Friday, May 17, 2013


I built this chessboard in 2007. The "black" squares are made of bloodwood, which has a naturally-occurring deep red color. The "white" squares are maple. The light border is also maple, and the dark wood framing the entire chessboard is walnut.

Bloodwood is an exotic hardwood from South America. Its color, as you can see, is a deep beautiful red. It, like many tropical hardwoods, has a tight grain pattern (temperate trees have ring patterns that are loose because of the alternating winter and summer growth rings; in the tropics it's pretty much always growing season). The wood is remarkably dense. The density makes it a very heavy wood by volume. Also, it has an unbelievable aroma when it is cut. (While these people seem to know what they're talking about, they have a radically different definition of "mild scent" than I do).

As a species, maple is much less interesting than tropical woods like bloodwood. It is, however, very useful for a few reasons. First, it's affordable. Second, it's strong hard wood that is excellent for things that could take a beating, like tabletops or cutting boards. Third, I like it's light color. Maple can be almost white in appearance, which is great for color contrasts. And, it ought to be obvious just a few posts in that I have a color contrast thing.

Walnut is one of my absolute favorite species. Its dark brown color is gorgeous. In some light, especially before finishing it, it can even show a slight violet hue. It, without a doubt, is one of the most visually striking domestic hardwoods available. It is more expensive than common lighter woods like maple or red oak.

As you can see in this picture, the squares are all end grain showing. The way I made the board is by making up long pieces 48 inches long by 2 inch by 2 inch. Then I set a stop on a table saw so I could cut 32 individual quarter inch thick squares. This shows off the end grain, which is a somewhat unusual aesthetic; many woodworkers endeavor to hide end grains on their projects. End grain is the hardest part of the wood, which does make for the most durable surface.

Also, yes, I'm aware that I have black pieces on red squares. I really need to look into getting nice chess pieces for the board.

Built into the side of the board is a drawer. It's useful for holding pieces, it's got a dovetail joint... but, at the end of the day a drawer isn't too terribly interesting.

When I built the chessboard, I made a couple others using different exotic hardwoods. This one below ended up at my sister's.

The dark brown squares on this board are a wood called Kingiodendron. That's a mouthful that I think means something along the lines of "king's wood" in a bastardized English/Greek mashup. However, since it's from the Philippines, and they have a local name for it that is much simpler, let's go with danggai (pronounced "done-guy") for the rest of the time I ever write about it from now to forever.

Apparently my piece came from Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon Peninsula from a certified government forestry project. The project was designed to protect the rainforest and increase coconut production. So, assuming you trust the government of the Phillipenes, this wood is eco-friendly. I've got your back this time, treehuggers.

Danggai is another exotic hardwood. There's surprisingly little information available on the easy to search interwebs about it (come on wikipedia, get with it). It has a warm, rich brown color and distinctive patterning. Unfortunately I didn't use it in a way to show its face grain pattern... I'll work on that, but its end grain turned out quite striking on this board as you can see in these pictures.

The last wood I used was from a South American tree called Purpleheart (or peltogyne or amaranth depending on who is talking, but here purpleheart is most common). Naturally, with no dye, stain, or paint, purpleheart is a vivid violet color. Unfortunately, over time exposure to UV light tends to turn the violet color into a chocolate-brown that has hints to it. That is what happened to my brother's chessboard.

Purpleheart is a big, dense, hard, stable wood. I've heard that some communities in South America actually use it for truck decking and to construct houses in the way that we used pine here in the United States.

Have questions about any of the chessboards? I'd be happy to answer them.

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