Building your own Chess Set:
Chess Sets, Chess Boards, Chess Pieces
Many of our chessboards 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 chessboards 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 Chessboards!
Erable is actually commonly known as European Field Maple (Acer campestre). This maple is indigenous to Europe, and although it is becoming rare in old growth forms, it is available widely from managed forests throughout Europe, particularly Spain. It is a fairly easy-to-work hardwood, that, when finished, develops a wonderfully deep grained luster. It takes on a 3-D appearance and its grain changes depending on lighting and the angle of viewing. It has a warm honey coloring.
In addition to Erable, the plain term Maple is used in some of our products and this usually refers to several species of American Maples used by some of our manufacturers. Most American maples differ from European maples in that the coloring takes on a slight reddish hue, sometimes pink. The most commonly used maple is the hard maple Acer saccharum commonly known as Sugar Maple. It is the most abundant maple in the United States. It is reported to be most prevalent in New England, but its growth range extends from the extreme southeastern region of Manitoba east to Nova Scotia, southward to North Carolina, and west to eastern Kansas. The tree prefers moist soils of uplands and valleys and sometimes is found in pure stands. This is the tree used to make "Maple Syrup".
Aspen is a favored wood used by some North American chess board manufacturers. The most favored species is Populus tremula. Quaking or Trembling aspen is considered to be the most widely distributed tree in North America, deriving its name from its leaves which are inclined to tremble in the slightest breeze. It is reported to grow from Alaska to Newfoundland and southward to Virginia. It also occurs in the Rocky Mountains, extending south to southern Arizona and northern New Mexico. The wide sapwood is whitish to creamy in color, and merges gradually into the heartwood. The grain is typically straight. The timber is reported to convert readily into veneers. Select highly figured logs are reported to be sliced into attractive veneers. It is a favorite wood for chessboards due to high availability and its smooth finish.
Another common wood used for the white squares on chessboards is Birch (Betula pendula) with the common name Silver birch. The natural growth range of the species is reported to extend from central Spain northwards, but it is primarily found in northern and eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian region. The wood is reported to have very little variation in color, and is almost white or very light brown. There is no distinct difference between heartwood and sapwood. The timber of B. pendula is reported to be very similar in characteristics to that of B. pubescens which is a common alternative choice. Grain is typically straight. Grain deviation, especially at base of boles, is reported to produce a variety of figures which are sometimes used as names for the wood. Figured Silver birch timber is reported to be highly sought after for conversion into decorative veneers. The wood is reported to polish to yield a good finish.
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 chessboards is Mahogany, usually of the species (Khaya grandifoliola).The species is reported to occur in all the timber producing countries on the West Coast of Africa, and is found predominantly in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria. It prefers to grow in the drier areas of its range. The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) reports that the species is a regular source of timber for export. The heartwood varies from light to deep brown in color. Other sources report that the heartwood is pink, then turns to a rich mahogany brown later. Savanna-grown timber is usually darker than forest-grown timber. The grain is reported to be interlocked, often irregular in direction, and sometimes very wild. Material containing wild grain is generally difficult to work to a smooth finish, so you will rarely see a dynamic graining in chessboards made with this wood. The wood is reported to have very satisfactory polishing characteristics. Timber produced by K. grandifoliola is reported to be more difficult to work than that by K. anthotheca, another common substitute because it behaves better when being worked.
One of our most beautiful chessboards is made from a wood commonly known as Palisander. It is also used in chess pieces and uses the other common name of Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia). Other common names are East Indian Rosewood, Malabar, and Bombay Blackwood, to name a few. 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 near Bombay. The species is also planted as a shade tree in coffee plantations and on roadsides. It is reported to be an introduced species in Nigeria. Dalbergia is the genus that generally denotes all Rosewood species worldwide. The timber is reported to respond very well to peeling after a soaking treatment, so it is used in veneers often. The wood is supposed to be fairly difficult to carve and work by hand, which says a great deal for the skill of our chessboard 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. Palisander is one of the most beautiful woods in the world!
One opf the more unusual chessboards we sell is made from a wood called Wenge (Millettia laurentii). It is the closest thing you will find to a true Ebony colored board, although still more on the brown side. Pure black ebony is very difficult, if not impossible, to make into a veneer, so Wenge is commonly used to make a very dark chessboard. The natural growth range of the species is reported to be the open forests of Zaire, Cameroon, Gabon, the southern regions of Tanzania, and Mozambique. It is also found in the swampy forests of the Congo region. The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) reports that timber from this species is produced regularly but it is exported only in low volumes. Wenge is reported to be always in limited supply on the US market. Some reasons for this are low yield from logs because of high waste from "mulot" or "heavy worm" infestation, supply problems from sources in Africa, and less demand on the market for darker colored woods. The wood is reported to be used almost exclusively for architectural purposes such as paneling and furniture pieces. Suppliers are reported to to be offering Wenge more frequently in recent years. Prices are reported to be often in the high range. The heartwood is dark brown, mostly black, with fine, closely spaced, very dark veins and white lines. The combination of white bands against the dark wood with black streaks gives Wenge a very attractive appearance. The grain is fairly straight to slightly roey. The appearance of the wood has been described as expressive. The material is reported to be rather difficult to glue because of the presence of resin cells. The timber is described as tough and strong. The porous nature of the wood is reported to make Wenge a rather difficult wood to slice. It requires smooth cutting, and quality material is reported to be rather difficult to obtain for chessboard manufacture. All these difficulties makes our chessboards incredible examples of the woodworkers craft, since all of our Wenge chessboards are of the best quality.
One of our very special woods is Macassar. The species is (Diospyros celebica) making it a member of the true Ebony genus, with other common names being Camagon, Golden Ebony, and Tendu. Macassar ebony is reported to be rare and is one of the most expensive timbers on the commercial market. Veneer is reported to be more available but is also costly. The growth range of the species is reported to include the East Indies, Philippine Islands, and the Celebes Islands of Indonesia. It prefers well-drained, rocky soil, and is sometimes found near water but never in swamps. The tree is reported to be generally small, and attains an average height of about 50 feet (15 m), with a trunk diameter of about 16 inches (41 cm). The heartwood is reported to be black with wide reddish or reddish brown streaks. The combination of colors is reported to make the wood an attractive choice for face veneers. The grain is typically straight to roey. The timber is reported to take an excellent finish. Luster is described as metallic. The material is reported to be rather hard to work with hand tools. Even though this wood is a member of the Ebony family, its color is more a reddish milk-chocolate brown.
Another unusual wood used in our chessboards is commonly known as Ebony-Palisander(Tabebuia serratifolia). This exotic wood is for someone looking for a very wavy, dynamically grained chessboard. The species is reported to be distributed widely from Colombia to Bolivia, the Guianas, and southeastern Brazil. It is descrbed as ecologically diverse, especially in the Brazilian mata atlantica. It is reported to occur mostly in more or less seasonal forests on well-drained lateritic soils in the Amazons, but also grows on richer or sandy soils and even into the cerrado in sub-Amazonian Brazil. The tree is usually found near sea level up to an elevation of 3940 feet (1200 m). The heartwood is olive-brown in color, with lighter or darker streaks. The pores themselves will often appear as fine yellow dots, or as longitudinal lines. In general, the grain is straight to very irregular, the former being used in our chessboards. The material is reported to work with some difficulty, but can be finished smoothly, except heavily interlocked material. Logs are generally difficult to convert into veneers, they are reported to yield very decorative veneers.
Teak is actually from the species of tree scientifically known as "Tectona grandis", with other common names being Rosawa, Sagwan, and my favorite, Mai Sak (please don't go there) to name a few. This wood exhibits a beautiful light grain pattern. Most teak heartwood is highly variable in terms of its color and grain patterns. This board exhibits what is referred to as a fine, straight-grained and light colored Teak. It is found primarily in the areas of Southeast Asia and India. Teak is a little difficult to use in the making of chessboards. The boards' surfaces are made using real-wood veneers, which are carefully fitted and press-glued, to a substrate surface. Teak has a great deal of greasy areas, making it very resistant to gluing. Because of this it is rare to find a manufacturer making these types of boards. But, of course, we found one, and they are able to make a chess board that is durable, wonderfully crafted, and uses this amazingly beautiful wood to great effect.
In our more economical chessboards you will see Sycamore being utilized. The most common being of the species (Platanus occidentalis). The growth range of Sycamore in North America reported to include Ontario, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and West Virginia. The tree prefers wet soils of stream banks, flood plains, and edges of lakes and swamps, and is reported to be a dominant species in mixed forests. Supplies of Sycamore are reported to be plentiful. It is readily available and is reported to be priced in the inexpensive range. The heartwood is light to dark brown or reddish brown, or flesh-brown in color. The grain is usually interlocked and irregular. Quartersawn surfaces are reported to exhibit an attractive mottled texture. Large crowded, brown rays are reported to contrast with white wood tissue in background to add to the beauty of Sycamore. The wood is fine and even textured. Polishing is reported to require some care for good results. The wood has satisfactory staining qualities, and is reported to respond well to all types of stains. Varnishing qualities are reported to be satisfactory.
Elm is a fairly common wood. Our Elm chess boards are made from the root wood of the species (Ulmus glabra) or Wych Elm. This northern European species is reported to be native to Great Britain, particularly to the western and northern regions of the country. It is reported to be often found growing as a wild tree in Highland glens or upland valleys, and is also cultivated as an ornamental in parks. It is also common in other parts of Western Europe. Our woods exhibit a dark brown color with intense curly grain. The wood is harvest from the roots of the tree and this is what imparts the dynamic graining (burl) and dark color. A truly luxurious wood!
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