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)
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)
And there you have it. An hour here, an hour there, and all of a sudden you have a chessboard.