tutorials

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Here’s a 20-minute video of the entire pen-making process — everything from selecting the wood to preparing the blanks, through to turning the pen on the lathe, finishing it to a shine, and assembling it. Virtually none of the process has been left out of this video, so it should give you a good idea of what’s involved in the process.

There’s a scene index after the video on this page.

Handmade pen featured in video

Handmade pen featured in video

In the video I’m working on three different pens, but I’ve edited out the work I did on the other two pens. Here’s a picture of the pen featured in the video. I traded with a friend for some custom artwork. 🙂

  • 00:03 Setup and preparing the blanks
  • 00:57 Power on!
  • 01:05 Drilling the blanks
  • 02:35 Sanding and inserting brass tubes
  • 03:36 Trimming the blanks
  • 04:42 Mounting the blanks onto the lathe
  • 05:15 Rough turning
  • 07:25 Detail turning
  • 08:28 Sanding and finish coat #1
  • 10:41 Sanding and finish coat #2
  • 11:56 Sanding and finish coat #3
  • 13:24 Final sanding and coarse polish
  • 15:30 Final polish
  • 16:24 Removing the work from the lathe
  • 16:57 Getting ready to assemble
  • 17:30 Assembly

I have everything I need to keep tabs on my home IP address without signing up for a DDNS service like No-IP or DynDNS. My Synology NAS always knows its address when it’s online, and because it’s essentially a little Linux box, there’s no reason it can’t tell my other sites where to find it.

In my case, I want to be able to reach my home IP address by visiting a certain URL on either my remote Linux or Windows host — something like www.mydomain.com/myhomeip. But I don’t really want to hide the IP address like a real DDNS would, and I don’t think my hosting providers would even accommodate that. So I rolled my own.

On the remote web host, I created a few PHP files to receive the notifications. common.php does most of the work:

My index page calls redirect(), which reads in the IP address and sends the visitor to it if it’s valid. There’s another page that calls setIp(), and that’s the page that my home computer is going to call, passing in the “password” at the top.

I used putty to log into the Synology server and stopped the cron job.

/usr/syno/etc/rc.d/S04crond.sh stop

Then I edited  /etc/crontab to call a shell script in admin’s home directory every few hours. Don’t copy/paste this into the file using putty, but rather type it in directly and use only one tab to separate each column. Typing it directly prevents special (invisible) characters from getting into the file, which could cause it to be overwritten by the default file upon reboot.

*       */4     *       *       *       root   /volume1/homes/admin/cron/every4hrs.sh

In the shell script, I used wget to make the web request. curl would work just as well. I could have just added this command to the crontab file, but it’s easier to manage a shell script in the home directory. I can also extend it more easily at a later date. The shell script simply contains:

/usr/syno/bin/wget --tries=2 "http://www.mydomain.com/myhomeip/ipsetter.php?pw=some_password_here" -O -

The Synology DiskStation makes a working copy of the crontab when it starts up, and stores it in /var/spool/cron/crontabs/root, so to be safe I just rebooted the device rather than just starting the service up again. When I started the service using “S04crond.sh start”, it would work only until the DiskStation rebooted, and after that it would default back to the original. Rebooting the device right away seems to have fixed that problem.

KeePass is a free and utterly genius password management tool that has allowed me to leave the days of reusing passwords way in the past. Now all of my passwords are different, securely managed, and look something like “út8¥Äbë¬eqö«ûëU^Èm­¯”. (Go ahead — try to guess it!) It was written in Microsoft .Net, and supposedly works just fine under Mono in Linux. Mono is a .Net compatibility layer and it’s already included in Ubuntu installations. Well, most of it is.

The problem is that it didn’t quite work out of the box on our Ubuntu 10.10 machine. In particular, I wasn’t able to connect to my password database via FTP like I usually do, but I solved a couple other common problems along the way as well.

First, download the portable version KeePass from the site’s download page, and move all the files onto your linux box. I put them in my home directory under a new hidden directory called “.KeePass”. The first thing I did was add an application launcher to Ubuntu’s top panel, and lo and behold it would not launch.In console, I saw this error message:

The assembly mscorlib.dll was not found or could not be loaded. It should have been installed in the `/usr/lib/mono/1.0/mscorlib.dll’ directory.

The problem was simple; there was a typo in the path. So be sure to type the path carefully, like this: “mono /home/myname/.KeePass/KeePass.exe”. When Mono can’t find the file, it decides it wants to try to run an older version of itself, and that older version it’s included in Ubuntu by default.

Next there were a couple of errors that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had read the instructions carefully. They were both the standard “assembly not found” errors with the text “The following assembly referenced from /home/myname/.KeePass/KeePass.exe could not be loaded” and “The assembly was not found in the Global Assembly Cache, a path listed in the MONO_PATH environment variable, or in the location of the executing assembly.” The first referred to “System.Windows.Forms” and the next to “System.Runtime.Remoting”.

These assemblies were simply not installed in Ubuntu 10.10 by default, but they’re available in the Ubuntu Software Center. Here’s what they look like when you’re adding them.

Adding Mono System.Windows.Forms Support

Adding Mono System.Windows.Forms Support

Sorry about the overlaid screen shot window in this one, but you can still see how to filter and what to click.

Adding Mono System.Runtime Support

Adding Mono System.Runtime Support

Finally it would run, but I was still unable to from open the database from the URL of the FTP site. When I tried either by opening it directly or tweaking the config file, I got a polite error from KeePass that said, “The requested feature is not implemented.” I recognize this as a System.NotImplementedException that’s trapped (but probably not expected) in the code. What it probably means is that KeePass uses some features of .Net that are not yet implemented in Mono; it’s not KeePass’s fault.

I saw two ways around this error: First I could mount the FTP site to a local path using curlftpfs, but that would mean installing something new. Instead I wrote a short shell script to download the database, launch KeePass, and then upload the database back to the FTP site. Here’s the content of the script:

  Server="ftp://my_ftp_site.com"
  User="my_ftp_username"
  Password="my_password"
  DBFile="database.kdbx"
  LocalPath="$HOME/.KeePass/"

  lftp -u $User,$Password $Server <

Finally, I made the script executable, remapped the launcher to the script, picked a better icon, and I was in business again. I hope someone else out there finds this helpful. I know I will the next time I forget what I did. 🙂

My son got a set of plastic baseball players and a mat in the shape of a baseball diamond for Christmas. We had a 6-sided die on hand, and he wanted to make a game out of it. Here’s what we ended up with:

Batter rolls die:

  1. Ball
  2. Ball
  3. Strike
  4. Strike
  5. Foul
  6. Hit – Roll again

If batter rolled a 6, the second roll follows these rules. Rolling a 1-4 forces other runners along if necessary. If a runner is not forced, player much decide if that runner is attempting to advance before the team in the field gets to roll.

  1. Runs to 1
  2. Runs to 2
  3. Runs to 3
  4. Runs to home
  5. Roll again, with same rules.
  6. Home Run (out of park; cannot be caught; all runners score)

Runners are moved into position (either advancing between or on base), and die is handed to fielding team, who gets one roll.

  1. Out on first – if a runner is advancing to first, he is out. Otherwise, ignore.
  2. Out on second – if a runner is advancing to second, he is out. Otherwise, ignore.
  3. Out on third – if a runner is advancing to third, he is out. Otherwise, ignore.
  4. Out at home – if a runner is advancing to home, he is out. Otherwise, ignore.
  5. Fly out. Runners don’t advance.
  6. Wildcard out – any single advancing runner may be taken out.

Examples:

If a runner is on third, and batter rolls a 6 (Hit – Roll again), then a 2 (Runs to 2), then the batter may either

  • place batter between 1 and 2, and leave runner on third. Fielder must roll a 2, 5, or 6 to get the runner out.
  • place batter between 1 and 2, and advance runner on third toward home. Fielder must roll a 2, 4, 5, or 6. A 2, 5, or 6 can take the batter out. (With a 5, the runner advancing to home would go back to third.) A 4 or 6 can take out the runner advancing to home.

If a runner is on second and third, and batter rolls a 6 + 6, he scores three points.

If a runner is on second and third, and batter rolls a 6 + 4, he scores two points (runners forced to advance), and fielder may roll a 4, 5, or 6 to get the batter out. If he rolls a 5, then the runners must return to second and third.

I have a Synology DiskStation (DS209j) that I use on a primarily Windows network, but in some cases I want to access the DS shares from Ubuntu virtual machine running inside VirtualBox. There’s no sense mounting them as Windows shares with the DS supports NFS, so I went that route in stead. (Besides, some application still have trouble with Samba shares.)

I was scratching my head over a “access denied by server while mounting” error until I realized that VirtualBox was getting in the way. Here are the steps I took to get it up and running properly:

  1. In the VirtualBox menu of the virtual machine , select Devices > Network Adapters… and choose Bridge Adapter instead of the default NAT. This takes your virtual machine out of the private network it has with the host computer and makes it a first-class citizen on the network your host computer is on, with its own IP address.
  2. Check the guest machine’s IP address by opening Applications > Accessories > Terminal and typing “ifconfig”. It will probably start with “192.168”, but you’ll need all four parts if you want to limit access to just that machine.
  3. Log into Synology DiskStation Manager as admin, and click Management.
    1. Under Information, click Status and note the network IP address of your DiskStation. It will probably start with “192.168”, but you’ll need all four parts of the IP address.
    2. Under File Sharing, click NFS, and make sure it’s enabled.
    3. Under Privileges, click Shared Folder. Select the folder one you want to mount using NFS, and click NFS Privileges at the top of the list to add a new privilege. Use the IP address of the guest machine to lock access down to that specific machine, or use wildcards to allow access accross your local network (e.g. “192.168.*.*”).
    4. Before you close the NFS Privileges window, note the “Mount path” at the bottom of the list. It will probably look something like “/volume1/MyShare”
  4. To automatically mount the NFS share when you start up, go back to the Terminal window on the guest machine.
    1. Create a directory to use as a mount location. For example if you want to use “MyDSData” in your home folder, type “sudo mkdir /home/YourUserName/MyDSData”. Enter your password when prompted.
    2. Type “sudo gedit /etc/fstab” in the same Terminal window, and edit then add the line below  line to the end of the file. (It’s all one line.) Instead of “[DS IP Address]” use the IP address of your Synology DS, instead of “[Mount path]” type the mount pah, and instead of [Mount location] type the directory you made above. Don’t leave out the colon or the spaces.

      [DS IP Address]:[Mount path] [Mount location] nfs rw,hard,intr,nolock,nfsvers=3 0 0

      For example: “192.168.1.42:/volume1/MyShare /home/alex/MyDDData nfs rw,hard,intr,nolock,nfsvers=3 0 0”

Here’s a video that explains how to use the custom branding irons to burn your brand on woodworking projects. The branding irons were originally described in A $6 Custom Branding Iron, and there is a tutorial at Making the $6 Branding Iron, Step-by-Step.

First, create a shared folder using the VirtualBox user interface. For this example, we’ll call it “Data”. Launch Ubuntu.

From within Ubuntu, launch Application > Accessories > Terminal, and at the prompt type

sudo gedit /etc/fstab

Enter your administrative password, and you’ll see a text editor window appear with the fstab file loaded. Add the following single line to the end of the file, but replace “username” with your actual username.

Data /home/username/MyData vboxsf defaults,rw,uid=1000,gid=1000 0 0

Click “Save” and then restart Ubuntu.

Once restarted, go to Places > Home Folder and note the new MyData folder. This is your shared fol

In the A $6 Custom Branding Iron post, I showed off a branding iron I had “printed” in stainless steel by Shapeways.com for US$6, after using the free vector image editor Inkscape, and parametric modeling software Alibre Design, which also has a free version called Alibre Design Xpress.

This tutorial requires a working knowledge of Alibre Design (or other 3D parametric modeling software) and Inkscape (or other vector graphics editing software).

$6 branding iron

$6 branding iron

Here are the steps I took to make it happen: (I’ll add more detail over time.)

  • Design in Inkscape
    1. Convert all text objects to paths (Path > Object to path)
    2. Convert all stroked lines to paths (Path > Stroke to path)
    3. Ungroup all objects
    4. Union all objects (Path > Union)
    5. Select object
    6. Save As… Type Desktop Cutting Plotter (R13) (*.dfx) – Output will be in mm
  • Import into Alibre Design (File > Import, type DXF)
    1. Select mm for file units
    2. (It imports into a drawing)
    3. Select everything and Explode (Edit > Explode Symbol)
    4. Activate the sketch
    5. Analyze (Sketch > Analyze…)
    6. Heal all problems
    7. While activated, select the figures
  • Copy to a Alibre Design Part
    1. Open a new part
    2. Activate a design plane and Paste (the figure may appear far from center)
    3. Select the curves, shift-left-click to drag to better location
  • Model the branding iron
    1. Extrude sketch 1.25mm — this is the depth of the brand.
    2. Select *top* face and insert a plane. (right-click > Insert Plane…)
    3. Select the new plane, Project to Sketch (if necessary), to create a foundation for the brand.
    4. Extrude 2mm for foundation
    5. Insert another plane on the back of the foundation
    6. Extrude a mounting hole, 4.9mm is 0.1375mm larger than 3/16″
    7. Cut a set screw hole in an accessible location if necessary. 3.048mm is 0.12″, the tap size for #6-40 set screw.
  • Export & Upload
    1. Export as *.STL file
    2. Upload to Shapeways.com
    3. Order in stainless steel
  • Finish
    1. Tap the mounting flange for a 10-32 screw
    2. Thread a 3/8″ steel rod with 10-32 die or use a 10-32 screw
    3. Build a handle
    4. Sand down the surface of the branding iron to make it nice and flat

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.

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.

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