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July 28, 2006

Which woods are used in chess manufacture?

Filed under: Chess Design — Baron Turner @ 2:43 pm

woodcarving.jpg
Introduction
For good quality chess pieces the woods used are Ebony, Bud Rosewood, Redwood and Rosewood. For lesser quality but still excellent chess pieces, the wood used is Boxwood and Sheesham. For cheap chess pieces the wood is generally not genuine, but is reconstituted wood. Ebony chess pieces, bud rosewood chess pieces, redwood chess pieces are woods used for luxury chess sets available today.

Ebony The ebony tree. The traditional luxury wood preferred in many sets, ebony chess pieces are always in demand. The wood is not black as the pieces suggest, rather has black streaks. A chemical process makes the wood used in chess pieces design solid black. Ebony chess boards give a better idea of the coloring of the wood, the squeares are generally brown with black streaks. The wood is hard and although difficult to work, results in a robust, hard wearing chess piece.

Bud Rosewood Base of the rosewood tree. Although the traditional wood is Ebony, Bud Rosewood has steadily grown in preference for luxury chess sets due to the richer coloring of the pieces with Bud Rosewood. Also called Red Rosewood (but not Redwood), this wood is part of the rosewood tree. The least plentiful part of the tree is the base close to the root. This is Bud Rosewood, and is the part that has the richer coloring potential and is now prized for chess piece production. Bud Rosewood has a minor issue of being less hard wearing, less robust and more brittle than normal rosewood and ebony. Customers often prefer bud rosewood for it’s very rich appearance and accept it’s durability downside. The pieces are very much in demand.

Redwood The Californian redwood tree. The rarest of woods used in wooden chess piece designs. Redwood is similar to bud rosewood other than an extra redness in coloring. This is seen particularly in chess boards, wehere the redness is very obvious and very attractive. See pictures below. Redwood is more durable than bud rosewood and has the coloring sought after in quality chess pieces. The customer just needs to like the reddish color - some do, some dont.

Rosewood Mid part of the rosewood tree. Rosewood is the wood used for the majority of medium quality chess pieces. The grain is oftem highly polished and the wood is very suitable for many uses other than chess pieces (furniture for example). The wood has a good solid density and is generally enhanced by auxiliary weighting. The finished product is robust and hard wearing (though not so much as Ebony). It may be occasionally preferred over it’s rarer sibling - Bud Rosewood, because of it’s harder wearing properties. A good solid wood that mixes the attraction of wood grain, appearance and durability with the slight disadvantage of not such rich coloring as bud rosewood. See the pictures below.

Sheesham Wood The upper part and branches of the sheesham tree. Sheesham is the most misunderstood of woods used in chess piece design, generally due to the fact that it is also known by two other misleading names: Indian Rosewood and Golden Rosewood. The wood is good quality and good for chess piece design. It doesn’t have the same coloring potential as either rosewood or bud rosewood, but it does have good intrinsic density and is easy to work with and robust. The synonyms as above mean that often retailers drop the ‘Indian’ or ‘Golden’ qualifier in the name resulting in just ‘Rosewood’, which is misleading.

Boxwood The boxwood tree. The name belies the quality. The vast majority of lighter sides of chess sets are made from boxwood, whether luxury chess pieces or cheaper, lower-to-medium quality chess sets. The wood has to dry thoroughly (as long as 15 years is required for best drying), so the wood is fairly expensive and valued for chess piece production. Boxwood is often ebonized, or made black, to form a less expensive chess set that has the appearance of ebony. This is a common practice and not at all underhand (as long as they are declared as ‘ebonized’ of course) - indeed some even prefer the aged effect of ebonized, as parts of the wood gets a little lighter. The result is a boxwood chess set for both sides with one of the sides blackened, or ebonized.

Some Examples - click to see the full product…

sheesham example
Sheesham/Boxwood
rosewood example
Rosewood
bud rosewood example
Bud Rosewood
ebony example
Ebony
redwood example
Redwood (Board Too)

Conclusion
The best woods are Ebony, Bud Rosewood, and Redwood. Next in the preferred order is sheesham and boxwood, although boxwood is used in light side luxury chess manufacture too. Cheaper wooden chess sets are made from reconstituted woods. Many chess products imported from China have this lower quality of wood, the type of chess sets generally available in large stores and low quality web sites. For good, enduring chess sets, look for pieces and boards made from sheesham wood or better.





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