"...

You should now have 8 boards 1.5" wide X 14" long (4 of one color wood and 4 of the other)

Step 3: First Glue-up

Picture of First Glue-up

Gather up your clamps. (you can never have too many clamps) I used 3 bar clamps and a couple C-clamps.
Get the glue,  clamp pads (small blocks of wood) and  a wet rag.
I used a yellow wood glue, the set time for this is 5-10 minutes (depending on the age of the glue) mine is a couple years old so it sets very very fast, so I had to work very very fast.

When edge gluing, if you wipe the edges with a damp rag first, the glue spreads much faster.

I set my clamps up and dry clamp before applying the glue. This helps in clamping it up faster.
When you are ready, arrange the boards the way they look best, then turn each one on edge and run a bead of glue on each edge
spread the glue evenly across the edges. Then lay each board flat and clamp it up. Make sure nothing slides and try like crazy to keep all boards held firmly flat and with even pressure.

Let it sit for 2-4 hours...

Step 4: Time to Plane....

Picture of Time to Plane....

After the glue is dry, use a glue scraper to scrape away all the excess dried glue.
Now using a hand plane or a belt sander flatten each side.

Step 5: Cut Perpendicular Strips

Picture of Cut Perpendicular Strips

I used my cross-cut sled and finish cut 1 end to square with one of the clean edges. Then, using a stop block set at 1.5" from the blade rip 8 strips...
Lay out the cut strips and flip every other strip to form the checkerboard pattern and get ready for another glue-up

Step 6: 2nd Glue-up

Picture of 2nd Glue-up

With your clamps, damp rag and clamp block at the ready, arrange and turn on end each strip just like before.
Run a bead of glue on each edge and spread it evenly and thoroughly. Then clamp it up as you did before. 

Let sit for 2-4 hours...

Step 7: Plane the Board Flat Again.

Picture of Plane the Board Flat Again.

Once dry, scrape the glue and plane it flat again.

Step 8: Make the Border

Picture of Make the Border

Now is when those 3/8" scrap pieces we set aside come into play...
You can get creative here and alternate the color for each side of the board cherry, maple cherry maple... I decided to go with the maple on all sides. These are glued on each side and mitered with one another at the corners.

Step 9: Finish It

Picture of Finish It

I rounded the edges of the top and bottom of the board, This gives it a much softer feel (not that that matters). Then sanded from 150 grit all the way to 320 grit..

Then a thorough wipe down with mineral spirits to check for any ugly glue spots.

I then applied 2 coats of sealer, sanding with 400 in-between coats and then finished with 2 coats of polycrylic. Then waxed and buffed.

If you like this instructable please click the vote button. :)
Thanks for looking.


Jimmy24 (author)2015-03-26

Hello, great project thanks for sharing! I've just completed the second glue-up and sanded it all down again but I've noticed a kink in one of the corners meaning the board does not lay completely flat. Is there anything I can do about this, such as clamp it flat and leave for days hoping it will stretch, or is it something I'm going to have to put up with? (This is my first woodwork project)


GhettoEngineer (author)Jimmy242015-05-16

My thoughts, assuming I understand your dilemma, would be to plane down the trouble side to get everything flat.

sir_ghattas (author)2015-03-06

Great Instructible, I'm thinking of making one for my teacher and burning a map into it.

jimma255 (author)2014-10-24

Hi - thanks for the instructions. I'm more or less following them as I give this a shot.

I have a question. Between steps 7 and 8, did you run the endges through a jointer or otherwise true them up? Despite my best efforts, the edges after the second glue up are not perfect and I don't think a border will glue on right. I'm wondering how running the checkerboard wood through the jointer would work, since the grains alternate.


SlickSqueegie (author)jimma2552014-10-24

hello, no, mine luckily turned out well enough. But in your case, if you have a hand plane, try that. If no hand plane, I would maybe try and run in over the table saw to clean up the edge.

If you have to cut a lot of the edge off to make it all even, it will look odd. So in that case, I would do the opposing side of the board the same size. You could then designate the start areas on the board saving the work you have put into it already.

If the cut is minimal and hardly noticeable, you are good to go.

jimma255 (author)SlickSqueegie2014-10-28

thanks. it was only a tiny bit - 1/16" or less, but I just cleaned it up with a table saw. You can't tell those squares are a tiny bit smaller. I figured a jointer would not be a good idea here.

SlickSqueegie (author)jimma2552014-10-29

awesome! You should post a pic.

SlickSqueegie (author)jimma2552014-10-24

also, no, do not run it through your joiner. That would be asking for trouble... Never a good idea to run end grain over a joiner...

Thatrandomguyy (author)2014-04-23

hi nice job but what do you need to make it like the tools, materials.

I used a table saw with a crosscut sled, lots of clamps, yellow wood glue, and a hand plane.

dpfoerster (author)2014-03-12

Hi! Are the instructions coming back? would really like to build your chess-board.

SlickSqueegie (author)dpfoerster2014-03-12

SlickSqueegie (author)2014-01-24


awgrover (author)2014-01-23

I am curious as to how your chess board is holding up as the seasons change. I notice that you glued the framing pieces right to the solid wood board edges, both with the grain parallel to the board (which is OK) and across the ends of the the board with the edging grain running perpendicular to the board grain (which is bad). This looks like a recipe for disaster, as the board will expand and contract with humidity, most likely opening up gaps at the corners of the edging, when it swells, possibly ending with some complete joint failures. The "correct" way to have installed the edging would have been to let the board "float" in a frame and panel type of construction to allow the chess board "panel" to expand and contract within the frame "edging" (like raised panel cabinet doors, for instance).

Thank you for sharing your project, because it looks stunning. But please update the community if you do see any failures as the seasons change. We are all here to learn. If no joint or glue failures, I am happy it worked out for you.

SlickSqueegie (author)awgrover2014-01-24


Thanks for your comment, I understand your concerns, but the board is just fine. no issues (as of yet anyway). This is the way wooden chessboards are made.

SlickSqueegie (author)2013-08-29

lol. Which ones? I have hear them called f-clamps before, but those say (right on them), "bar clamps".

SlickSqueegie (author)2013-08-18

Thank you. They are easier than ya think. :)

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2013-07-09

Congratulations!! You won :[).

:) Thanks! I see you won as well. Congrats, back at ya!

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2013-07-06

Awesome... I am just wondering what would be your great project for the upcoming woodworking contest :) and btw congrats for being a finalist in the Father;s Day contest.

"Upcoming woodworking contest"??? When?
And, thanks!

See this.

Oh, that is so cool. I will have to come up with a big idea for it. I wonder what the prizes will be.

Not a Lathe please , you already have one ;) LOL

jimmitchell1943 (author)2013-06-20

great board...i think my next that chess...

Thank you. I would love to see it when you finish it.

rimar2000 (author)2013-06-09

Beautiful board.

SlickSqueegie (author)rimar20002013-06-09

Thanks Rimar

framistan (author)2013-06-09

I made one once but I didn't have the big machines you have. All I had was a sabre-saw and a hand sander. It was more work and more difficult to keep the squares in line but it IS possible to build one without the big machines. I regret making the squares less than 2 inches though. The larger chess sets need a minimum 2 inch squares.

framistan (author)framistan2013-06-09

Here is the board I made. The dark squares are made out of an old scrap piece of oak barn wood. The white squares are made out of new oak wood. The picture shows the edge of the board so you can see I had to do wood filler to all the edges between squares. The chess pieces are all made out of CONCRETE except the white knight... it is real wood. The blue thing in the back is a concrete queen coming out of the silicone mold. I have not made very many things out of wood. Mostly I build electronic things.

SlickSqueegie (author)framistan2013-06-09

You made a Checker board with rough milled lumber, using only a sabre saw and hand sander? You have some serious skills, I really would love to see it... and many more woodworking projects.
You mention "big machines", I guess this is how I feel when I see people using laser cutters and CNC machines to cut their parts out... As far as the size of my board, I am making custom pieces, so I can make it any size I want. I just have to make the chess pieces to fit the squares...
If I had bought pre-milled lumber, I would not have used the "joiner" then the only other power tool I used was a table saw. and sander. I hand planed those boards flat... not a machine....

bananaghost (author)2013-06-09

Great looking board. I'd be confused by the dark and light squares on this particular board. Fantastic instructions though. You make it look easy!

Thank you. When you sit in front of it, it isn't confusing at all. Some spots blend a little more than others, but that's the nature of the wood.

ffcabral (author)2013-06-09

The concept is so great. I love how the contrast between the black and white squares is so subtle, and even so, there are no two squares the same shade, yet it is still recognizable as a Chess board.
This is something I would definitely keep in my living room.

SlickSqueegie (author)ffcabral2013-06-09

Thank you so much. The subtle difference is what i was going for, The cherry used was kind of wild grained and different in color though out that board that it does kind of blend a little too much in some spots, but I have no problem seeing the difference. and ended up really liking the color contrast on it. Thanks again.

Treasure Tabby (author)2013-06-08

Very nice and great job.:) Looks like the one my dad made a number of years ago only that one is mostly honey coloured. He also carved a number of pieces for it too.

Thanks very much. I do plan on turning out a chess set instructable soon. as well as checkers...

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 »
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