Chess, Anyone? Chequers Maybe?

You’ve asked me if I could show how to make one of these for some time now. We filmed the methods for making it this week so it will soon be developed into a video once our editors start working on it. It will be a great video series for those of us who just love hand work to engage the wood with and also the senses too of course. I have loved making this chess board for many reasons not the least of which the excursive and wellbeing it brought to me through the simple yet significant challenges it brought me. P1210023 What fascinates me is that I still enjoyed every bit of it because by choosing hand tools and hand skills I created a sphere I that demanded more of me. Time, effort and then, for me at least, the all important elements many try to avoid difficulty and risk, these are the things that stretch my mind, body sinew and muscle. My emotions are bettered this way and though the work is a hundred times harder than working wood by machines, there is always this indescribable feeling of worth that no one can really describe because worth of this kind defies words.


I planed my wood to thickness with a £12.24 pence brand new ebay #4 hand plane that wasn’t a Stanley and enjoyed that immensely because it seemed to me ingratiating. I also used my old Stanley #4 too but mainly because not everyone can get hold of the cheaper plane outside of the UK. I couldn’t really tell the difference and I mused on that through the day. It seems as though the cheap imports have managed to improve where Stanleys consistently worsen. Anyway the work did do me a great good and then there’s the added reward of my using the making of the chess board to teach simple woodworking techniques and methods to others around the world that might never have access to machines or want to use them. I am thankful that more and more people feel equipped to work with hand tools.


And here we are with a chess board. I made it using a handsaw for rough cutting, a #4 hand plane, a 12” tenon saw, a dovetail saw and plough plane. I used some layout tools, a marking gauge, a square, a chisel and a chisel hammer and a knife. Ten simple hand tools in all. P1200805

The dovetail corner pieces worked just fine without a router and router bits. No jigs, no router table. Just the tap tap of a mallet on wood. Nice.

Nope, no machines used at all. No thickness planer or jointer, tablesaw, router or bandsaw. How about that!

Most of the wood came secondhand. The brown mahogany squares came from wood used as a packer between a benchtop and a vise. I bought the vise on ebay. There was just enough between bolt holes to get the 32 brown squares from it. I had some curly maple left overs for the white ones and then I was stuck. I went along to Oxford Wood Recycling for some more mahogany not feeling much hope for the right match and ten minutes later I left with a perfect stick of wood that matched exactly. P1210029 I know, it didn’t seem I planned it out much, but that’s how I work best and I ended up with a victory.


How was your week my friends?


  1. I have so much respect for what you are doing. When I started the hobby of woodworking a few years ago, I was very discouraged by the fact that virtually every video channel, blog, book, etc. only talked about all the big, heavy, expensive power tools I would need to buy if I wanted to build anything. Somewhere or other I saw an old video showing a plough plane and I was so excited. Then the video went on to explain that such tools were no longer made or used. I felt like I was born in the wrong age. Or at least started woodworking in the wrong age.

    But at some point, I read a forum post about sharpening saws and someone mentioned that “Paul Sellers” had some good videos on the subject. I sought you out and it has changed my life. Thanks for keeping the subject of hand tool woodworking alive, and maybe even bringing it back from death to some degree.

  2. MY hand tool woodworking journey begins in earnest as of this week. The first thing has been to acquire a set of tools, now I am fortunate in that I can afford to purchase a lot of the new quality brands that should last a lifetime. But my first project has been to restore a pre 1950’s Disston D8 7 TPI Rip saw. That was this weeks project and from a rusty, slightly beaten up blade and a well worn and used handle has emerged a beautiful tool that cuts like a knife through hot butter and looks like it can tell tales of long forgotten projects but is ready to tackle another 50 years with grace.

    All thanks to stumbling onto your YouTube channel and rekindling a smouldering desire to be able to work with wood using the older tried and trusted methods and find a peace and comfort that is slipping away in our modern high tech world.

  3. As it seems to be my current lot at this point in time I have little spare time to actually pursue the projects that you constantly produce. This is not an issue however as I am fortunate in that much of my day to day work involves working wood. On Friday just gone I remade an existing rotten cross member for a front porch which frames some iron lacework on a friends house. As it could not be refitted in the same manner as it was constructed, being mortised either side into posts , I made a loose tenon for one end that was stepped and draw bored into the member once installed. The magic part is that all was done with hand tools and that I could talk to my friend who was taxiing her children to their various pursuits in-between our conversations and my work. I had little setup time with the hand tools, did not have to worry as much about the confined work space or access to power and there was little harm that could come to my friend as I worked. This is possible because of your posts and constant enthusiasm and accessibility Paul, thank you. I watch and read as much of your posts as possible because of the information , please continue to do so as much as you can .

  4. Ambika? Made in India? – Never heard of it – but with a minimum of tweaking and tuning, it turned out to be a 4-1/2 bench plane as good as any of the others. Made me smile too.

  5. This will be a great project for me. I have some curly maple and I have some mahogany salvaged from a large door and I’ll get a chance to watch you work the maple which is problematic for me.

  6. Paul, can you tell us the brand name of the cheap #4.
    Also, a while back you had reviewed a few cheap brands and I believe one was a Silverline. Was that a decent plane?
    The reason I ask is that I had bought a new Stanley and it isn’t as good a plane as I would like. I think it was the Handyman or Carpenter’s model.

      1. Thanks Paul. I don’t mean to say that the tool is what makes my work inferior it’s not, I was a machinist for many years and the old saying was a good machinist never blames his tools. The plane just doesn’t feel right for me and I can’t explain why but it does a decent job. I think it feels too light in my hand but what do I know.
        Thanks for the quick reply.

        1. Hi Peter,
          being light is actually a good think for a hand plane. Don’t believe for a second that heavier planes do a better job, no matter what salesmen say. A lighter plane lets you plane longer without tiring. Simple as that. Apart from that, your cheaper plane might need some remedial work. This is where Paul’s video comes in handy:

  7. Having finished a pair of end grain oak chopping boards this week (one of which is very reminiscent of a chess board) I find this particularly appealing. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the technique for creating the dovetail corner pieces.

  8. This week has been quite fortuitous to say the least, I completed the last of a fortnightly self employment workshops and won the top prize of £500 to help fund my idea. I completed the first year of my carpentry college course and it also marked the 1 year anniversary of my decision to go into woodworking as a career.

    This is probably a good point to say thank you Paul for all the learning materials you provide for free, as a birthday treat I’m ordering myself a copy of your new book next month.

  9. With all respect, tell your students to find proper finishing sources. I have been silent for now (excluding asking for advice) but do not teach finishing since you are doing it wrong.

    1. With respect, I think that’s silly. There are many ways to finish even with the same finish. With shellac you can French polish, brush polish, spray polish and more. That’s the same for many finishes. Finishing is simple.

    2. Haha doing it wrong. I would be interested to learn more about finishing for sure but you really come off badly with that statement Momir.

  10. Paul you wrote: “I know, it didn’t seem I planned it out much, but that’s how I work best and I ended up with a victory.”

    I have often found a project with little in the way of pre-planning, or made from scrap are the most rewarding. I think its the fact that I have to find a different & inventive way to use what is on hand that is most enjoyable for me.

    I’m amused when I read people asking for detailed plans or advice because they don’t have that exact size or type of timber. Yes I appreciate that for the inexperienced some extra advice is helpful. But the important part is to notice and learn from the methods of construction and then apply those to whatever I am making, that way I advance my knowledge. The item doesn’t have to be an exact replica….. make it your own.

  11. Momir,
    With great respect, please link to your finishing blog so that we can learn the correct way to finish. I am eagerly awaiting.

  12. Paul, I am delighted to see that you will be making a chessboard.

    When I attended your 9-day course in Bangor in November 2014, I requested you make this project, and it has finally surfaced!

    I often remember that course. Great memories. I now have a small flat and no workshop, but I have set up a workbench in the lounge, and put up with a few shavings on the carpet when I do some work! My only power tool is a drill.

    Just about to finish off a mahogany spice rack, using stopped housings with the odd dovetail joint, all hand work inspired by you!

    very best wishes

  13. That chessboard is going to be a great project for me. My week-end was good as I am finally at the point where I can cut dovetails and mortise and tenon joints to a good standard. All of the hours spent practising over many months has culminated in such a sense of achievement that it seems as though I now have the key to woodworking success. Happy days

  14. Always loved to use hand tools as much as I could. Now I have no choice. Lost my shop, tablesaw bandsaw, jointer, router table, and planer. Was able to hold on to all my hand tools. Live in an apartment now that also has garages for rent. First on the agenda is a new wookbench, as I sold mine with the big machines. Duh moment. I should be up and running in no time.

  15. I had aways thought that chessboards and the like should be veneered to combat against wood movement? Is that not a concern here?

    1. The thicker the wood the greater the problem when it comes to shrinkage and expansion issues. people often think that mass makes up for not complying to certain precedents but that’s far from the case. In my case I made sure the wood was acclimated by having the bulk of it in my stock pile for months if not years. The skirt alone was unknown but it wasn’t risky as it was so narrow and used where it is in the piece there would be no issues. My tiles are 6mm thick and I do not anticipate expansion and contraction problems. Remember too that sealing the surface slows down the exchange of moisture levels and exchanges in the wood.

  16. Hi Paul,

    I’m so glad you are doing a chess board. I searched out other sites but did not like what I saw. I was concerned about expansion of the wood and it breaking apart. I want to build a chess board / table with a drawer for the pieces. I may use your occasional table or something similar and add it in.

    I’m also glad I can download you videos as so many times, my internet goes out. I watch them several times, seriously, catching something I missed, or forgot. So much information. I like too that you repeat information in different videos as sometimes I didn’t see how you did something in another video I haven’t watched yet.

    I also enjoy your subtle humor.

  17. My week? A bad one. I am just about to complete the overhaul of ten window shutters made from an open grained softwood. Pine I should imagine but I don’t know. As a beginner I have followed The Man’s instructions for blade sharpening and as I mentioned to him before my blades could shave a sleeping mouse. BUT dagnammit I really struggled to hand plane the knots. I tried the low angle bevel up but simply succeeded in pulling out huge pits at the knots, easily 1mm deep. I tried my standard hand plane, equally bad. I did ask The Man for advice and it was to use a York angle which will be my next attempt but my goodness isn’t hand planing hard sometimes? I’m just thankful that the shutters are painted and as such I have been able to use filler to hide my accidents. I suppose the lesson is, don’t even think about trying to plane knots. Thanks as always mate for your excellent advice.

  18. Paul another very nice project, I always wanted to make a chess board and wanted to learn how to play. You make everything look so easy and can’t wait for the video.

    I agree with you about he shellac finish but I do have trouble finding it in the states except for spray cans. What brand do you use and where do you get it?

    Thank You !


    1. Just buy zinssers bullseye bleached shellac. Its ready to go in the can. Brush or rub it on.

      1. Thanks Paul, I have seen that product before, I will get a can. Also I have seen the brush you use on Amazon and will get me a 1″ one to start.


  19. If I’m looking at the images correctly, it looks like you laid the chessboard out on plywood and then encased it in mahogany? Am I seeing it correctly? Do you often use plywood in this manner? I would have assumed the entire chessboard was made of hardwood. In any event it is a lovely board and I look forward to seeing how the edge dovetails were done when you share the video.

  20. I enjoy your videos and learn a lot from each one. I’m curious as to what blade you put in your bow saw video? I have made a few of your projects and get complimentary remarks on them all. You have changed the way I work with tools and I’ve dialed in my hand planes and saws as shown on YouTube. Thanks

    1. There is a blog on this under making a bow or frame saw so if you use the search box it will take you to it.

  21. Hi Paul I too recently bought a #4 plane brand new for £12 and after a quick tune up (thanks to you videos) it takes shavings that seem to be one cell thick with ease and it has wooden totes not plastic!! Thank you for your inspirational work. Nick

  22. The master never sleeps!:-) Paul, that is a wonderful piece. You amaze me. Hope all is well… sure miss your hands on teaching.

  23. Hello Paul,

    I’ve seen many videos where people make such boards with power tools (planers, routers, etc). I do want to make such board for my son, but I thought it’s impossible to do with just hand tools.
    And now, you’re saying it’s possible! That’s a very good new for me. It’s not a big deal for me to make a chess set, because I can do that with my lathe. I seem to have a chance to learn how to make a board of the same wood I use for the chess set (paduk and maple). I still have almost no idea how to do that, but at least, I know it’s possible.
    Just one small question: where will these videos be published? At woodworkingmasterclasses or here?

    1. Woodworking masterclasses, and it will be a lot easier than you might think.

      1. Great!
        I thought about that a bit. And my guess is that a shooting board (or a jig similar to a shooting board) is involved into making those 64 pieces of the same exact size.

        1. I think the methodology will surprise everyone and talk about simplicity. Wow! How amazingly quick, safe, noiseless, peaceful, perfect, lovely.

          1. Paul I really do hope you are well. ..I haven’t received this weeks video.

            Thanks John 2V

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