Going on a weeklong ski trip to Mt. Bachelor with friends without a chess would be a sad trip indeed. Being unable to properly build a hardwood board since my woodworking class was cancelled, I used my mediocre skills to whip up this functional, but not beautiful checker pattern in a few days :checkered_flag:


  • Tools
    • Handsaw
    • Pencil
    • Measuring tape
    • Oil brush
    • Aluminum Framing Square
    • X-Acto knife (with an ancient blade)
  • Materials
    • Plywood 11/32" x 18" x 18" at $3 used from a $42.00 sheet
    • 3” Masking Tape at $12.00
    • Sandpaper in 60, 100, 150, 220 grit at $5.98 each
    • Varathane Semi-Gloss Polyurethane for 236mL at $9.87
    • Varathane Gel Stain Hickory for 946mL at $23.98


Rough mspaint plywood board design

My plan is to cut off a square of plywood, mask it in masking tape, mark and cut out parts I want to darken with hickory stain, apply said stain and a clearcoat, and finally add any other extras.

I don’t want to risk cutting down the centre to add hinges since my handsaw precision ain’t perfect, but this would make it more portable. Alternative piece storage to the Ziploc I used would also be nice, thanks for working on that in advance future-me :angel:


I cut a 18" square of plywood planning on making a USCF official 2.25” square board, but saw that a border would look better and still leave my pieces plenty of breathing room on 2" squares, so I pivoted. I got somewhat funky and wavy cuts thanks to using a handsaw on a clamped-to-my-desk-sheet-of-wood. My desk has some new battle scars… I sanded all the sides with progressively smoother sandpaper, and let me tell you, it was the smoothest plywood this side of the Mississippi :ocean:

Cutting the plywood


I covered the entire board with some masking tape and drew some squares with the help of a measuring tape and the large Milwaukee framing square I recently bought. Then cutting out alternating squares in a checker pattern with the X-Acto knife I stole from my Dad at some point was a breeze.

I used the part of the plywood with horizontal grain rather than the knotty side visible in the previous photo. The grain will run with the ranks. This seems better than the files in my mind because the grain is impeding your forward progress as you move deeper into enemy territory. For the particularly imagination riddled chess players try visualising them as trenches :foggy:


White, bottom right! A little rhyme to help when setting up a chess board.

Confused as to why I kept getting different measurements, I went onto discovery of the reason for the measuring tape wiggle!


Gel stain was chosen since it shouldn’t bleed under the tape, that’s what the point of the mask is. I applied it with a some old t-shirt I cut up and left it to dry overnight before removing the tape.

Staining Removing the tape

I applied one coat of clearcoat and immediately saw the stain started to run. I either didn’t let it dry long enough, this is the wrong polyurethane to use with gel stain, clear coats are not designed for these kind of multi-wood scenarios, or none of the before.

After four hours, as foretold by the can, I applied a second and final coat. Hopefully it has enough time to dry before being used as a playing surface and being roughed up.

Another rookie mistake was letting the brush I used dry and become hard as a rock. I thought paint thinner was what I needed but this how to article says I need to soak it in boiling vinegar, which of course is another trip to the store.

Clear coat applied and drying

She didn’t dry too smooth so I sanded her down with some 220 grit to restore the smoothness, trying not to remove all the clearcoat I just applied.

I added rank and file symbols, 1-8 and A-H respectively by cutting through the clear coat with an X-Acto knife and writing with pen. I also considered using my Dymo label maker or basic soldering iron as a wood burner. Another good option would have been etching with a Dremel and pouring a dark coloured epoxy if I had some handy.

Signed and dated the bottom since people are unlikely to believe this brand new chessboard looks so old :stuck_out_tongue:


Plywood board final

She’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but then again neither am I. And I love myself :two_hearts:



  • Use one-time-use foam brushes to apply clearcoat
  • Saw probably has too few teeth per inch (TPI) of 7. And also the crosscuts were not very clean since my saw is intended for ripping, I think…
  • Masking tape left behind residue after being on too long
  • Prevent the stain bleed caused when applying the clearcoat


I am glad to have built this with some bad practices and tools to learn why they are not ideal. I am even extra looking forward to making my hardwood chess board in the coming days!