I built my first chess box in 2003. That was interesting, because it lead me on a multi-year series of equipment upgrades for the ostensible purpose of doing a better chess box, and turning my own set of pieces.

Turning my own pieces never quite worked out. Making a bunch of identical or even just almost identical bits with really teensy details proved to be more of a challenge than I could overcome. That, and the House of Staunton just has some incredibly nice stuff. It's hard to reinvent the wheel.

Chess box #2 isn't depicted anywhere. It was a gift for Dad, and it was actually my third and fourth board in the same project. The first one was a total disaster. It was so bad I covered it in goopy semi-hardened old polyurethane to make it look even more despicable, and put it in the box on top of the real box to trick Dad into thinking it was the best I could do. It looked like a chess board drawn by M.C. Escher. Too bad I don't have a picture of that hideous monstrosity, or of Dad's chess box.

Anyway, this is box #3, five years later. This project comes on the other side of a lot of sweeping life changes. I lost my job twice. Mom died. Dad went broke and married a lesbian crack whore in a spectacular display of going from role model to object of pity. I finally gave up on leading Rosegarden anywhere but oblivion. I stepped back 12 years on the career front, and rebooted my life with an exciting and rewarding McJob at a company I dare not name for fear of getting fired, due to their new policies for online conduct. (Hint, it's the world's largest employer.) (DISCLAIMER: I do not represent or otherwise speak for the nameles company in question, and if you think I do, you're probably stupid.)

Anyhoo, here goes Chess Box #3, inspired by the $200 "tiroir" chess box from House of Staunton that probably would have been a bargain in the long run.

The board is made of walnut and soft maple. The frame is cherry (Prunus serotina) and mahogany (Damfino whatspeciesisthisensis) with cherry and red oak sides, cherry drawer fronts, and red oak legs. The whole thing vaguely resembles an Arts & Crafts or Mission style table.

  

I didn't do my usual step-by-step construction shots on this, because I was so long out of practice in the shop that construction proved to be a matter of plucking the whole project from the jaws of humiliating defeat one fanstastic mistake at a time. This was my first true success of the entire project. The joints on this piece tray are dead perfect. They're not too tight, but they're tight enough to hold at a friction fit with no glue, upside down. It was about time something went well and truly right with that project!

Here, the boxwood and rosewood armies are lined up for battle. I hated to use commercial chessmen on this board, but it's hard to argue with the quality of these pieces for the money. This is probably their cheapest "decent" set in wood, but it's at least an order of magnitude finer than anything I've ever had before, and probably several orders of magnitude better than anything I could have turned myself with available skill using available species of wood.

  
  

Here's a corner shot of the unpopulated board, with the piece trays slotted home.

Here's the black army, in rosewood, ready for battle. I love rosewood. These pieces are incredibly awesome. I'm going to put my fingers in my ears and say "la la la" and try not to contemplate the raped rainforest where these came from.

  
  

Here's the white army, in boxwood. This reveals that I got the board shiny enough for a reflection, but not so shiny that the reflections are distracting.

I find boxwood as a working wood somewhat fascinating, since I have a 30-year-old boxwood on my property that couldn't possibly yield wood big enough to make anything of this sort. Then again, yew is a famous wood for longbows, and I've never seen a yew remotely big enough to make anything out of either. I guess Merry Old England is the Texas of obscure shrub woods, because they must grow a lot bigger over yonder.

The trays turned out to be a mixed bag. The pieces shipped in this cool pre-cut foam stuff that I thought would make an excellent alternative to my usual style of tray. I flocked it in red to make it look fancier. It actually looks vastly better in these pictures than it does in real life. The whole thing turned out to be a bit of a train wreck, really.

  
  

Here are some "good tool marks" that reveal the hand-made nature of this beast. I did the original jointing and dimensioning cuts with power machinery, but I did the majority of the work by hand. I did all the final thicknessing work with assorted hand planes, and the final surface was planed and scraped, rather than sanded. I coated it with umpty scadillion coats of wiped shellac, rubbed out to 2000 grit, and topped off with several applications of paste wax. It's smooth, but sort of irregular, like an old timey window pane.

Copyright © 2008 D. Michael McIntyre, all rights reserved