How to Make a Marquetry Chessboard

Written by patti perry
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How to Make a Marquetry Chessboard
Marquetry chessboards use contrasting wood veneers. (chess image by Vasiliy Koval from Fotolia.com)

Marquetry is the art of using the grain and colour of veneer woods to create a design. The design is placed on a prepared base, not cut into the base form as with inlay. Selecting contrasting wood colours for a chess board is essential. Suggestions for the light wood squares are oak, maple, ash or sycamore. Walnut, mahogany, purpleheart or teak are good choices for the contrasting darker squares.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • 1/2-inch plywood, 15 inches by 15 inches
  • Cardboard, 15 inches by 15 inches
  • Veneer
  • Steel straight edge
  • Masking tape
  • Gummed paper veneer tape
  • Razor blade knife
  • Square
  • Polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue
  • Sandpaper, 150 grit to 220 grit

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Fabricate a cutting board by covering a 15 inch by 15 inch piece of plywood with cardboard. Use this board surface to cut the veneer with a razor blade knife.

  2. 2

    Decide on the size of each chess board square. The standard size is 1 and 3/4 inches per square.

  3. 3

    Use a steel straight edge to cut four equal strips of light veneer and five strips of dark veneer. All strips are measured to your chosen dimension.

  4. 4

    Fasten the strips together temporarily on the top side with masking tape. Alternate dark and light woods.

  5. 5

    Place your straight ruler perpendicularly across the stripes to form perfect squares, and cut with a razor blade.

  6. 6

    Stagger strips to create an alternating colour pattern. Join them together with tape on the reverse side.

  7. 7

    Trim the extra portions that extend off the ends of the chessboard surface. Check the symmetry of the board with a square.

  8. 8

    Cut thin pieces of veneer, of various widths, to fabricate a top border of contrasting woods; these are called the "stringers."

  9. 9

    Lay and tape these border pieces along the outside edges of the board. Overlap the veneer at the corners to facilitate accuracy when cutting mitre cuts.

  10. 10

    Place your steel straight edge diagonally across a corner of the board. Carefully cut along this line with a razor blade. Be careful not to cut into the square chessboard portion of the board at the corners.

  11. 11

    Repeat the mitre cuts on all corners, and tape them in place on the top side.

  12. 12

    Glue the completed veneer surface to a plywood board with PVA glue and dry completely.

  13. 13

    Apply complementary veneer to the sides of the plywood base with glue, and press in place.

  14. 14

    Sand the surface with progressively finer sandpapers starting with 150 grit.

  15. 15

    Finish and buff with paste wax.

Tips and warnings

  • To lubricate razor blades, dip them into candle wax.
  • Marquetry chessboards may also be finished with various lacquers, varnishes or tung oil.
  • A cutting jig can be used to cut the strips of wooden veneer.

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