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Making A Custom Chess Board Box

Sometimes you must make a project that you feel presses your skills as a maker. This can be trying a new technique or to try a new piece of equipment or even a process or project that might feel like it is outside of your skill set. To improve your skills you need to take risks and try things you have not tired before. Well this is one of those projects for me. It all started when I was commissioned to build chess board boxes for a company. They had a few requests for the design such as there logo inlayed into the sides of the box and the boxes be set up for a 4 inch king. This was one thing I knew nothing about. I did not know that in chess the size of the king piece determines the size of the squares on the board. Thanks to Jay Bates who some of you might know I learned a lot about the design of a chess board. There is so much more to them and how they are designed with game play in mind that I would have ever thought. Not only were there design elements that I never knew would be be something to think about but also the design itself was a bit more complicated than would have been though. Aspects of the design such as the drawers were a unique challenge to design and build. Though SketchUp was a life saver as usual things like the nap of the fabric being used on the drawers was very difficult to account for.

In sketch up I started by designing the top of the box that is also the playing area of the chess board. This board would be using a 4 inch sized king piece so would require squares of the playing area to be 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches. This would give the playing area a size of 20 by 20 inches. With the board itself I could move on to the rest of the box. The boxes would not only house the pieces as well as the the top being the game play board I also wanted to drawers that would house the chess pieces to be almost like a jewelry box. I thought this would give a nice touch to the box and make them feel and look much nicer.

For the woods the customer had requested that the boxes be made of walnut with the game-play board be made of walnut and hickory for a clean contrasting look. In sketch up I added these colors to be able to visualize how the colors would look together as well. One of the big questions when first starting the design was how to make the boxes stable where they would last forever. The problem with making them from constructed panels of walnut would be the movement of the panels. As anyone that does wood working of any kind knows wood expands and contracts with time and due to the humidity and temperature of where the wood is being stored. This could cause major problems down the road with the boxes. So to combat this issue I went with a walnut veneer plywood. This would make the box much more stable and last much longer without any issues of wood movement. This would also make it much more precise to use the i2R-8 Uccnc to cut out the sides as well as the inlays. The game-play board would be of a walnut and hickory veneer. With all of the materials and design figured out I moved on to starting with the build.

I stared off with cutting the walnut to dimension. I stared with a large live edge slab of walnut and made the first cuts using the Dewalt Track Saw to square off the first edge that would be used to run the board through the table saw.

This would allow me to run the more manageable pieces through the jointer and then planer before cutting the board to thickness with the band saw. The 8 quarter slab of walnut would allow me to get two boards at the thickness needed for glue up with the hickory. These boards would make up the veneer of the game play board once complete.

With the boards cut down I then cut them to width. The hickory and walnut both would need to be cut down to the proper width. This would determine the finial size of the game play squares also. This was a simple cut on the table saw. I also made sure to keep the saw fence set at the same distance for the cuts this would ensure that the boards were all cut to the same width. However the last two board that would be the outside edges of the glue up would need to slightly larger so that the final cuts would perfectly size the edges of the board.

For the glue up I decided to make two different panels with 4 stripes each. This once cut down and re-glued would give the finial width of 8 squares witch is one strip of a chess board. As a chess board is 8 squares by 8 squares. During this glue up I also added a piece of angle iron or steel to keep the panel as flat as I could. This would make for much less material loss when planing the panel flat. I wanted to keep as much usable material as possible as I would be cutting the panels into veneers for the game play are of the chess board.

With the veneer boards curing I moved to the i2R-8 Uccnc and started cutting the sides of the box. I will be using the i2R-8 Uccnc to make many of the cuts for the box. This to me is hybrid woodworking at it finest. The i2R-8 Uccnc would make the cuts much more precise than I could using the table saw. Also I would be able to make the cuts more repeatable as I would be building multiple boxes in the end. With this in mind I transferred the sketchup files for the sides to v-carve pro. This made getting the proper sized cuts much easier. This is also why you see there being so many cuts being made as there is no reason to cut them one at a time. I truly feel that the i2R-8 Uccnc makes processes like this much better as you can let the machine do the work while you are working on other things to speed up the process. One question often asked is how the pieces remain in place while cutting all the way though the board on the CNC one way is tabs. These tabs are added during the toolpath process in V-carve. They can be added or removed in v-carve and can also be adjusted for thickness and width. These tabs should be though of as supports and used to add rigidity to the boards during cutting. To remove the board simply use a chisel to cut the tabs then use a router or sand the remaining pieces of the tabs off to a smooth edge.

With all of the sides cut it was time to start with the inlays. These would be v-carve inlays. These inlays are done by laying out the design you would like to inlay in v-carve then cutting the design in this case the company logo with a v carve bit. Then the inverse would be carved out of the contrasting material. This is quite an interesting process and I plan to do a full video on how to layout and cut v carve inlays soon.

Once the pockets and the plugs have been cut I also make sure to test fit the inlay. The two pieces should fit together tightly but easily with very little to no play between the two pieces of the inlay. If the inlay is properly designed and cut there will be a small amount of room at the bottom of the pocket to allow for the glue to sit.

Knowing that the inlay pieces fit perfectly I moved on to gluing the plug into place on the side. To do this I applied a bit of Tightbond glue to the pocket inlay then pressed the plug into place. This really is almost impossible to mess up as the two pieces cannot fit together but in one orientation. The pieces then need to be clamped together. I choose to use the veneer press to do this. For v-carve inlays there is not a ton of pressure that is needed but need to be sufficient to hold the plug into place.

After letting the glue cure I then used the band saw to cut away the bulk of the excess material that is the plug of the inlay. This is the simple part of this inlay process. One issue that is unique to the materials that are being used on this project is the fact that this inlay is in a piece of walnut veneer plywood. This makes this process more tenuous as if the veneer is damaged you cannot simply sand the imperfection away. So leaving the material proud on the surface of the side of the box was by design. This allowed me to use a hand plane and cabinet scraper to make light cuts off of of the remaining material of the plug on the inlay. This would ensure that the veneer was not damaged. When doing this process on a solid panel of wood it is important not to go to far and remove to much from the inlay material but there is more of a safety net in the base material. After getting the inlay material almost perfectly flat I used a sander and 120 grit sand paper to lightly sand the inlay smooth. I then repeated this process on the other inlayed side of he box.

I then took the previously glued up veneer panels to Jay as my band saw is not large enough to cut the veneers I needed for this project. There we cut the panels into strips and glued them back up into the checker pattern. This process is done by cutting the strips and then flipping every other strip 180 degrees. This crosses the patterns giving the board the checkered pattern. The boards are then cut into 1/8 inch thick veneers. These veneers are then sanded in the drum sander to be an equal perfect thickness.

For the top of the box the veneer would need to be glued down on to a backer board. In this case I chose mdf. Using the i2R-8 Uccnc I first cut out a pocket at a depth of .1 inches deep in the center of the top to use as a guide while gluing down the veneer. This would ensure that the veneer would be perfectly square and centered on the top of the box as well as aligned the right distance from the edge of board for the trim.

To glue down the veneer on the top of the board but I started by using a glue roller from Rockler.com to apply an even coat of clue to the entire bottom surface of the veneer. Coating the entire bottom of the veneer would allow the veneer to hold tightly to the top and have no loose sections or areas that are not flat to the top of the board. You will also notice that the seam of the veneer is taped and this allows for the veneer to be folded over and not move position relative to the other piece of veneer.

Once the glue is applied and the veneer is in place I used tape to make sure that the veneer did not move on the top of the board. I then put the board in the veneer press and added some wax paper to make sure if there was any glue run out it could not stick to the top press board. I then pressed the veneer and board together. I added a good bit of pressure to veneer to make sure the entire top would be flat and allowed the glue to completely set before removing it from the press.

With all of the pieces now ready it was time to glue the body of the box together. I started by gluing the center support and bottom into place. Using masking tape to hold the sides in place until the clamps could be applied to the box. This made aligning the sides and bottom much easier. Once the bottom clamps are in place I then flipped the box over and repeated the process with the top. One thing I had to keep in mind was also the orientation of the game play board. In the game of chess the closest left corner square of the board to the player is to be a dark square and this aligns the players properly for the positioning of the game pieces. This had to be thought about before gluing the top into place. As the drawers were the sides designed to face the players and the top would need to be orientated as such. I then clamped the top into place and also make sure not to over tighten the clamps and risk damaging the box.

It was now time to start on the drawers I started by cutting the parts on the i2R-8 Uccnc. This was to insure that the parts would fit with a tight tolerance as well as be perfectly repeatable. The main cuts that were made on the i2R-8 Uccnc would be the center dividers. These cuts were smaller and needed to be as precise as possible. The dividers needed to fit tight but also needed to have enough tolerance to allow for the fabric to be applied.

To apply the fabric I started by spraying the sides and bottom of the drawer with an adhesive that is designed to be used with fabric. I then applied the fabric making sure to press out and stretch the fabric tight and remove any wrinkles that were on the panel. The edges were then trimmed to fit. Also the areas were the sides would contact each other and be glued into place the fabric was removed allowing for a tight glue up. With all of the sides of both drawers covered I then glued up the drawers in a similar process to the main body of the box this. During this process I also had to make sure not to get any glue squeeze out on the fabric. If you are curious why not glue up the box and cover it the reason behind this is that is is very very difficult to get the fabric into the corners of a box that had already been glued up.

Now the only things left to do are to create the trim for the box. For this I used walnut and custom made and cut the trim. I stared by cutting the walnut into pices that would fit the corners of the box and then using the dado blade on the table saw removed the proper amount of material to allow the trim to sit at the proper thickness and width for this box. The trim came out to be around ¼ of an inch thick at the edges and this would also form the border around the playing area of the board.

Ti fit the trim I then used the Kreg Miter Guage to create the 45 degree cuts that would join the trim at the corners of the box. This is a process that is a bit of trial and error making sure to remove only tiny amounts of material at a time. Remember you can remove more material but you cannot add material back. Removing small amounts of material at a time will allow you to sneak up on a perfect fit for the trim. Making the corners very tight and look good.

To install the trim I used some Tightbond glue and a glue brush to apply the glue to the under side of the trim. Making sure not to use to much glue as it would cause squeeze out onto the board and sides of the box. I then used tape to hold the trim in place. I first place the piece of trim on the box using tape to hold it in place. Then moving on an repeating this process with the next piece of trim until all 4 pieces are secured onto the box. I then use tape to pull the corners tight together ensure the tight joint at the corners of the trim. I repeated this process on all sides of the box both top and bottom. I also would be using this same process to create and attach the vertical trim in the corners of the box. I however waited to do this process until the top and bottom trim had been attached. This would allow me to test the drawer multiple times to make sure there was no clearance issues with the trim.

With the trim in place and the glue set I then mocked up and pre fit the feet of the box. This would make sure that the feet are properly positioned with the trim. I would be removing the feet before applying the finish to the box. I wanted to do this mock up before hand to ensure that the box would not be supported by a finished side to install the feet.

I now wanted to round over the corners of the trim and and do the final sanding of the box before applying the finish. I used the Dewalt trim router and a round over bit to give the corners of the trim a radius. This would give the box a softer feel. I had debated on champing the corners but thought the radius would be a much better look.

After rounding over the corners I then covered the fabric of the boxes to prepare the drawer fronts to be spayed with shellac. To do this I used some packing paper and masking tape to make sure that no shellac could get onto the fabric. I then did the final sanding using some 220 grit sand paper then 320 and 400 grit. After sanding all of the surfaces smooth I then whipped down the box and drawer fronts before using an air nozzle to blow off any remaining dust or debris from the sanding process.

I then got to my favorite part of any project the application of the finish. This is always where you get this big pop of color and the reveal of how beautiful the grain of the wood will look. As well as the you will finally get to see the true colors of the project take shape. For this project I was using spray shellac it would give a semi gloss durable finish to the board making sure it can be used for game play and keep its finish without damage. After each coat I then used 400 grit sand paper and sanding with the grain of the wood sanded the finish smooth before cleaning off the residue and applying the next coat. Applying 5 coats in all.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how the colors of the hickory and the walnut went together. The contrast of them looked amazing and they pop of each color with the other makes this checker pattern of the board hard to take your eyes off of. Also the semi gloss of the shellac gave a nice luster to the wood.

The drawer also came out amazing in my opinion. One unexpected result of having a velvet fabric on the drawer is that the nap of the cloth locks the drawer into place keeping the drawer firmly in place until pulled then the drawer has a soft slide and fell. I wanted to drawer to have almost the feel of a jewelry box and with the velvet inside it seemed to be just that.

The inlay on the side of the box also came out better than expected. I was at one point worried that the inlay would stand out a bit to much and overpower the box but it was quite subtle and had just the right amount of contrast for the side of the box.

All in all this has been one heck of an experience. I challenged myself in more ways than one. This being one of the most complicated and precise builds I have done so far. With some of the tolerances being in the .001s of an inch. It was so much fun though to get to push myself and try something new. Not only in the process but in the idea that the processes much be repeatable as there would be a total of 16 boxes that would need to be built.

I hope you have enjoyed this build and it has been helpful to you. Let me know in the comments of the youtube video above if you might be interested in a detailed set of plans for this build. They would be set of course around using standard tooling and not the cnc. Also make sure to check out any of the links in this article if you are interested in some of the tooling an products used in making this beautiful board. It really helps me out and every one knows putting out this content is very time consuming and can be a bit expensive.

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