Chess Board, Occasional Table and a Matched Pair of Sawhorses

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen many international shifts and we’ve been filming projects that are quick and effective to make by hand if you know how to do it. Our audience grows day by day and of course the internet has taken down most of the social, economic and geographic borders once forming barriers to prevent access to our work and our ethos. Three decades ago what we do and take for granted might have been impossible for most. Today, with the help of a very dedicated and caring support crew, we reach between 1.2 to 1.5 million woodworkers in any given month. We have been able to encourage woodworkers worldwide with ways of power woodworking that have no plugs, cables or batteries. P1210167People are now realising just how easy it is to gain mastery by doing real woodworking. Furthermore, often, certain aspects are simpler and less invasive using hand tools and that means of course they are more inclusive on a much wider scale. Remember still that a large percentage of the world has no access to electricity let alone woodworking machinery. You’d be amazed at the work I see coming in most days via social media and our websites. Woodworkers worldwide are being empowered by our outreach because most countries can relate to the work we do because of the methods we use. Showing a machine can and does mean an automatic cutoff for many even when they do have electricity. DSC_0540Add into this equation that machine methods must automatically exclude as much as 75% of the average family members and friends in the western world and you start to see why what we do is reaching an ever-increasing audience of people who actually love working with their hands. Of course I have banged on about the reality that children are ostracised from woodworking because the skills have been eschewed by so many. This condition is made all the worse by the neglect of crafts like woodworking and metalworking in state run schools internationally. Kids love woodworking with their hands. That’s a reality.

Making the chess board


In this video series I made the components completely by hand and surface planed the final thicknesses from the handsaw with, you guessed it, a #4 plane. It wasn’t at all laboursome or hard and I needed no additional healthcare or safety protection or extraction for waste. The sizing for the chequered tablets and the thicknessing was all within extremely tight tolerances and that is minute fractions of a millimetre. P1210109The corner splines until now were always done by machine but with this series we have changed that. No routers or power equipment of any kind. Also, don’t think it was hard, it was very easy to accomplish and of course can be adapted to many other projects including boxes you might resort to making using jigs and guides for a router or tablesaw. I know it seems quite a way off, but what a perfect Christmas gift for a game player.P1210112

Our aim as always is skill building. We’re finding steady and ever-increasing growth in our outreach to woodworkers wanting to establish serious hand skills as part of their everyday woodworking. They want their kids in the workshop and want the noise levels lowered in favour of their neighbours. For this chess board piece I used a plough plane, a couple of bevel-edged chisels, a #4 Stanley, a ripcut handsaw, tenon saw, dovetail saw, marking gauge, layout knife, pencil and I think that that is it. Oh, and a #80 scraper and a card scraper too, sorry. The thicknessing of the pieces were made using a process I developed for hand tools that guarantees you can get uniform thicknesses within a thou’ too.


Before I went to Israel two weeks ago I filmed the series making one of my favourite furniture making pieces which is an occasional table with tapered legs in the Shaker style. It’s not just how to make a small table but how to make tables. This piece is very scaleable and building one sets you up with the knowledge and skills to go on and make your coffee table to match, your dining table too, even. It’s real wood remember, real hand work, real hand tools and real woodworking. DSC_0709Remember a few months ago we built the dining chairs as our instructive series on chair making. Last week I was quite shocked when I visited IKEA. It was very entertaining for a couple of hours but I found it a little dispiriting too. It made me realise all the more that the work we do is so well worth it. I found legs for dining tables made from pressed fibreboard and wrapped with a veneer of either plastic or wood veneer. P1220259That was bad enough but then there were 5/8″ by 1 1/2″ door stiles made from pressed fibreboard and wrapped the same way too. P1220175It wasn’t that I didn’t expect pressed fibreboard shelves and doors so much but table legs and door stiles means a five year lifespan max.P1220181

You have to read between the lines on this description too.


Last week we filmed another series that follows on from the chess board and the table making series. This is another amazing skill-building series too. Every woodworker needs a stout pair of self sitting sawhorses that are stable under different pressures. I blogged on this some years ago but now we have the video series in the bag. Remember that my sawhorses do not splay out only in one direction but but follow the true traditional pattern to go in two and they are fully jointed with compound seat cuts to each leg housing that then undergirds the crossbeam. P1220023These methods may well be lost to most woodworkers these days but now this is recorded I can rest knowing it will always be available for generations to come. These are lifetime sawhorses and contrary to popular belief they do indeed stack nicely. You can make them from three two by fours and some offcuts of one-by or even plywood for the gussets. Today I made a followup video without breaks making my sawhorse in an hour and a half. I can make two in just two hours so we will let you see that once its ready for broadcast.


The three legged milking stool is one we also filmed for YouTube. Forgot to mention that.


So much work, so little time!P1210219

You might want to consider using the chess board as a tabletop for the occasional table and use it as a gaming table instead.

By now you will see that we are into real. Join the thousands who support our work to make woodworking real around the world. You can subscribe to for free or become a paying member and receive weekly videos on the projects above and indeed hundreds of past videos too. We have quite an archive of superb content. Go here for details and thanks for reading the update.

11 thoughts on “Chess Board, Occasional Table and a Matched Pair of Sawhorses”

    1. There is no question that imported goods can and do match quality in every way IF the standards are indeed preset. We can’t hearken back to formative years when “cheap imports” did indeed mean low grade quality. Mostly it is the demands of the importers that set the prices and then the manufacturers work within that remit. In my view it’s the lack of integrity on both parts, but forcing pricing down to the point of compromised standards is deplorable conduct and this is indeed down to the importer/distributor. In most cases the people responsible know very little about product, design, materially they are often quite ignorant, they simply know how to manipulate figures, people and so on and violate limits in every way be that human relationships, production methods and standards or whatever. I suppose it is still a dog-eat-dog world as we have seen with banking over the past two decades and more recently politicians and bullyboy threats to manipulate people by fear. But, you know, in the mix of things there are some very decent people with high integrity levels. That’s where I would place Leonard Lee and the staff at Lee Valley and Veritas.

  1. I think you’re right Paul on many points. Fair to say also that the dog eat dog approach has left many simply unable to afford better furniture than that made by ikea. In the past such people would’ve made do with hand me downs, made their own or done without. We have one piece of Ikea furniture left -bought in the days before internet woodworking became a thing -a wardrobe unit which is about 14 years old. The usual failure point seems to be where the door hinges are screwed to the side panels. I’ve repaired this a few times but not entirely successfully. I keep looking at it thinking that I ought to be able to come up with a better fix using my new Paul Sellers inspired Super Powers but so far any viable answer escapes me. I daren’t dismantle it for fear it wont go back together which makes it harder. Any ideas? Do you think a video on repairing Ikea furniture might be a neat way of drawing in even more new people to real woodworking by hand? Or are such repairs simply impossible?

    1. I think irreparable is the right adjective. Pressed fibreboard and friction fit hinge components don’t make for easy repair and of course IKEA is not concerned about providing anything that has lifetime length of use. Yo can of course use structural epoxies for uniting components but this is messy and time consuming after the fact. I don’t believe there is an answer except to see IKEA for what it is and that’s a temporary solution to fitting up student accommodation. If you accept that anything from IKE is destined for a three year lifespan before it goes into the skip (dumpster USA) graveyard then you won’t be disappointed. It is a funny thing. There was a move amongst some of us not to buy goods with more than one wrapper on and it was gaining ground for a season. That was in the UK. I came back to the UK 25 years laeter and discovered IKEA where the product itself is the wrapper. How amazing that people accept shrink wrapped (I almost put shrink warped via auto correct then)as part of consumerism and a throwaway lifestyle now.

  2. One of the more devilish compacts of the modern age is that formed between Ikea and student landlords. Seems all the landlords stuff their rabbit warren student houses with Ikea product some of which can barely withstand the force of gravity for a year let alone a bunch of students. My kids have yet to recover a deposit from a student landlord and they say very few of their friends ever do either. Replacing “damaged” Ikea furniture is the most common excuse landlords use for stealing the last of their money.

  3. I find myself somewhat ambivalent regarding IKEA.

    Having modified the internals of one of their cabinets I was impressed with the efficiency of engineering and design – components specifically made like torsion boxes; with the minimum of material and weight in order to achieve the specific role for which they were intended. The packaging of some of their flat pack cabinets is also quite impressive – again maximum efficiency and minimum waste.

    Obviously there’s no argument that structural components made from the hotdog of the wood world (chipboard) are going to be long lasting, but I suppose it’s reflective of society’s rapidly changing tastes and fads; keep it for a few years, then replace it with a fresh design.

    Finally of course, there’s the consideration of cost; having an IKEA kitchen for £1,000 is better than *not* having a craftsman-made kitchen for £20,000; regardless of the fact that we’d all prefer the latter.

    None of this however should take away from the joy of real artisan work, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Shaker occasional table series – elegant and attractive, and I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to make.

  4. christopher Mitchell

    Hey Paul,
    Iv’e made it a habit lately to ask almost every younger person I come in contact with lately what kind of furniture they like and would buy if it was affordable, and I was amazingly surprised at the answers I got back.. Especially the girls.
    Why Just yesterday I asked a seventeen year old at the super market what she liked and she said that she liked the “real wood” kind. lol , Rustic she said was her favorite . So I think that there aware of the pressboard disposable imported stuff that’s readily available at almost every corner market.
    I was curious more less. But also because I need to start building pieces to help pay my rent for my new shop.
    She also said that I should look at Pintrest and that there I can see whats was trending. I thought that was cool that she was trying to help me. A complete stranger.
    I am curious on what your thoughts might be on doing that. The Pintrest site I’m speaking of.
    In addition possibly what you might think about what pieces would probably sell quicker than others.
    Outside of my Bandsaw and my milling machines I want to stick to your style of woodworking just using hand tools. Much as Im able too that is. I enjoy it It so much better than machining. I buy rough timber because of cost and size. So I need the jointer and planer , I’m not quite as proficient as I would like to be flattening a face with a hand plane, ” yet” I can screw one up pretty good though, lol Iv’e got that down pat for sure. Everything is repetition when learning a new skill and I know this. Im enjoying the journey just getting there. I will say this one thing When you find something like woodworking, and you enjoy it so much that you cant even sleep because you just want to get back to the shop and build something , Its no longer a job. anymore .Its crazy that we spend over half our lives doing things that we don’t enjoy just because we don’t know any better. Thats a shame. Thank you for bringing this to my life. Cheers

  5. Paul I have a vee notch in my saw horses, one end of top 4×2″and leave this end longer than yours……very handy when planning edge of a door.
    A piece of scrap clamped to the top and pushed against a wall stops wear on joints as they are made for vertical pressure not end to end movement.

    Best wishes John 2V

  6. Hello Paul

    Any idea when the saw horse video will be available?
    I was on my second attempt when I read that you had filmed it, so I am waiting to see it before I carry on.

    Making the leg angles is my sticking point.

    Many thanks

    1. Yes, I believe this follows the table making series about to start this week so perhaps a couple of months or so I think. Log in to and subscribe as a free subscriber and this will get you logged in for updates. When the series you are interested in come up you can sign in as a paying member and then go back to free subscription if you want to.

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