Woods of Chess Pieces
Many of our chess pieces use natural woods, and we have received a number of inquiries into what a particular wood is. With this in mind, we at Your Move Chess & Games, decided to create this informative guide of the wood types used in the chess pieces we sell.
Common names can create confusion, since many different tree species use the same common name. Ebony, for instance, is used as a common name for at least six distinctly different species of tree, ranging in color from medium striped brown (Diospyros mindanaensisto) to deep black (Dalbergia melanoxylon). Interestingly enough, the Dalbergia genus is usually associated with Rosewoods, and, not commonly, Ebonies. It is because of this confusion we have included the scientific names (genus and species) to help differentiate these woods with better accuracy.
Sit back and enjoy while we explore the Wonderful Woods of Chess Pieces!
The Boxwood most commonly used for white and some black chess pieces is from the species of tree scientifically known as (Gossypiospermum praecox), commonly known as West Indian Boxwood. This species of wood is reported to grow in the Dominican Republic, the Maracaibo Lake region of Venezuela. It is usually found on dry chalky or rock slopes. Its texture is very fine and uniform. It has a generally straight grain, with a very high luster. It can be turned on a lathe very easily, and its carving characteristics are described as excellent. Its coloring is usually a very light yellow brown, with a hint of red tones. All of these characteristic makes Boxwood an excellent choice for white chess pieces. Also, the wood accepts stains very well, and many of the unaturally colored pieces are actually stained boxwood
The Cardinal Rosewood most commonly used for chess pieces is from a species of tree scientifically known as Dalbergia latifolia, commonly known as East Indian Rosewood, Malabar, and Bombay Blackwood, to name a few. Dalbergia is the genus that generally denotes all Rosewood species worldwide, but most chess piece wood is indigenous to India. It is found in the dry deciduous forest throughout the Indian peninsula. It grows in the sub-Himalayan tract from Oudah eastwards to Sikkim, Bihar, Orissa, and throughout central and southern India. Optimum growing conditions for this species are reported to be in the Bombay. The wood is supposed to be fairly difficult to carve and work by hand, which says a great deal for the skill of chess piece craftsman. The color range of this wood goes from a rose to dark brown color with even darker lines. The darker streaks impart an attractive figure to the wood. The crossed, narrowly interlocked grain, with the combinations of darker streaks gives the wood a very attractive appearance. This wood, with proper preparation, also has excellent finishing and polishing characteristics.
The Ebony used most for chess pieces, comes from a tree scientifically known as Diospyros melanoxylon, commonly known as East Indian Ebony, Marblewood and Tendu, to name a few. The species is common in the deciduous forests of the Central providences, Chota Nagpur, Behur, southern India, and the whole Indian Peninsula. The heartwood, which is part of the tree most commonly used, is a deep and slightly grained black in respect to its color. It is more brittle than the sapwood. The grain is commonly straight, sometimes irregular. The texture of the wood is fine and even. The black heartwood is very resistant to decay, so the longevity of this wood is excellent. This wood exhibits excellent finishing and polishing characteristics. Once again, this is a tough wood to carve, but chess piece craftsman are very familiar with the problems and are masters at working this hardwood with hand tools. The deep luster and total blackness of the blocks make for exceptional, true black chess pieces. Ebony is one of the traditional woods used in chess pieces. A common alternative is the species Dalbergia melanoxylon, a nearly black rosewood that is sometimes refered to as "striped" ebony.
Being the same species as Cardinal Rosewood Dalbergia latifolia, Crimson Rosewood is harvested from only the roots of the tree. The unique color of this type of rosewood is of a wine burgundy. Dalbergia is the genus that generally denotes all Rosewood species worldwide, but most chess piece wood is indigenous to India. It is found in the dry deciduous forest throughout the Indian peninsula. It grows in the sub-Himalayan tract from Oudah eastwards to Sikkim, Bihar, Orissa, and throughout central and southern India. Optimum growing conditions for this species are reported to be in the Bombay region. The wood is supposed to be fairly difficult to carve and work by hand, which says a great deal for the skill of chess piece craftsman. The color range of this wood goes from a rose to dark brown color with even darker lines. The darker streaks impart an attractive figure to the wood. The crossed, narrowly interlocked grain, with the combinations of darker streaks gives the wood a very attractive appearance. This wood, with proper preparation, also has excellent finishing and polishing characteristics. The image shows a wonderfully carved knight by The Mark of Westminster, who use this wine colored, select wood exclusively for its Crimson Rosewood pieces.
Probably the most commonly used wood for chessboards is Walnut, usually European Walnut (Juglans regia). European walnut is believed to have been introduced to Italy and western Europe in general, and possibly to Britain, by the Romans from Asia Minor. Most of the trees in Britain are reported to be planted in gardens, and occasionally along hedgerows. European walnut is reported to be very limited in availability, and can be obtained only in the form of veneer. The heartwood varies in color but it typically has a grayish-brown background with irregular dark streaks. The grain is normally straight, but may occasionally be wavy. European walnut wood has high natural durabilty. Polishing is reported to be excellent. The wood is reported to have excellent staining qualities, but UV light inhibitors are essential in finishes to prevent color from bleaching. Some of our manufactures also use North American relatives to this species, such as Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), which has a darker color.
Another very popular wood for chess pieces is Honey Rosewood, usually of the species (Dalbergia sissoo). Honey Rosewood (D. sissoo ) is reported to occur throughout the sub-Himalayan region, from the Indus to Assam, usually at elevations of up to 2950 feet (900 m), but sometimes at 4900 feet (1500 m). It often grows in mixed stands on new alluvial lands or low banks of rivers. The tree is also reported to be widely planted in many parts of India, especially in the Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Assam. It is also reported to be an introduced species in Nigeria. Large supplies of the timber are reported to be available from Uttar Pradesh and the Punjab, while limited quantities can be obtained from West Bengal and Assam, all in India. The heartwood is described as golden brown to deep brown in color, with darker streaks that give the wood an attractive appearance. The wood is hard, with a uniform and medium coarse texture. Natural resistance to decay is reported to be very high, and the heartwood is reported to be rarely attacked by borers and ants. Carving properties are reported to be very good, and it is considered to be one of two most popular carving and engraving woods in India. Honey Rosewood is reported to be a good turnery wood. Honey Rosewood is reported to peel exceptionally well to produce highly decorative veneers which are reported to glue and dry without difficulty.
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