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Wooden Chess Pieces

Many of our homes are built using timber and many are filled with wooden objects, furniture, or things that incorporate wood. Many musical instruments are made from fine woods, and vast amounts of wood panelling and carvings covered the walls of the homes of the rich throughout modern history. We feel comfortable surrounded by wood, and it is such a versatile material, with natural beauty and a variety of colour and distinctive looks.

Woods from various species of tree can be identified by their grain and colour, but even wood from different parts of the same tree may not match exactly in appearance. As a tree grows it absorbs minerals at different rates at different times, according to climatic conditions, and this affects the colour and characteristics of the grain in various parts of the wood.

Most chess pieces in the world today are fashioned from wood, each piece individually crafted. White wood chess pieces are mostly carved from boxwood. Black pieces, if not made from ebony or an ebonized wood will appear as various shades of brown. These will include sheesham wood, mahogany and golden rosewood. Luxury woods for more expensive sets will feature finer mahogany, rosewood and red sandalwood and the materials used will have been carefully selected for colour and the grain.

Ebony Chess Pieces

Ebony is a luxury black or very dark brown wood noted for its extreme density and hardness. It is used for making black piano keys, fingerboards and tuning pegs on stringed instruments, oboes and clarinets, and is crafted into beautiful furniture items and artistic sculptures for the home. Ebony trees are found in tropical rainforests of Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Indian subcontinent. The desirability of the characteristic black ebony is further enhanced by its rarity, which is down to the growth habit of the trees. They grow in isolation, not in clusters and are all wild trees, not given to being grown in plantations. A good tree can be 200 years old before it can be cut for its wood, and logging around the world is controlled, ebony trees being a threatened species, although much illegal logging has almost depleted the supply in parts of Africa. It is not easily sustainable and the limited supplies available are used for small items.

Because of its high value, ebony is made available to the very best artists and craftsmen. The chess pieces made from this prized wood will be beautifully hand carved.
The darkest colours are to be found in the centre sections of the most mature trees, and the ones that grow slowly at higher altitudes. Young ebony tree wood and the outer sections of mature trees are much lighter. Some ebony wood is black but with a distinctive, lighter stripe.

Ebonised Wood Chess Pieces

India is home to craftsmen creating luxury ebony chess pieces, usually matched with boxwood for the white pieces. If you want the look without the price tag, or you do not want to buy wood chess pieces made from threatened species, then you can purchase a chess set carved from a lighter hardwood, usually boxwood, which has been 'ebonised' - that is treated to appear black by a chemical reaction with iron oxide. Staining wood black will not eliminate the original wood grain from showing through. Ebonizing on the other hand creates an opaque, pitch-black wood, almost indistinguishable in appearance from real ebony and makes a wooden chess set to be envied.

Wooden Chess Sets

Making chess sets from hardwoods involves turning and carving the individual pieces. The variations in cost depend on the degree of workmanship and the time it takes a craftsman to complete a set of chess pieces. The most skill in carving goes into the knights, the 'knight carver' often working exclusively on these chessmen. It is important when looking at the different woods used to create chess pieces that they are matched to a board of an equal quality, a suitable colour and size.

Chess Pieces come in a variety of materials but wood is without doubt the most common. Chessmen have been crafted from wood for literally hundreds of years. Our range of wooden chess pieces features a wide variety of designs and styles from classic Staunton chess sets through to intricate hand carved eastern designs. We have sourced all of our wooden chess pieces from the worlds finest producers of chess sets and can boast some of the best quality and well finished sets in the UK. The process of crafting a wooden chess piece is long and has many stages. From cutting and turning through to final polishing, each stage requires skill and precision.

Rare Exotic Hardwood Chessmen

The range of wooden chess pieces we stock features some gorgeous hard woods. In almost all cases the white side of a set of chess pieces is always made from boxwood, a hard yellow wood that has been used for hundreds of years to make chessmen. Indeed the iconic Staunton chessmen were made using this wood from day one. The dark side of the chessmen can be made from a variety of woods. Ebony is the most traditional and was always used for the dark chessmen on the original Staunton and pre Staunton designs. Ebony is an extremely dense black hardwood that can be jet black. When polished it is so dense it can take on an almost plastic appearance.

The price of ebony has soared in recent years resulting in big price hikes for chessmen. Thankfully there are other alternatives when it comes to wood used for the dark chessmen. For those that still want the traditional ebony look there are 'ebonised' pieces. These are boxwood pieces that have been dyed black and polished to resemble ebony. They are very convincing and take on the classic ebony appearance. For those that favour beauty over tradition we have a range of other exotic hard woods that exhibit rich tones and grains. Rosewood and sandalwood are two rare woods that look absolutely beautiful, they make excellent chessmen and these woods mature like a good wine. Another lovely wood that is considerably cheaper is Sheesham wood, also known as golden rosewood or Indian rosewood. This is a mid brown wood with rich golden tones, it makes great chess pieces and is ideal for those who prefer a lighter coloured chess piece.

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