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This is Part 3 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 cutting the inlay through finishing. You can also:

  • Go back to Part 1 (6 pages), which covers planning through first layer glue-up.
  • Go back to Part 2 (5 pages), which covers cutting the squares through planning this inlay.
  • See a gallery of reader-built chess boards here: Reader-built Chess Boards

Cutting the Inlay

Now it’s time to cut the top inside edges of the frame boards to accept the inlay. Fortunately you don’t really need to do any measuring here. We’ll be cutting a groove in the frame for the inlay, and we’ll set the router using the inlay pieces we’ve already prepared. Insert a straight bit into your router, and set the depth to lower than the shortest of your four inlay pieces. In the photo below, I have all four pieces lined up from shortest to tallest, and the bit is set slightly lower than the one in front.

Setting the bit height

Setting the bit height

Set the router table fence so that the blade will cut slightly shallower than the thinnest of the inlay pieces. This will be the final width of the inlay on the finished chess board. In the photo below, you can see that the fence is set up so that the router bit would cut into the tiny inlay piece, but not though it.

Setting the width of the inlay

Setting the width of the inlay

Use a piece of scrap lumber to test the router and table settings. None of the inlay pieces should fit all the way in the grove your router cuts – they should all be just a bit too wide and just a bit too long. This is what you want. Now carefully cut the groove to receive the inlay along the top inside edge of each frame piece. I didn’t take a picture of this part because I was being careful not to cut my fingers off.”

Gluing Up and Trimming the Inlay

Next, one at a time, position each of the inlay pieces in the groove so that it extends beyond the miter reference lines you drew earlier. In the photo below, you can see the piece “not quite fitting” in thickness, width, or even length, but that it extends beyond the inside of the diagonal used to mark the miter joint.

Inlay stock should be slightly larger than the groove

Inlay stock should be slightly larger than the groove

Using wax paper to protect the pieces from each other, glue up two inlays at a time and clamp the frame pieces together (shown in the following two photos) until the glue sets.

Clamping two inlays at a time

Clamping two inlays at a time

It’s easiest to do two at a time. Because the inlay pieces are a bit oversized, if you turn one frame board upside down and press them face to face, the inlay for each board will be held in place by the other board, as shown below.

Each inlay is held tightly be the opposite board

Each inlay is held tightly be the opposite board

After all the glue has set, use a pattern bit or a plane to trim down the inside edge of the inlay. The inside edge should be the broadest edge of the inlay.

Trimming the inlay to final width

Trimming the inlay to final width

When you’re finished trimming the inside edge, you’ll end up with a very thin bit of inlay that stands slightly proud (above) the face of the board. If necessary, use a sharp hand plane (to prevent chip out) to trim the inlay to just a hair above the face of the board. You’ll be sanding it flat once the frame is glued to the board.

Trimming the hieght to nearly flush

Trimming the hieght to nearly flush

Preparing the Frame

Hold each edge up against the board matching the letters that you drew earlier, and aligning it using the miter reference lines you also drew. Draw three lines across the frame and onto the board to mark the positions of biscuits (plates). You may be tempted to not draw the middle line because it lines up so nicely with the center of the board, but you need to at least draw the mating line on the frame.

Marking the biscuit locations

Marking the biscuit locations

Cut slots for biscuits (plates) all the way around the board.

Cutting the biscuit slots in the board

Cutting the biscuit slots in the board

Then cut slots on all the frame pieces. This is why you needed to trim the inlay very close to the board itself.

Cutting the slots in the frame

Cutting the slots in the frame

If you have a biscuit jointer that’s capable of cutting face frame biscuits (FF size), then you may want to make cut additional slots for the corners after you miter the edges. Be sure the frame is wide enough for an FF biscuit!

Mitering the Frame

Starting with Side A (you labeled them with letters, right?), work your way around the board, one side at a time. I use the crosscut sled and the base of a combination square to make these cuts. Attach sandpaper to the faces of the square to keep it from slipping.

Using a combination square to make miter cuts

Using a combination square to make miter cuts

Be sure the outside edges of the miters are nice and sharp when you cut.

Be sure the cut is sharp and clean

Be sure the cut is sharp and clean

Cut the first side of the first frame piece (Side A), then cut the mating side of the adjacent piece (probably Side B), making very fine adjustments if necessary and test-fitting it until the joint fits perfectly.

Nibble away until it fits pefectly

Nibble away until it fits pefectly

Then move on to the other side of Side B. Double check the placement of your reference line by holding the first joint (A-B) together against the board and checking the length of side B against the length of the board. Make a new mark if necessary to indicate the required length of the cut.

Make a new reference mark if necessary

Make a new reference mark if necessary

Cut it a hair long at first, and then “nibble away” until the inside edge of Side B is exactly the length of the Side B of the board. Then move on to the mating side of the adjacent piece (probably Side C), and continue around the board until you’ve trimmed the opposite end of Side A. Now that you have all the miters cut, you can add slots for face frame biscuits (FF size) if you want and if the boards are wide enough to fit.

Gluing Up the Frame

Before you use any glue, add biscuits to all the slots and completely assemble the board. This serves two purposes. First, this dry fit will ensure that all your miters are cut perfectly, and second, it will serve to perfectly align all the frame pieces as you glue them up one piece at a time.

Clamp the frame together without any glue

Clamp the frame together without any glue

Once the board is dry fitted and clamped tightly, remove a couple of the clamps and carefully pull off the first side. Be sure the other clamps are still tight.

Remove only one side at a time

Remove only one side at a time

Add glue to the slots, place the biscuits, and add glue to the side only – NOT the mitered edges. (By the way, you can see from these photos that I used face frame biscuits on the mitered corners.)

Glue just the part against the board -- not the miters

Glue just the part against the board — not the miters

Then tightly clamp the piece back into position against the board. The two adjacent sides (if clamped tightly) will keep this side perfectly aligned on the board. Once the glue has set a bit, do the same with the opposite side, again keeping the glue off of the mitered corners so you don’t accidentally fasten the unglued sides. Refasten the clamps snugly and let the glue dry for a couple of hours.

Clamping the mitered corners

Clamping the mitered corners

Finally, remove the clamps holding together the unglued sides, apply glue to all the slots and edges (including the mitered corners), and re-clamp. You can do both of these at the same time. It may be helpful to apply C-clamps with cauls to the mitered joints to be sure they line up perfectly.

Finishing the Chess Board

Once all the glue has dried it’s time for the final sanding and finishing. Start with 100 grit paper (or 80 if necessary) on a random orbital sander and flatten the surface. Then move through 120, 150, and 180 grits, removing the visible scratches from the previous grit with each new grit. Finally, use a sanding block with 220 grit paper for your final finish sanding with the grain of the wood. A good way to check for flatness and remaining scratches is to look across the board with a bright light (or the outdoors in my case) shining behind it.

Checking for level and scratches

Checking for level and scratches

Clean the chess board carefully to be sure it’s free of dust, and then place it on a milk crate or some other platform that will allow you to apply the finish all around.

Preparing to apply the finish

Preparing to apply the finish

I prefer Tung oil finish, but you can use whatever you like. I apply three coats of Tung oil finish, allowing time for the oil to soak in and dry between coats. After the Tung oil, I wait a good 24 hours for the oil to harden before I add a thin wax finish with a clean all-cotton cloth, working with the grain. Apply the finish to the bottom of the frame as well. Sign your name and date the plywood in the middle so there’s no doubt who built the chess board. A wax finish needs to be buffed, and that’s something my son has gotten pretty good at. (I know, the plant in the background looks like it’s dead, but I assure you: It is in fact impossible to kill.)

Buffing the wax finish

Buffing the wax finish

Next, cut a piece of green felt (or whatever color you desire) about an inch smaller than the chess board, apply glue, center it, and attach it to the bottom of the board. The felt will cover your signature, but that’s okay – you know the secret. Finally, add the pieces and start to play! King’s pawn to e4. Your move.

The finished chess board / checkerboard

The finished chess board / checkerboard

Some Technical Details

The photos were taken with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, with either the kit lens or the EF-S 60 Macro, and sometimes using either Speedlite 550EX or the Speedlite 430EX flash. The images were created in batch using ImageMagick, launched as follows: convert *.JPG[320x320] -gravity SouthEast -font Arial -pointsize 12 -fill black -annotate +2+2 "(c)2006 plans.theFrankes.com" -fill white -annotate +3+3 "(c)2006 plans.theFrankes.com" chess%03d.jpg


This is the End of Part 3 and the end of the tutorial. You can:

  • Go back to Part 1 (6 pages), which covers planning through first layer glue-up.
  • Go back to Part 2 (5 pages), which covers cutting the squares through planning this inlay.
Share

This is Part 2 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 cutting the squares through planning this inlay. You can also:

  • Go back to Part 1 (6 pages), which covers planning through first layer glue-up.
  • 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

Cutting the Squares

Now it’s time to cut the squares. Start by trimming one edge of the board so that it is perfectly perpendicular to the first slice you glued down. Take off only as much material as you need to make the ends of the slices flush with the edge of the board. I use a shop-made crosscut sled for this.

Trimming the first rough edge

Trimming the first rough edge

Next, measure the width of the stripes carefully, and add a stop block to the crosscut sled (or set your table saw fence) so that when you cut across the stripes, you’ll end up with pieces exactly the same width as the stripes themselves – 2 inches in this example. (See photo below.) Write the numbers 1 through 8 across one of the light stripes so you’ll know the order in which you made the cuts. You can see the numbers (albeit faintly) in the image below written on the second light stripe from the bottom. The numbers go from right to left. Measure again, take a deep breath, measure again, and then cut your first strip.

Cutting the first strip of squares

Cutting the first strip of squares

You’re going to be slowly cutting away at the nice long straight edge that you started with, so it’s a good idea to draw a reference line on the sled indicating the width of the pieces you’re cutting . . . better safe than sorry.

Using a reference line on the sled

Using a reference line on the sled

Be sure to check for sawdust next to the stop block between each cut. (See photo.) Dust and splinters here can result in unequal widths – something you definitely want to avoid when making a chess board.

Be sure to dust the stop block between cuts

Be sure to dust the stop block between cuts

Continue cutting until you have eight strips of the same length and width. Make the last cut carefully and use a ruler or the alignment line you drew onto the crosscut sled.

Cutting the last strip of squares

Cutting the last strip of squares

You’ll end up with eight pieces, each exactly two inches wide. Note in the photo that the backer board extends a little further than the walnut square. This is okay because it’ll be trimmed off a little later.

All 64 squares in eight identical strips

All 64 squares in eight identical strips

Orienting the Grain

Now you really get to check your work. Lay out the eight pieces and alternate every other one to get the checkerboard pattern so common on chess boards. ;-)

Initial chess board layout

Initial chess board layout

This is the time when you need to make a very important grain decision: As you may already know, a chess board is correctly positioned when the white square is at each player’s right hand side. The way you lay the pieces out now will define which direction the grain will go – either player-to-player or side-to-side. It’s pretty common for the wood grain on chess boards to run across the board from player to player. For this board, though, I wanted to allow the grain to run across the board from each player’s left to right – to see if it might make me a better chess player. So, in the photo above you see the grain running from side to side with the white square in the lower right-hand corner. To orient the grain in the other (more traditional) direction, simply reverse each of the eight pieces independently. (It’s not good enough to reverse them all together as one, because you’ll end up with the exact same pattern.) To be sure, if you want a more traditional player-to-player grain, then the bottom right corner in the photo above should be black. Once you have the pieces oriented the way you want them, be sure they’re numbered clearly and draw arrows to indicate their orientation. You can see the arrows and numbers drawn onto the maple squares below. (Note that the squares are misaligned only because they haven’t been glued down yet.)

Indicating order and orientation

Indicating order and orientation

Second Layer Glue-up

Now cut a piece of half-inch plywood about the same size as the 1/4-inch piece you cut before. You’ll glue all eight sets of squares to this board in much the same manner as you did before, so be sure one edge is perfectly straight. All the other edges can be cleaned up later. Prepare each of the eight pieces by sanding them smooth on the bottom and cleaning off all the dust and splinters. I usually soften the bottom edges as well to allow a little room for the glue to squeeze out.

Preparing the backs of the strips of squares

Preparing the backs of the strips of squares

Again, use wax paper to protect the crosscut sled. Orient the new 1/2-inch backer board so that the grain is (again) perpendicular to the grain of the first 1/4-inch backer board. Clamp the backer board firmly against the edge of the crosscut sled, then glue down the first of the eight pieces. Pay careful attention to the arrows and numbers you wrote on the pieces during layout.

Gluing down the first row

Gluing down the first row

You’ll be adding some clamping pressure to the first piece you glue down, so wait a solid 24 hours or so for the glue on the first piece to cure completely before proceeding. You may need to clean up any glue that has squeezed out after you have glued down each piece. I usually do this with a sharp chisel. Do a dry fit before you glue down additional pieces to be sure there’s nothing that will keep the pieces from joining tightly.

Cleaning up the dried glue to prepare for the second row

Cleaning up the dried glue to prepare for the second row

Glue up the remaining pieces one by one, paying careful attention to the markings you made when you initially laid them out, and carefully aligning the black and white squares so they alternate. You want to be very accurate here to minimize alignment errors, but if you do find that the lines don’t quite “match up” on one end as they do on the other, then just position the piece to minimize this across the board. Tiny alignment errors won’t even be noticeable to most when you’re finished. When you’re finished with the second glue-up, you should have something that looks very much like a chess board!

Now it looks a little more like a chess board!

Now it looks a little more like a chess board!

Leveling the Top

Grab a pencil and scribble a bit in all the areas that are obviously low. The pencil marks will be a guide for sanding the top. You can see pencil marks in the photo below.

Marking the valleys

Marking the valleys

Next use a handheld belt sander to sand the surface carefully with 100 grit paper. Start by sanding across the grain, then along the first diagonal, then with the grain, then along the second diagonal. Cover the entire board with each pass, and be careful not to gouge the surface with the sanding belt. Alternating directions in this way helps to remove material (when sanding either directly or diagonally across the grain) and also minimizes the effect of simultaneously sanding species of different densities.

Sanding diagonally

Sanding diagonally

Your goal here is to just get a rough level – you’ll level it completely after the frame has been attached. When the pencil marks are gone, it’s close enough.

Cleaning Up the Edges

Now it’s time to clean up the edges. Start with the table saw and trim the backer boards until they are just slightly proud of the squares on the face. I typically “nibble away” at the edge so I don’t accidentally cut in too close.

Trimming the remaining rough edges

Trimming the remaining rough edges

Next install a pattern bit into your router. Using a straight edge, this will allow you to bring the backer board perfectly in line with the face.

A typical router pattern bit

A typical router pattern bit

Fasten a straight edge to the surface so that it lines up perfectly with the edges of the squares. Here I used a piece of MDF. Clamp it down securely.

Using a straight edge to fine-tune the edges

Using a straight edge to fine-tune the edges

Then use the router with the pattern bit to true up the edge. Use more than one pass if necessary.

Routing the edges straight

Routing the edges straight

You’ll end up with a perfectly clean edge.

A cleaned-up edge, from the bottom

A cleaned-up edge, from the bottom

Continue this for all the edges, checking for square after each cut. You may need to trim a tiny bit of the face squares if your glue-up wasn’t perfect, but don’t worry – a tiny bit like this isn’t going to be noticeable in the final product.

Planning the Frame

Select a piece of wood that’s the same thickness (or slightly thicker) than the chess board. I usually grab a piece out of the scrap pile that’s about the right size, and then cut it down to fit. I like to use the same species as the light squares, because I believe it makes the board look more elegant, but many boards use the darker species instead.

Choosing the right size stock for the frame

Choosing the right size stock for the frame

Here’s how to make a piece of scrap fit: If you’re working with a scrap board, it should start off longer than the width of the chess board (16 inches in this case). Measure the difference. You’ll either be limited by the length or the width of the board.

Calculating the frame width based on the selected=

If the difference is, for example, 3 inches, then your frame (if with mitered corners) will be 1.5 inches wide, and your piece of scrap will need to be at least 6 1/2 inches wide (4 times 1.5, plus 3 times 1/8 to account for saw blade kerf, plus 1/8 inch for safe measure). If it is at least this wide, then set up your table saw to rip four 1.5-inch pieces from your scrap and number them consecutively.

Four numbered frame pices, plus a little scrap

Four numbered frame pices, plus a little scrap

If your scrap is not at least 6 3/8 inches wide, then you’re limited by the width of the board instead of its length. If you’re using a typical saw blade (1/8 inch wide) the, subtract ½ inch from the width of the board and then divide by four. So if the width is 6 inches, your frame will be 1 3/8 inches wide (6 minus 0.5 is 5.5, which divided by 4 equals 1.375). In this case, set up your saw to rip four 1 3/8 inch wide pieces and number then consecutively.

Laying out the frame and lettering each side

Laying out the frame and lettering each side

Arrange the frame pieces around the board until the frame looking just right, then label the label the board and the frame pieces with the letters A through D so you can match it up again easily when it comes time to glue. Here you can see I’ve written the letter A on both the board and the adjacent frame. We’ll be cutting the frame piece by piece to match the board perfectly, so you’ll want to mark exactly where the cuts should be. To do this, lay out the frame around the board so the boards overlap at the corners, as in the photo below.

Overlapping frame boards to mark miter cuts

Overlapping frame boards to mark miter cuts

Then draw a pencil mark exactly where the pieces overlap.

Marking the overlaps

Marking the overlaps

Now draw a reference line on the diagonal of the miter. If all goes well, this is exactly where your cut will fall, but consider it a reference line just in case. Mark all eight corners (both sides of all four frame boards) the same way.

Drawing a reference diagonal for the miter cuts

Drawing a reference diagonal for the miter cuts

Planning the Inlay

Next go back to your scrap pile and choose a several long, thin pieces of the other species of wood. These will form the inlay which separates the board from the frame. They need to be as long as the checkerboard is wide (16 inches in this case), but the width and thickness don’t really matter at this point so long as you’re a little flexible in your design. I’m a little nuts about saving scraps so I usually have a lot of long, thin pieces laying around for just this sort of application.

Selecting stock for the inlay

Selecting stock for the inlay

In the photo below, you’ll see that I have a long thin piece of walnut – just longer than the board is wide (16 inches), but still a bit shorter than the frame is long. This is okay because you’ll be mitering the corners of the frame.

Verifying a suitable length

Verifying a suitable length

I grabbed two such pieces, taped them down to my crosscut sled, and ripped them in half.

Don't try this with your fingers or without a crosscut sled!

Don’t try this with your fingers or without a crosscut sled!

Note that the four pieces I ended up with are all slightly different widths and lengths. This is just fine, because you’ll be cleaning it up with a router for a perfect match.

Four similar (but different) inlay pieces

Four similar (but different) inlay pieces


This is the End of Part 2. You can:

  • Go back to Part 1 (6 pages), which covers planning through first layer glue-up.
  • Skip to Part 3 (4 pages), which covers cutting the inlay through finishing.
Share

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…)

Square Sizes

If you already have a chess set, the first step is to measure the diameter of the base of the largest piece (typically the king). This measurement will usually range from 1.5 to over 2 inches, and should be considered when planning the size of the board and its squares. My favorite set has kings with a base width of 1.75 inches, which look very nice on 2-inch squares. This square size will (obviously) dictate the overall size of the board, as well as the sizes of lumber you’ll need. In this tutorial we’re building a board with 2-inch squares. This means that the inside of the board (where the squares are) will measure 16 by 16 inches.

The Strategy

We want to make good, efficient use of expensive wood, and want the board to stand the test of time. We don’t want to have to cut out 64 identical and perfect squares, so we’ll build the center of the board using two pieces of wood, one light and one dark, glued edge to edge. Then we’ll resaw the glued pieces into four thin slices and glue them up, edge to edge, onto a 1/8-inch plywood sheet. We’ll then slice that sheet into eight strips and glue the strips onto a piece of 1/2-inch plywood. Then, we’ll trim the edges and add a solid wood frame to surround the squares. Don’t worry if it’s hard to picture how this comes together – it’ll be illustrated completely in this article.

Determine the Stock Size

We know the inside of the board will be 16 inches square. Because we’ll have to make at least seven cuts (probably more like nine) to cut our eight squares in each direction, we should select pieces of wood long enough to accommodate these cuts. So, add at least an inch if you’re using a standard 1/8-inch table saw blade. For this board, I chose stock that was 17.5 inches long, about 2.125 inches wide, and about 0.75 inches thick – one piece of dark wood and one light.

Selecting Wood for the Squares & Frame

The “white” squares in chess boards are usually made from maple, but sometimes ash or other light colored boards. The “black” squares can be any number of wood species, including black walnut, mahogany, teak, rosewood, ebony or more. Wipe the pieces down with a damp cloth and hold them next to each other to get a good idea of how they’ll look together. I used walnut because I happened to have some perfectly sized scraps on hand. For the frame, stick with one of the same species of wood that you used for the squares. A lot of boards out there use the darker wood as the frame, but I prefer the lighter instead.

Getting Started

Once you’ve found a couple pieces of wood that look good together, mark them with a triangle so you’ll be able to reorient them when you glue them up.

Making a layout mark for board position

Making a layout mark for board position

Jointing the Edges

We’re going to edge glue these boards, cut them into slices, and then edge glue the slices, so it’s important that we have absolutely flat edges, and that each board is identical and consistent in width. It doesn’t have to be exactly 2 inches wide, but both boards do have to be exactly the same width or the squares won’t line up perfectly. There are a number of ways you can accomplish this, depending upon the tools you have. One option would be to run the edges first over a jointer, then through a thickness planer. Another option would be to use a hand plane and then a table saw. I actually fastened both pieces together (face to face) in a vise and used a hand plane for the inside edges until they were perfectly flat, and then I ran both pieces through a thickness planer until they were exactly the width I needed.

Jointing both pieces simultaneously, face-to-face

Jointing both pieces simultaneously, face-to-face

First (of many) Glue-ups

Spread out a piece of wax paper to protect your table from the glue squeeze out, find your alignment triangle, and then ready the pieces for gluing by cleaning them. Do not use biscuits, dowels, or anything else to strengthen this joint! Apply an even spread of glue to one edge, and then press them together and clamp.

Edge-gluing the boards. No biscuits!

Edge-gluing the boards. No biscuits!

It’s okay if the boards have slightly different thicknesses at this point. The most important thing here is that the edges meet together across their lengths for a tight fit.

Clamping the edge-glued boards

Clamping the edge-glued boards

Now wait for the glue to dry. There’s nothing strengthening this joint, so give it a good 24 hours to be sure the glue is cured.

Cutting the Slices

There are a couple of ways you can to this. With the first method, you set up the fence twice: once for the initial cut, and a second time for cuts two and three. If you want to set up the fence only once, you can do a little more math. Using the minimum width of the boards and the thickness of the blade, you can calculate exactly how wide each slice needs to be, set up the fence once, and then cut three slices. I prefer the method I describe below. Using a band saw, stand the glued piece up on end and resaw (or slice) it in half. It doesn’t have to be exact, because you’re going to be sanding the entire board flat, but the more accurate you are when cutting these slices, the more time you’ll save sanding. You’ll end up with two slices, each about 3/8 of an inch thick.

Resawing the boards in half (first cut)

Resawing the boards in half (first cut)

At this point, you can flatten each of the rough sides with a planer, jointer, or sandpaper. In fact, it’s common when resawing like this to flatten just one of the rough sides a bit for better adhesion when gluing the slices down. If you do this, take off just enough wood to make it reasonably flat, and do so always on only one side – the side that will be glued down. You’ll clean up the other side later after all the slices have been glued. I prefer to just leave them rough at this point and clean them up by sanding them later. Next, reset the band saw fence and cut each of these slices in half again.

Resawing each half (second and third cuts)

Resawing each half (second and third cuts)

Use a push stick so you don’t saw your fingers off.

Using a push stick for safety

Using a push stick for safety

When you’re finished, you’ll have four slices: each half dark and half light, and each exactly the same width. Again, it’s okay if the cuts are a little rough or the thickness varies slightly. What you’re concerned about here is having perfect edges and perfect widths, and because you cut them all from the same glued-up boards, these slices will be perfect in that regard.

Four similar slices of wood

Four similar slices of wood

Line up the slices in the order you cut them, and either draw another alignment triangle or number them 1 through 4. This will help you remember how to glue them up.

Lay out in order, then number or mark for alignment

Lay out in order, then number or mark for alignment

First Layer Glue-up

Prepare the bottoms of the slices by sanding them down nearly flat so they can be glued solidly to a backer board. Then, cut a piece of 1/4-inch plywood just larger than your board dimensions. (E.g., If you’re making 2-inch squares, cut the 1/4-inch plywood to about 16.5 inches.) Here I’m using a small crosscut sled to make these cuts, but you can cut it against the fence just as easily.

The first backer board

The first backer board

Orient the grain of the backer board to be perpendicular to the grain of the slices and glue the first slice down so that its edge is exactly adjacent to one edge of the 1/4–inch plywood sheet. I use my crosscut sled for this: First put down some wax paper to protect the sled, then clamp the backer board against one edge of the sled. Then apply the glue to the slice and clamp it, too, against the edge of the sled, and also firmly to the backer board. Thin slices tend to bow a bit because a thin board cannot resist the force of the grain as well as a thick one. So, to provide good clamping pressure, use a couple of long pieces of hardwood along the length of the slice on the both edges and in the middle where the two wood species are joined. (See photo below.) Then wait for the glue to dry. You’ll be clamping the rest of the slices against this first slice, so allow a good 24 hours for the glue to cure. Next, use a glue roller or brush to prepare the second piece and clamp it into place.

Applying glue to the second slice

Applying glue to the second slice

Spread the glue evenly on the back of the slice and along the edge that will be pressed up against the first slice. Flip the piece over and clamp it into place. Again, use cauls where you need to if the slice has bowed slightly and to provide good clamping pressure.

Clamping the slice solidly

Clamping the slice solidly

Allow the glue to set for a couple of hours, then proceed with slices three and four. When you’re finished, you’ll have a dark and light striped board.


This is the End of Part 1. You can:

  • 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.

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