How To Build a Chess Board or Checkerboard (Part 1 of 3)

This is Part 1 of a 15-page tutorial (in three parts) that will show you how to build an heirloom-quality, all-wood chess or checkers board with just a few small pieces of lumber. (Use the page navigation at the bottom of each post to change pages within each part.)

This part covers planning through first layer glue-up. You can also:

  • Skip to Part 2 (5 pages), which covers cutting the squares through planning the inlay.
  • Skip to Part 3 (4 pages), which covers cutting the inlay through finishing.
  • See a gallery of reader-built chess boards here: Reader-built Chess Boards

This is a great project for using up some small, otherwise unusable pieces of wood you may have laying around your shop. It’s very easy to build even with woodworking hobbyist tools, and it doesn’t consume a lot of expensive wood. The method described here will result in a handsome board with perfectly aligned squares, a sophisticated (but simple) inlay, and a polished finish.

The finished chess board / checkerboard

The finished chess board / checkerboard

Tools Used For This Project

  • Pencil
  • Hand plane
  • Yellow wood glue
  • Six 24-inch bar clamps
  • Four C-clamps
  • Ryobi BT3100 table saw (with router table attachment)
  • Shop-made crosscut sled
  • Glue brushes
  • Grizzly 14” band saw
  • Chisel
  • Ryobi handheld belt sander
  • Dewalt handheld router
  • Pattern router bit
  • Combination square
  • Porter-Cable 557 biscuit jointer
  • Tung oil finish
  • Wax finish
  • Clean cloth rags
  • Small human buffer (you’ll see…)
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  1. fragmatic’s avatar

    Genius. Thank you!

    Reply

  2. Eruccerlews’s avatar

    Hi! I’ve been skimming this forum for a bit – Decided to contribute=)

    Reply

  3. Random-ish’s avatar

    I’ve been doing this for my year 10 major project, works like a charm. Very simple to follow, very effective and my teacher wants to add it in a woodshow. THANKYOU SO MUCH!!!

    Reply

    1. admin’s avatar

      That’s great — I’d love to see some pictures when you’re finished!

      Reply

  4. Stan’s avatar

    I’ve been building checkerboards for years, but I make them a full 3/4′s thick. I don’t use a backer. I just finish both sides. I add one step that gives strength and gives a nice look. I glue up the dark wood in a panel 16 inches wide and cross-cut my strips from this piece. That turns the light and dark squares grain the opposite of each other. I think it is worth the trouble.

    Reply

  5. admin’s avatar

    Tha sounds great, Stan. I’d love to see a photo if you have a chance!

    Reply

  6. bossy28’s avatar

    I want to build a chess board for my sweetheart…he loves chess. But the terminology here is beyond me. I don’t have a shop and my experience with crafts is, painting and finishing tables or staining old wood furniture…am I in over my head? I’d really like to do this, but I’m a little nervous looking at the list of needed materials.

    Kema

    Reply

    1. admin’s avatar

      I think the table saw and the band saw where probably the most specialized tools that I used for this. Do you have any access to those tools via friends or family members? If you can get the cuts made at least, then I think you’d be pretty comfortable with the rest of it — the gluing up, sanding, and finishing. You sound pretty crafty, though, so you might consider stepping up to some woodworking tools if you have the opportunity! :)

      Reply

  7. Bob’s avatar

    I think it’s cheaper to just buy a board, but if you’re handy and love wood glue I guess it could be a fun project! :-)

    Reply

  8. 21st Birthday Ideas’s avatar

    This would actually be a great birthday idea. Making something meaningful with your own hands is always the best gift.

    James

    Reply

  9. Ted’s avatar

    I assembled your great chess board. I put the thin strips on a piece of plywood and spread the glue around with a roller. Clamped the whole thing together and used the board for about a year. After a year the corners on one started turning up. I know this is from moisture and I used elmer’s glue, and spread the whole thing with rollers. I also ensured the edges were glued and clamped before hand.
    Before they started turning up the board was nice and flat, very discouraged.

    Reply

    1. admin’s avatar

      Hi Ted. I’m not quite sure I understand where the thin strips were or what went wrong. All my chess boards have held up nicely over the years. If you can post a picture I might be able to help you. Are the strips you’re talking about the rows of black/white squares, or some sort of edging material on the outside of the plywood edges? Did you use wood glue to attach them? What kind of finish did you put on the board?

      Reply

      1. Ted’s avatar

        The strips are the rows of black and white, yes. It did not occur to all the rows, which I understand says its the glue, but the problem is I used a roller and was very careful to ensure it was thorough. It is in a room that in the summer gets humid and cold in the winter. The finish was polyurethane, oil based, floor variety. You can not see it in the picture because it is slight. You can clearly feel it and change it by pushing it down. The glue was Elmer’s wood glue.

        Reply

      2. Ted’s avatar

        Yes, the thin strips are the rows of the squares. Only a couple are lifting and you can push them down. A picture will do little good as the rise is slight, but noticeable to the eye.

        The glue was Elmer’s wood glue.
        The finish is oil based polyurethane the type you use on floors.

        The room is humid in the summer and cold in the winter. But in the winter on the weekends it does go from 61 to 68.

        I did use a glue roller so I understand that a few rows lifting points to the glue, but I was careful to ensure complete coverage and I did use a roller. My thought ws because Elmer’s is not moisture resistant that wa the problem. What do you think?

        Reply

        1. admin’s avatar

          Yeah, the wood will want to expand and contract with the humidity and the plywood will not. I suppose it’s possible that the glue failed if it’s not moisture resistant, but I haven’t actually seen problems like this with the thin veneers of black/white squares — even when I was making them with original Titebond (also not moisture resistant). It’s also possible that one of the plywood laminates itself failed — for example if there was a void in the plywood on or near one of the edges that is coming up. In this case the top layer of plywood might actually still be sticking to the squares.

          The other thought I has was in surface preparation and glue-up, but it sounds like you were probably pretty careful there. For example, if there’s dust, poor coverage, or poor clamping over a spot, then that can cause it to be weakened as well.

          I saw a kit somewhere that includes a needle you can use to get in there and re-glue veneers down. I wonder if that might help solve the problem… Let me look and see if I can find that again later tonight.

          Reply

  10. Bill’s avatar

    I just finished a Chess Board using the following types of wood, chestnut,oak,mahogany, black walnut, maple, BW

    Reply

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