Chess Woods Guide
The majority of our chess pieces and boards are crafted from different types of wood. Below you will find descriptions and photos of the features, aesthetics and properties of our various woods.
Sheesham or Golden Rosewood
Sheesham, (Indian or Golden Rosewood), a premier species of the rosewood genus, is commonly used in the crafting of chess pieces and chess boards. The heartwood is golden to dark brown and is quite durable. It is readily available in regions of India and Pakistan in fine cabinets, veneers, musical instruments and of course chess pieces and chess boards. Once polished, waxed or otherwise finished, the grain patterns are very pleasing to the eye.
Boxwood, from several species of the genus ‘Buxus’, is a fine grained light wood that is commonly used for white pieces and the ‘ebonized’ (stained) black pieces. A slow growing tree, it is one of the few woods denser than water. This durable wood is available in different grades according to grain patterns and colour. As it is as relatively common wood in regions of Europe and Asia, it is an economical choice.
Ebonized Boxwood is simply normal Boxwood that has been stained black to simulate Ebony. Although not as luxurious as Ebony, it is much more resistant to the variations in humidity that may develop slight fissures in Ebony pieces. It makes for a very robust and attractive dark black chess piece.
Walnut is known for various shades of reds, purples and yellows. The English walnut, Juglans regia, is commonly used in the construction of borders and squares on chess boards. It is also used in high end furniture as its fine grain is known for its attractive variations.
Wenge, Millettia laurentii. is a naturally dark wood native to western Africa. It is very similar to Ebony, but can be differentiated by the appearance of slight purple/blue hues in some lighting conditions. It is used extensively in the construction of chess boards as a more economical choice than that the luxury wood Ebony. Wenge features a very fine tight grain that is very popular in segmented woodturning and chess boards – it has dimensional stability and a marked colour contrast with lighter woods such as Boxwood and Maple. The colour of Wenge is very close to that used in black chess pieces, so it is an excellent complement to the harmonious appearance of a chess set.
Ebony, genus Diospyros, is a valuable ornamental wood that has been used in carved pieces for millennia, such as those found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The naturally dark wood contains very subtle streaks within its grain. This luxury wood is used in high end pianos for the black keys, in viola, violin and cello fingerboards, and in high end chess pieces.
Rosewood, genus Dalbergia, is a richly hued darkish red coloured wood used in the crafting of luxury furniture, musical instruments and medium to high end chess pieces and chess boards. As is inferred by its name, Rosewood has an aromatic sweet smell that can persist many years after it has been cut.
Bud Rosewood is rosewood from the base of the trunk or roots of the Rosewood tree. As this wood is both exceptional beautiful and relatively rare, in the world of chess pieces it is reserved for only the finest sets.
Palisander, Dalbergia retosa, is an uncommon Rosewood used in the making of chess boards and chess cases. The dense uniform straight grain is just lighter than Indian Rosewood. The wood comes in various grades according to shade of reds and quality of grain.
Redwood, genus Metasequoia, comes from a family of trees known to exist since the Jurassic period. Although similar in appearance to Rosewood, it more durable and has a darker red shading. Ideally is used in the carving of chess pieces rather than as squares in chess boards.
Red Sandalwood, Pterocarpus santalinus, is of such history and so precious that it was once presented to King Solomon (c 920 BC). This highly esteemed wood is quite stunning to behold in a luxury chess piece. The deep red colouring and fine grain make this a perfect wood for an epicurean chess set.
Briar wood, Erica arborea, is a moderately red/yellow wood used in luxury chess sets and chess piece cases. The tuber of this tree is typically harvested after 30 to 60 years, exposed to extreme heat, dried over several months, then processed into high end tobacco pipes and chess pieces. This wood is favoured by Italian manufacturers of luxury chess boards.
Mahogany, genus Swietenia, is a richly coloured tropical hardwood. At harvest orange or pinkish hues appear, but as it cures into a deep dark reddish brown colour. This rare wood has traditionally been used in high end furniture and cabinetry as well as the finest musical instruments. Chess boards are usually made in a veneer, but sometimes with solid squares as well.
Maple, genus Acer, is a light wood that may almost appear to be white. As such, it is perfect for the white squares on a chess board. Wood from this fast growing deciduous tree is readily available in many regions of the world.
Erable (‘Maple’ en francais) is a variety of the Maple family. This light coloured wood has an almost ‘quilted’ grain that appears quite beautiful when finished in various colours –used in many of our chess boards.
White Wood is a light wood similar to Pine. Not a hardwood, it is not sufficiently dense to turn into chess pieces. Typically it is used for the frames of less expensive chess cases.
Beech, Fagus Sylvatica, is a lightly coloured wood with nice clean grain lines. Very common in Europe, chess set manufacturers typically use it in chess boards. It can be stained in many different dark colours for the dark squares.
Birch, genus Betula, is a light but strong wood abundant throughout Europe. Typically used in medium end chess sets, it appears to have an attractive satin-like sheen. The wood must be cured, as it loses up to 15% of its mass in the drying process prior to use by craftsmen or woodworkers.
The Common Hornbeam, genus Carpinus, is found in high northern temperate regions across Europe and Asia. The heavy hardwood is light in colour with a fine grain. It is not commonly used in turned wood as it is difficult to carve, but is used by several European chess set manufacturers. It is a sturdy dense wood that will last longer than you do!