Woods used in chess set production

Jul 26, 2008, 12:44 PM |

Thought I would get a post down about the various different woods used to make chess sets. Other materials will be covered in another blog entry. Let me know if i have missed any obvious ones out


Lets start with Sheesham wood. This is a wood you often see used in the production of chess sets. Not surprisingly this wood comes from the Sheesham tree. It's a good dense wood that is not too expensive. It lasts well and allows fairly decent detail on the chess pieces when needed. Sometimes less honest chess set traders pass this off as rosewood.



True to form this wood comes from a boxwood tree. A light coloured wood that weighs in quite low. It's often used to make the 'white' chess pieces and the light squares of a chess board. Not a hugely expensive wood but finer grades of it can be quite pricey. Boxwood is often stained black to look like ebony. Honest chess set traders refer to this as ebonized boxwood, less honest ones will sell them as ebony pieces. Thankfully it's not too hard to spot the difference between the two.



Ebony is classed as a luxury wood. Used by Gibson Guitars for the fingerboards of some of the fine guitars this wood looks almost black once it's been treated. naturally it is a dark brown with attractive streaks of reddish brown but chemical treating makes it dense black. A lovely wood for fine chess pieces, dense and hard it gives a classic look that we all know and love.



Rosewood is another luxury wood. There are variants, these can depend on which part of the tree the wood is harvested from. Simple Rosewood was used by Fender guitars for their fingerboards from about 1959 onwards and was always considered a cheaper alternative to Ebony. With a slightly reddish tinge  this wood is dense yet not too hard, which made for lovely fingerboards on the guitars. Bud rosewood comes from the lower part of the tree and is considered more luxury. It has deeper red tones to it and is used  in many luxury high end chess sets.

Brazilian Rosewood is an excellent wood but the harvest of it is now prohibited. There is a school of thought that high quality items made from this wood will increase in value as the scarcity of the wood increases. One American luxury guitar maker negotiated with the Brazilian authorities to be able to harvest the meter high tree stumps that remained from past deforestation.



Not to be confused with rosewood. As the name suggests this wood is quite red in colour, much like the bud rosewood. It is however more durable and therefore more expensive. If you like your chess pieces with some deep red colouring then this is the wood to look for.


Rubber wood

Rubber wood is a wood used extensively in China for the production of wooden toys and games. Well selected rubber wood can look clean and dense. Lower grade cuts however take on a dirty dull look. Generally speaking a rubber wood chess set wont disclose the wood that's been used. Expect to find it on cheap Chinese made sets and silk screened chess boards.



A soft wood that many of us are familiar with. Cheaper than Rubber wood pine represents the lower end of the chess sets you can buy. Used in cheap mass produced boards and pieces. The softness of the wood does not allow for accurate detailed carvings of the pieces. Any hard edges will just wear away in time. Try to avoid this wood unless you are seeking a very light weight and budget chess set.



Maple is a light coloured wood, fairly dense and heavy. Used extensively in musical instrument production as well as some chess products. Noted for ageing quite nicely. When new it can take on a very white appearance, 30 years down the line this can yellow nicely. Can sometimes exhibit nice flame patterns although these are generaly too large to make any difference to chess set production. Usually used for the tops of fine guitars.