Questions for the woodworkers in the group

billyO

Well-Known Member
Hello all. I want to make a chess board for the damascus pieces I'm making, and I was planning on using ebony and holly for the squares. I have a supply of boards ~3/32" thick that I'm going to cut into ~1 1/4" squares that I was planning on gluing to a backboard, and wondering if there's any specific glue that you'd recommend.
Also, I have some 1/4" thick kiln dried yellow cedar boards (originally cut for Ukulele tops) that I was going to use as the backer board, but I'm starting to think that some thin, cheap plywood would be better suited to resist any warping. Any suggestions here?
I'll probably also have some questions on finishes when I get there.
Thanks and stay safe
 

Bruce McLeish

Well-Known Member
because the chessboard will be suject to (presumably) indoor temps and humidity , I wouldn't expect a lot of movement of the substrate or the squares. I would go with Titebond. stay away from gorilla glue for this project. For the substrate, 1/4 inch (times 2, rotated 90°) should work just dandy. Also, be aware that ebony is notorious for checking (cracks). african blackwood might be a better choice - check with Ed Caffery, he uses lots of it. also ask Gene Kimmi about wood glues. He's a professional and I'd be listening t o both .
 

SS369

Well-Known Member
MDF (preferred) or Baltic Birch plywood and I would use epoxy to bond the squares. Then I would edge band around all the edges with a complimentary wood. Could even use strips of brass or Damascus. ;-) Seal it all with Polyurethane or TruOil.
 

Gene Kimmi

KNIFE MAKER
I'm not familiar with holly, so i looked it up on wood database. Here's the concern I found.

Holly is typically used only for ornamental and decorative purposes. It has a fairly large shrinkage rate, with a lot of seasonal movement in service, and its strength properties are mediocre for a hardwood.

I'm going to guess that with the density that ebony has, it would have a very low shrink rate. When these 2 would be glued together, they may not stay that way long. The wood database does say that ebony can be hard to glue, so I would glue some test pieces with your glue of choice and see how they hold together.

When gluing woods together for cutting boards or chess/checker boards, think of it like making damascus. You want woods with similar properties/shrink rates. If they are too dissimilar, they won't stay together long, just like 2 very dissimilar metals going through the heat treat process.

With that said, here's how I would do it. Cut the woods of choice into exact width, you mentioned 1 1/4". Glue these strips together. I prefer Elmer's wood glue over all others. The next day after gluing, I would then crosscut the panel into 1 1/4" strips and alternate ends and glue these together again. This will give you your chess board pattern.

I would use 1/4" baltic birch plywood for a base. This would be introducing a 3rd wood into the project that again has a different rate of movement. Because of this, I would use a contact cement to glue the chess board to the plywood. This would keep the chess board flat to the plywood, but allow a slight amount of movement between the two.

Hope this helps and isn't too discouraging on your wood choices.
 

MarcWeitz

Well-Known Member
I've used Titebond (original type) on my chess boards. There's some debate over which type of Titebond etc. but I've had no issues with Type 1 over the years. I've used horse hide glue before and it's notorious for floating and slipping - and it does that without fail. So I don't use it for chess boards. I've used 1/4 inch thick Gaboon Ebony (kiln dried and kept dry for 3 years in my garage) on two boards and yet a couple of the squares still cracked - on both boards..I tell myself it adds character - which is BS...I want perfection. I wanted to keep the boards thin and light but my experience has been with anything less than 3/4 thick wood is going to warp. Maybe because I tend to over clamp and go too thin to save on board weight. I've made 10 boards - most are about seven years old now and used fairly regularly. Used all sorts of different woods Pink Ivory, Gaboon Ebony, Purple Heart, Chakte Viga, Black Walnut, Wenge, Bloodwood, Spalted and Birds Eye Maple etc. I haven't heard or seen any issues with separation from using dissimilar wood types - I'm not saying it isn't or can't be an issue, just I haven't experienced it. Warping with thin woods has been my biggest issue. You can see the crack it in this photo of Gaboon Ebony and Spalted Maple.
 

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D-Yager

Member
Interesting stuff here. As a relatively new knife maker but ancient woodworker I'll kick in my two cents. The mix of holly and ebony will create problems when sanding the surface. The holly will "cut" much faster than the ebony which may leave a sort of washboard surface. Maybe try maple or hickory instead?

On the back of the ebony squares scribe some shallow scratches for additional grip surface for the glue. Wipe with alcohol or some acetone just prior to gluing. (probably already doing this for knife work?). Titebond white glue's good, flexible slow-dry epoxy's better.

And It would not be a bad idea to seal all sides of each piece ahead of time with sanding sealer or shellac. Just rub it on with a rag. Also the plywood underlay, both sides. The hope would be to keep a constant moisture guard on all pieces . Uneven absorption of moisture in different woods (especially hard old ebony) can cause warping/splitting problems as they try to hold onto each other. For example, the holly will absorb and release air moisture much faster than the ebony making it move and set up tension on the glue joints. Eventually those tectonic plates are gonna shift and we (west coasters) all know what happens then!
 

billyO

Well-Known Member
Thank you for all the info.
ebony is notorious for checking (cracks). african blackwood might be a better choice
You're right, and I guess I should be more exact. It is African Blackwood that I have, I have always called that ebony. My bad, sorry.

I'm also thinking of a couple different ways to add trim pieces framing up the grid to hide the seams similar to the way floor moulding hides the ends wood flooring.
MDF (preferred) or Baltic Birch plywood
Is this a good choice?
 

billyO

Well-Known Member
I've used Titebond (original type) on my chess boards
Would you be open to some PM questions if/as they come up seeing as how you have very specific experience?
I wanted to keep the boards thin and light but my experience has been with anything less than 3/4 thick wood is going to warp.
My idea too, thin and light. Are you saying the individual squares (planning on 1 1/8" sq) should be 3/4" thick or the total thickness of the board (plywood backing included) should be 3/4"?

Again, thank you for the input.
 
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billyO

Well-Known Member
The mix of holly and ebony will create problems when sanding the surface. The holly will "cut" much faster than the ebony which may leave a sort of washboard surface.
I hear you, the holly is softer, but nothing like pine. It's tough to dig my fingernail into the surface, so I'm not too worried. IMO, this is not much different than what we deal with when finishing a handle with pins. Just have to be careful. Fortunately, I'm not one who needs to get to the end ASAP so I can take the time it takes to get it right.
 

MarcWeitz

Well-Known Member
D-Yager is right about softer woods cutting quicker...but it wasn't noticeable with walnut/holly board I did. Are you trying to make a regulation sized board? Sent a PM
 

SS369

Well-Known Member
Thank you for all the info.

You're right, and I guess I should be more exact. It is African Blackwood that I have, I have always called that ebony. My bad, sorry.

I'm also thinking of a couple different ways to add trim pieces framing up the grid to hide the seams similar to the way floor moulding hides the ends wood flooring.

Is this a good choice?
I would opt for 1/2” MDF personally. It will be a less flexible, but a tad heavier, if that is a concern. Lots of ways and materials to “edge band” it. Just miter from corner to corner. Might find some molding that will work.
 

billyO

Well-Known Member
Here's a picture of some of the square team pawns out of the etch, before final cleaning and spraying with black GunKote.20210312_151533.jpg
 

MarcWeitz

Well-Known Member
way cool - in fact really cool chess pieces like those are going to be, are a great tactic to distract me from strategy ...
 
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