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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.”

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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

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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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