Walnut – Cherry Gambit

So, my wife and son like to play chess together, but were getting tired of the worn-out old cardboard playing field they had. My wife asked “Why don’t you make us a new board?”  So I had a good way to use up some scraps from the bin.

I first re-sawed some maple and walnut to make the squares. My little band saw isn’t great, so I make a kerf on the table saw first.

Honestly, I could just as effectively have finished cutting these by hand.

I was nearly out of the maple, having just enough to make do. Plenty of walnut scraps, though! After the re-sawing, I jointed and planed the boards.

Since there wasn’t much maple to spare, I was careful to get the ends squared up prior to gluing, rather than taking a chance on having to trim both ends, and waste too much.

With the blue tape behind the seams, I just folded each seam over the edge of the bench to apply glue with an acid brush.  After the glue dried, and I scraped off the squeeze-out, I cross-cut and flipped every other piece to create the pattern of squares.



Mistake #1

I used a piece of 1/4″ luan plywood as a substrate for the hardwood squares. The mistake will be obvious in a moment. In the mean time, how do you like my “gravity powered” veneer press?



Here is what the playing field looks like after a rough sanding. The indoor incandescent lighting really warms the color in photographs. The squares turned out very nicely. Walnut and maple may be a bit too different in color to compliment many furniture projects, but it seems to be perfect for this game board!









And NOW you see the problem. Maybe it was moisture in the glue, maybe the weather changed enough to be a problem.  In any case, the assembly began to take on the shape of a Pringles (TM) potato crisp.

This was disappointing, since the hardwood and plywood had both been ‘acclimating’ in my shop for almost two years.



So, after getting some advise from some more experienced woodworkers,  I made a 3/4″ thick panel of poplar, and glued the board to it. This gave the thing enough stiffness to remain flat. It was a lot thicker than I originally planned, but working with wood is all about rolling with the punches.

I left the substrate longer and wider than the board, because I wasn’t yet sure how I would trim it out.


My next step was to go back to the band saw, to rip down some of the remaining maple for edge banding. The blade on this little saw drifted badly, too much to make a straight cut with a full fence. I did better by marking the cut line, and just using the combo square head as a visual reference to keep the little pieces square to the table & blade.



Then it was time to bust out Gandpa’s old #4 to smooth out the resulting banding. Sorry the maple blends into the color of the workbench. The strip can be seen just above the dog holes in the photo.

I love those curly maple shavings!



Just using tape works pretty well to hold the glue in place for the banding.  I use as much blue tape in most projects as I use glue. Here is a closeup of the corner details.




I did have one square that started to de-laminate. I masked it off, and used a bamboo skewer to work some TiteBond III glue into the crack. The technique worked very well, but if I were to do it again, I would put more effort into the initial veneering. I never determined if there wasn’t enough glue under the squares, or if my “gravity clamp” didn’t apply even pressure.

In any case, the repair did the job.




That covers the construction of the main part of the board, bu I had to come up with a frame of some sort to go around the edge, and hide the unattractive poplar base.  I had a little bit of cherry on hand, just enough to make a ‘diploma’ style frame around this board.

One thing I forgot to photograph – I used the router table milling technique I described in another post,  to remove 1/4″ of thickness from the bottom of the poplar base panel, just to eliminate some excess bulk.

Once the board was flat, and seemed stable, I started working on the decorative frame to cover the edges. The cherry stock I had on hand was just enough to saw out some sticks about 1″ square. Rather than make a ton of noise with my powered thickness planer, and risk tearout, I hand planed them in a gang to get the size exact, and remove burnmarks from the saw.

I also needed to reduce the thickness of the poplar backer board, by about 3/16″. I have a cheap plane from Harbor Freight that does a surprisingly good job as a scrubber, and removed the bulk of the material quickly.

I finished leveling the surface with my #4C Stanly clone.



Here is the profile for the frame molding. A lip on the bottom to hold the board, and an 8* bevel on the outside. Simple as can be.



This cardboard will become the core of the cushioned base of the board.

Here, you can see I am covering the cardboard with black velour upholstery fabric. The upholstered cardboard fits into a shallow recess formed by the cherry frame.





And finally, I finished it off with several coats of  spray lacquer. I debated using danish oil, which would have been smooth an sexy, but opted for a bit more durability, instead.

I wasn’t happy about leaving it glossy, and chose to buff it to a matte finish. A bit of 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper, lubricated with paster was, did the job nicely.

If you every try this technique, be sure to let the lacquer dry thoroughly, before you start!



And here is the final product. I was pleased with the outcome, and my wife and son have enjoyed many a spirited game with it.

Thanks for following along!


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