Introduction: How to Make (and Play) Go / Igo / Weiqi / Baduk

About: Jack of all trades, master of none. Lover of games, music, friends, and family.

Go is a very old board game, having been played for roughly 2'500 years, and is massively popular throughout Asia in general. I originally came across it while living in China where I often witnessed people who totally100% weren't gambling* (and were just keeping money under the board for safekeeping) while playing it on the street.

The simple complexity of the game intrigued me, and I decided I wanted to learn how to play. Imagine my face then, when I returned home and found out that a nice board was far beyond my modest budget as a student. What to do then? Build it of course!

*Gambling is illegal in China.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

I have an extremely limited workspace and tool closet (think no work bench or anything), so the good news is that if I can make this you probably can too.

Tools & equipment:

  1. Large metal ruler
  2. A measuring square
  3. One wood burning kit (this is mine - cheap and nasty)
  4. Clamps
  5. Maple stain & varnish
  6. A brush
  7. Wood glue
  8. Lots of sandpaper (if, like me, you don't have a sander)
  9. Enough 12mm or thicker plywood to make two 'boards' of your chosen size
  10. Some way to cut this wood to your desired size (I had Bunnings cut mine for free when I bought my plywood)
  11. A pencil

Last but not least, I'd also recommend a comfortable wall to sit and lean against within easy reach of a power point. The longest part of this project includes the burning of many lines extremely slowly, so this won't go amiss.

Step 2: Measure, Cut, and Sand.

General info:

First, you need to decide what size you want to make your board. Absolute beginners are encouraged to start on a 9 x 9 board, moving onto 13 x 13 boards when they are feeling comfortable. Lastly, 19 x 19 boards are used after a player is comfortable with the general strategies of Go and can play a 13 x 13 game in under 15 minutes. Personally I am not experienced enough to play on a 19 by 19 board yet, so my board is a 13 x 13.


The 'squares' should be 22mm wide and 23.7mm long*, however I'm lazy and don't have a laser cutter so my squares are 24mm long (and my maths reflects this). Lastly, the board will have a margin of 14mm on all sides to stop the stones falling off the edge.

tl;dr version: Choose either a 9 x 9 board, a 13 x 13 board, or a 19 x 19 board, and then do some maths/just use my calculations.

Width = (board size -1 [eg 12 for a 13 x 13] x 22) + 28 [two margins of 14mm gives us 28]

Length = (board size -1 x 23.7 or 24) + 28

In essence (using my lazy maths) a 9 x 9 board will be 200mm by 220mm, a 13 x 13 will be 292mm by 316mm, and a 19 x 19 will be 424mm by 460mm. Choose your size and cut two boards of the appropriate size, then sand the more interesting sides of each nice and smooth.*

*The reason for the board being longer than it is wide is to create an optical illusion of the squares actually being square when one sits in front of it.

*Pro tip: collect the sawdust from your sanding, you can use it for putty later.

Step 3: Measure Some More

Measure in 14mm from each edge of the more interesting board*, and then use your measuring square to create your margins (as seen in the first photo above). Next, for the short edges of the board, make marks at 22mm intervals along the margin lines.

You should end up with 11 marks (as the 'margin' lines will create the 12th and 13th lines) on the top and bottom 'margin'; these will be connected to form lines. Use your ruler and pencil to do this, leaving you with 13 vertical lines. Next, do the same for the long edges, but use 24mm spacing for your marks.

Your end result for this step should look like the second photo above.

*I chose the piece of ply that had more interesting patterns in it. If neither appeals, just pick one.

Step 4: Burn, Baby! Burn!

The disclaimer:

this step includes using a tool hot enough to burn wood. The hot bit is not your friend. Do not touch it. Do not play with it. Do not eat it. Do not sleep with it. Any injury you incur is not my fault.

The useful bit:

Having said that, this (excluding the drying time for the stain and varnish) is probably the longest step of this project, so find that wall I mentioned earlier and get comfy. You will want to select a round, pointed nib, for your burning tool as it will be the easiest to run along the edge of your ruler. Traditionally the lines on a Go board are about 1mm thick, so try to make sure that the selected nib is towards the finer end (but don't sweat the 1mm thing, wood burning is an imprecise art).

The slow bit:

While you wait for your tool to heat up, use two clamps to align your metal ruler with one of your pencil lines. By slowly dragging the burner along the ruler edge we will ensure our lines stay straight, making the final product look more polished. Depending on how fat the nib of your burner is, you may need to offset the ruler a little to make sure you are actually burning on the line itself.

Once the tool is nice and hot, use a long slow stroke to burn in the line. If you get impatient and move the tool too fast it will cool down and skate across the surface of the wood (rather than giving the nice black line we want). Best results will be obtained by completing each line in one, agonisingly slow, stroke. Aim to keep the line a consistent width, and, preferably, deep enough that you can feel it in order to add a nice tactile element to the board.

Repeat 25 more times.

The star points:
When all the lines are complete you are ready to make the 'star' points. For the sake of brevity, this --link-- is probably the easiest way to make sure you put your points in the right position for your board size. Use a round nib for your burner big enough to make a circle larger than the intersections on your board, and make marks at the relevant points. For our 13 x 13 board, these are the 4 - 4 points, and the absolute centre point.

Step 5: Glue, Clamp (& Maybe Sand)

This step is nice and simple, just follow the instructions on your wood glue and glue your two boards together. I used some folded paper under the 'teeth' of my clamps to preserve the board's surface, and some books to weigh it down because I can be a little paranoid sometimes.

When the glue has reached its maximum strength, check if all the sides aligned perfectly. Mine didn't, and one or two of the sides were about a millimetre out. Use a block and sandpaper to fix this up (or a sander if you're lucky enough to have one), and then check for any gaps in the wood. If there are any, use that saved sawdust from earlier and some wood glue to make some filler putty (just mix a dob of glue into the dust to make some paste). Cram this into any gap or hole, and then wait for it to dry.

When that is done, sand it all smooth again and you're ready for the next step.

Step 6: Stain & Varnish

In a nice ventilated area, use a brush to apply your first coat of stain and varnish. I used a maple stain to make my plywood look a little less... plywoody. This strikes a nice balance I think; lighter wouldn't be as pretty, while darker might make the lines harder to see.

Once the coat is completely dry (eight hours later in my case), give it a light sand with some very fine sandpaper and apply the next coat. Repeat this step one more time for the third and last coat, then twiddle your thumbs again; don't worry, you're almost done.

Step 7: The Playing Pieces

Go stones are way too expensive for a poor student like me, so I used some flat glass pebbles I found at a cheap shop for $2 a bag. You will want roughly 90 stones of each colour for a 13 by 13 board, and two jars (preferably with lids you can place stones on) to store them in. Shop in the right places and you should come out of this a fairly happy camper!

Step 8: Learn to Play!

The basic rules:

1: A match is between two players; 'black' and 'white'. Beginning with 'black', players take turns to place one stone at a time on the intersecting points of the lines. Once placed, a stone cannot be moved to another point.

2: A stone that is horizontally or vertically next to another stone of the same colour forms a 'chain' or 'group'. Chains/groups share 'liberties' (explained in the next rule).

3: An empty intersection next to a stone is called a 'liberty', and a stone or chain must have at least one 'liberty' to be alive. When a stone or chain is surrounded by opposing stones (removing all liberties), the stone or stones are removed from the board and taken as prisoners (see image one).

4: No suicidal moves: a stone cannot be placed so that it would have no liberties unless doing so would take one of the surrounding stones (see images two and three).

5: No 'infinite cycles': you cannot play so that the board returns to exactly the same position as before. See the 4th photo for a visual example of how this works.

6: A player may pass at any time. Two consecutive passes (one from each player) ends the game.

7: A player wins by surrounding the most liberties, and their score is the total number of surrounded points plus the number of 'prisoners' taken.

For a more practical, hands (digitally) on, way to learn I highly suggest trying these explanatory puzzles: I'm a link, click me. Good luck, and please post in the comments if you made a board. I'd love to see it!