How to Build a Chess and Checkerboard


A simple but elegant DIY project you can do with some help from your kids? Checkmate.
1. King Me

Of all the woodworking projects I’ve done, building a chessboard is the one that has gotten me the most ooohs and aaahs for the least amount of work. You may think that it involves a tedious process of cutting and gluing together 64 small squares of wood, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a simple project that requires only a few hours, spread over a couple days. You might even have everything you need on hand.
What you’ll need:
Saw (preferably a table saw)
Bar clamps
Wood glue
Orbital sander
Framing square
Light and dark wood (enough to make four 2 x 20-inch strips, 3/4-inch thick, in each color)
For the wood, it’s preferable to pick two species of a similar hardness, such as the oak and mahogany I used. Maple is good, too, for the lighter wood. Mixing a soft wood like pine with a hard wood like mahogany will make the sanding process trickier later on.
2.Step One: Cut Strips

According to the World Chess Federation, the dimensions of a chessboard square should be between 5 and 6.5 centimeters (2 to 2.5 inches). For my own board, I went with 2 inches. This gives you a board that is about 16 inches square, depending on what style of border you select (we’ll get to that in a bit).
The first step is to cut eight strips of wood, four of each color. The strips should measure the width of 2 inches (or whatever you choose for the square dimension) by at least 20 inches. A table saw is going to give you the best chance at accuracy and consistency. You could use a circular saw if necessary, but you’ll want to set up some kind of straight edge to run the saw against.
3.Step Two: Glue the Strips Together

When you have your strips cut, lay them in an alternating pattern (dark, light, dark, light). For each one, choose one side to be the top face (the side you’ll see when the board is complete). Once they’re organized in a way that you’re happy with, I recommend numbering the strips, which will be a useful reference guide once the gluing starts.
Make sure to spread the glue evenly along the entire edge of each strip. It’s important that the gluing is done correctly or things can fall apart later on.
The clamps should be perfectly perpendicular to the edges of the board so they don’t make any dents. If you’re using a soft wood, such as pine, place pieces of scrap wood between the clamps and the board to distribute the pressure and protect the crisp edge of the board. Once the strips are clamped, wipe the excess glue off the top face with a damp rag.
While gluing and clamping, there are two important things to look out for:
First, it is very important that at least two of the sides are square to one another. It doesn’t matter what the other side looks like, but you need at least one of the cut edges to be perfectly straight. While clamping, keep checking this by putting a framing square along two edges, and use a hammer to gently tap the strips into alignment. You may need to loosen a clamp a bit to do this.
Secondly, while gluing, keep the board as flat as possible. The clamps are likely to curl the edges upward, creating a slight bowl effect. So, as you’re gluing and clamping, keep placing a straight edge on the top of the board (across and diagonal) and making adjustments when necessary. Some unevenness is fine; you’ll be sanding it flat later. But it’s much easier to deal with it now than later on.
4.Step Three: Cut Strips (Again)

Once the glue has dried, it’s time to cut 2-inch strips out of the board you just made. This time, make the cuts perpendicular to the original strips. If you’re using a table saw, run the squared-off edge along the fence. Because you started with 20-inch strips of the raw material, this will leave you with at least nine checkerboard strips. There’s an extra in case one breaks or doesn’t look good.
5.Step Four: Glue the Strips Together (Again)

Take those strips, each of which consists of eight even squares, and lay them out again, this time flipping every other one. Voila—you can see your chessboard taking shape. When you have the strips arranged the way you like them, number each strip again and glue them together, playing attention to all of the things you did when you glued the strips the first time.
6.Step Five: Sand the Board
When the glue has dried, unclamp the board and sand it smooth. The time spent on this step depends on how well you kept the board flat during both glue-ups. I used an orbital sander, starting at 80 grit and working my way up to 120. I also did a quick pass on the bottom of the board, just enough to clean it up and knock off the glue blobs.
7.Step Six: Add a Border
For a nice, finished look, add a border. This can be as fancy as you like. I kept mine simple with a 3/4 x 1-inch strip of reclaimed pine around the edge. I made the ‘leg’ of the border 1 inch thick, so when it’s on a table, the whole thing rests on the border and not the board. This makes up for the very slight bow that the board developed during the final glue-up. Sand the border if necessary.
8.Step Seven: Apply Finish
Finally, apply whatever finish you like to your board. I used Waterlox because I like the amber look that it adds (and I had some left over from a flooring project). You could also install the border to be slightly raised from the playing surface, then use a bar-top finish for a thicker look.
And there you have it. An hour here, an hour there, and all of a sudden you have a chessboard.