Wood is used to manufacture more than 80 percent of todays’ chess boards. But wood was not always associated with Chess. Ivory was used to construct chess boards and chess pieces until the late nineteenth century. It was extracted from the tusks of the elephant. Unfortunately, widespread exploitation of ivory lead to a sharp decline in the population of elephants across the world. This led to a ban on ivory-trade across many parts of the world. This paved the way for a long-lasting relationship between wood and chess.
As you may know already, the chessboards consist of alternate light and dark squares. There are 64 squares in the form of a 8×8 square matrix. It is essential to preserve the authenticity and the visual appeal of the chessboard. To do this, we avoid all sorts of paints and colouring agents. You might be wondering if it is still possible to get the required colour contrast among dark and light squares without using paint or a colouring agent. Yes! It is very much possible to achieve this through the natural selection of the right kind of wood.
I would like to preface this article by saying that woods can be broadly classified into two categories on the basis of appearance. These are dark woods and light woods. It is evident that to build a chess board and the corresponding chess pieces, one would need two different kinds of wood. Thus, we have categorized some of the woods that are popular in the manufacture of chess boards and chess pieces into dark woods and light woods below:
- Ebonised Boxwood
- Bud Rosewood
- Red Sandalwood
- White Wood
Let us examine some of these different kinds of woods in detail
Sheesham is one of the most popular kinds of wood that we use. This is because, it is abundantly available and offers a great strength to weight ratio at a low cost. It is also easy to manufacture and is one of the more elegant looking dark woods. Compared to ebony and other woods, Sheesham is very forgiving towards craftsmen due to its fairly high resistance to breakage. This makes it a great choice to build chess pieces as well. For decades, Sheesham wood has been used in making furniture and doors. This can be attributed to it’s longetivity and strength. It is an ideal choice for a chess board that would last for generations! Sheesham is a dark wood that goes best when combined with light woods such as Boxwood.
Check out our especially handmade Sheesham wooden chess set:
This kind of wood is slight less dense and lighter than Sheesham. However, it is much stronger than Sheesham and most of the woods. There is a decent amount of furniture constructed from Walnut Wood. This is primarily for its strength. This is because walnut wood lacks the visual appeal that is present among the other types of woods. Even in the construction of a chess board it is primarily used in the borders for the board. This is to protect the board from any physical damage that it may encounter in service. Also, carving onto walnut wood requires very little machinery and skill. This enables chess board manufacturers to easily carve the chess notations onto the borders of the chessboard.
Check out our article on chess notations here:
This type of wood is one of the darkest ones available. It is often called, ‘Black wood’ in colloquial terms. Ebony is extremely popular among musicians and musical instrument manufacturers. This is because of its unique properties to hold a steady tone for a prolonged duration. Most of the high-end pianos, guitars, violins etc. all make use of this wood. In addition to its tonality, it looks very unique. It exudes elegance from every grain of the wood. Many people prefer this material for chess boards and chess pieces due to this reason. Just like Sheesham, Ebony is a dark wood that goes best when combined with light woods such as Boxwood.
This is one of the most visually appealing woods available in the market. Once seasoned, it develops a deep reddish-orange hue that is very unique. Mahogany trees are reducing in number around the world. This makes Mahogany a very valuable material of choice. It has a beautiful grain structure that pops out after a fine polish. Musicians and Musical instrument manufacturers love this wood. It has the soundest structure to reverberate tones for a sustained duration.
Mahogany has also been popular among luxury furniture designers due to its striking appearance and long-lasting tenure. This makes it a great material of choice to manufacture chess boards. Unfortunately, it does not respond so well to turning and hand-working. Mahogany is not used to make chess pieces. This is primarily because of its rarity. Mahogany goes well with any light wood due to its unique colour. It goes well in a combination with Maple light wood.
Let us finally address the elephant in the room! Boxwood! We have previously mentioned that this is a light wood that goes best with darker woods such as Sheesham and Ebony. Boxwood is a very popular light wood that contrasts darker woods very well. It is well known for its ability to be handworked and turned with ease. This translates to quicker manufacturing both through machines and labour. It is a dense and robust wood that retains its quality over a long span of time. Once polished, it goes well with darker woods.
Interestingly, Ebonized boxwood is a dyed version of boxwood. This has a purple-bluish tint similar to ebony. Since Ebony is a premium wood, sometimes a tradeoff needs to be made between cost and quality. It is not uncommon to have a chess board constructed purely out of boxwood. The dark squares comprising of Ebonized boxwood whereas the light squares comprising of Boxwood. This gives it a versatility unlike any other.
Concluding our detailed overview, we have Maple light wood. As stated earlier, Maple wood is ideal to be used with Mahogany and Ebony dark woods. This is because Maple wood is one of the lightest woods available. It is the closest that one could get to, ‘White Wood’. Like Walnut, it is very hard and durable. It makes a strong presence in the furniture market due to its strength and durability. It is also widely abundant throughout nature. With such strength, comes difficulty in turning and hand working. For this reason, it is often common to see Maple on the chess board but never to manufacture chess pieces. Instead, Boxwood is a much cheaper and feasible alternative.
Beech is another versatile wood that we use to make chess pieces. It is a superb wood for turning. It is preferred by wood workers all over the world. Beech is used for all sorts of things. It is employed for making toys, parts of boats, wooden fixtures etc. It is a stable and durable wood that makes it ideal for cabinets and other home accessories. The pale colour contrasts well with that of darker woods such as Mahogany and Ebony. It can be used both to make chess boards as well as chess pieces. It is abundantly available throughout most parts of the world.
A great polish on any one of these woods in chess boards will have any chess player lured into playing a game or two. A good understanding of the different kinds of woods is essential in choosing and building a chessboard.
We would like you to check out our collection of Premium Wooden Chess Sets: https://www.paramountdealz.com/product-category/woodenchesssets
We hope this article has equipped you with enough knowledge about the differenct kinds of woods involved in chess.
Do you feel like building your own chessboard? Here’s a video illustrating the process. The woods used to make the chessboard in the link below are, Mahogany, Maple and Oak.
It is a lot of hard work in my opinion. If you liked our collection and would like to purchase premium hand crafted wooden chess sets, why don’t you give us a chance. We will surely be able to satisfy all your requirements!