One of those jobs!

Published by Les on

“For as long as I live, I will never make a chess set!”, I once said, and when I said it, I meant it. However, several months ago I actually fancied having a go at a set, but didn’t do anything about it until a friend, who has been extremely supportive and kind during lock-down, asked whether or not I could make a set for her.

At that point I started researching chess set shapes and sizes, only to realise that there’s very specific sizes and proportions for them, especially if they’re to be be competition pieces. Well, those who know my woodtruning style will know that I tend to take inspiration from what I see, then go my own way with what I make, so my design for the chess set deliberately moved away from convention.

I considered what timbers to use and immediately thought of ebony and boxwood, but soon put that idea out of my mind, given how difficult the ebony is to source. Then, visiting a fellow woodturner in Mid Wales, I spotted several pieces of ebony on her shelf and they somehow made it into the back of my car and home to my workshop.

Sadly, the ebony had one too many little cracks in it, which rendered it unusable for my needs, so teak was substituted, and I used reclaimed teak, taken from old door frames, whilst the boxwood came from stock that I had of odd bits and pieces that I’d been collecting over the years.

Clearly, a game of chess cannot proceed without a board and a unique set of chess pieces calls for a decent, individually made board. I had plenty of teak, but using boxwood for the board was out of the question, so beech was substituted, thus a beech and teak chequer board with a mahogany frame was made…..and here they all are.

So what happens next? A few people have already asked if they could buy one, but I’m afraid not. This took 115 different pieces of timber, if you count the chess-men, the individual squares, the framework and all the loose tongues that were used to glue everything together. Gluing had to be done in stages, strip after strip, a light strip glued to a dark one and so on, firstly in pairs, then into fours, then as the final set of eight….here’s the process…..

Firstly, though, when gluing loads of little bits of wood together, they are inclined to slip and slide around, so the edges sometimes have grooves cut along them and a thin slither of wood (called a tongue) glued in….like this…

1…machine eight strips of wood, four dark and four light, cut the grooves along the long edges, then glue them together, side by side, with the tongues glued in as well….

2…When the glue has dried, trim the ends back so that you have ends which are perfectly square to the sides…..

3…Saw across the panel to cut it into eight strips.

4… Turn each alternate strip around….that’s the clever bit; it just creates the squares for you! Cut grooves along all the long edges and glue them all together with a tongue in each groove….

5…When that’s all dry, trim the outer edges again, cut 4 pieces of wood for a glued-on frame, with grooves around all four edges of the board and along the inside edges of the four pieces of the frame, then glue the frame onto the board…..

….and then all that remains is sanding, more sanding and even more sanding, then spraying with acrylic lacquer. Simple!

So….having got that out of my system, I can honestly say, “I’ll never make another one”.


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