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Struggling to pick first wood set

  • #1

    Howdy folks-

    I recently picked up a very used chess table, which used to belong to a book store. I'd like to get a wood chess set to sit upon it.  My main requirements are that (1) it be ebony (ebonized) and as close to a tan/camel as possible for white, (2) the knight not look like it has rabies (or look like it's awaiting a dental exam), and (3) it be as heavily weighted as possible. It has 2" squares pre-built, and my plastic 3 3/4" set fits to my satisfaction, so I'd like to match that in dimensions. I do realize picking a set is largely personal preference but some discussion of options would be fun & useful for me.

    Money isn't a huge deal but around $75 seems like a good max (since this is mainly for study and aesthetics, because I have no one to play with).

    I can't make up my mind as to whether I like the Zagreb sets or not...

    I've been looking at some of the following:

    French wholesale chess set


    'supreme' wood set; not sure the knight is sane looking? I also think the bishop looks very fragile at the tip.


    French set from chessusa (worth the price jump?? I think this set weighs less than wholesale chess french, too)


    Fairly handsome 'monarch' set:



    Any thoughts would be most appreciated.


  • #2

    well, if its just for study i wouldnt get an expensive one to begin with. and for types of wood for a set that you would use for the purposes would be best to choose box wood or rosewood (the white/tan kind) . those are just thoughts im not actually sure though what you like

  • #3

    I would advise against "ebonized" (painted) pieces for a working set as the paint will wear and flake over time.

    I have this set (US$100) and would recommend it to others:


  • #4

    yea i would stay away from the paint. maybe try something just pure sanded woof with a clear finish would be nice :)

  • #5

    2" squares are rather small - pick a set where the King's base doesn't exceed 1.5"...

    Regarding ebonized pieces - they're stained not painted. You should easily get 20-30 years of use without the stain diminishing. But yes, do stay away from painted/lacquered pieces.

  • #6

    A difficulty is that the term "ebonized" can mean pieces either stained or painted depending on the vendor or manufacturer.  The more uniform the color and the more smooth the finish, then the more likely it's paint and not stain.  Yet the painted version looks more like real ebony -- at first.

    A piece set made with real ebony is beautiful and long lasting.  But these sets are expensive, costing two or more times as much as an "ebonized" version.  (That's why I have only one of them.)  Further, it seems that the price of ebony sets increases year after year because of the increase in labor cost (ebony requires much time and skill to carve) and the decrease in ebony wood availability.

    Adage: If you have to stare at something for hours at a time, then it better be good looking or know how to cook.

  • #7

    you have a good point on the adage! but in that case it all comes down on how much you want to invest and devote yourself to the set you want to your liking

  • #8

    I recall some long ago visits to a chess club where the club provided piece sets for those who didn't bring their own.  These were wooden economy sets with painted black pieces.  These saw a lot of use and exhibited many battle scars as would be expected.  Because the painted pieces wold lose much paint by scratching and flaking, they were occasionally re-conditioned by a dip in a can of glossy black paint.  The result: a uniform color, but with tangible steaks and drips of dried paint.

    In another venue where sets were provided, stained black pieces were in use.  Because a stain shade is necessarily a depth based gradient, it was possible to measure the relative hand contact area usage for the black pieces.  The sides of the black pawn balls were quite light while the bases of the black pieces were still close to the original stain color.  Because of the accumulation of hand oils, I doubt if the pieces could be successfully re-stained.

  • #9

    Yet there are some advantages for "ebonized" pieces:

    1. The money saved by buying an ebonized set might be enough to buy one or two additional sets to be used as spares or gifts.

    2. An ebonized set used only for display will not show any signs of wear, and many who see it might think that real ebony has been used.

    3. For a younger person getting their first set, perhaps as a gift, an ebonized set is more likely to be preferred to any plastic set.

    4. An ebonized set has more uniform color compared to an ebony set if the ebony used is of poor quality with significant light shade streaking.

  • #10

    I bought 2 lacquered players series house of Staunton sets about 15 years ago and neither chipped yet. I really like both sets.

    I also have the second and something very close to the last set you list both are nice. The French sets wood work looks a bit too basic for my taste.

  • #11

    I agree with niceforkinmove. A standard Saunton set - 2" or 2.5" as regard to board size. (perhaps a member(s) could confirm that 2.5" squares are standard for competitions?) 

  • #12

    FIDE says the edge of a square should be in the range 5.0 cm to 6.5 cm.  The Imperial equivalents are 1.97 inches to 2.56 inches.

    The middle of the range is 5.75 cm (2.26 inches).

  • #13

    I have a dyed black ( ebonized ) set & is just fine after 25+ years. You could always ask the dealer if they are painted or dyed black. Also, you could go with Shesham brown pieces or dyed brown pieces or even rosewood. Lots of choices out there. Never heard of painted black pieces unless maybe its made in China?

  • #14

    Also, check out Rochester chess center & Legend products. Both offer weighted nice wood pieces.

  • #15

    To the OP, check out a few videos on YouTube about the ebonizing process. Ebonizing is not painting or dyeing. It is a chemical reaction that changes the top layer of the wood black.

    I've had several ebonized sets for years that are as black as ebony today as they were when first bought. The comments about playing with the set vs. display are relevant only if you expect to be very rough with the pieces (blitz, slamming pieces down hard, knocking them violently off the board, etc.) if you chip the wood, you will see the boxwood underneath. However, if you don't expect to play with gorillas, an ebonized set will look great and save you a wad of cash.

  • #16

    Just checked ... The last ebonized set I purchased was $130 less than the same set in ebony. Jet black with a smooth finish. With that savings, you could get a nice box for them or a matching board.

  • #17

    9kick9 wrote:

    I have a dyed black ( ebonized ) set & is just fine after 25+ years. You could always ask the dealer if they are painted or dyed black. Also, you could go with Shesham brown pieces or dyed brown pieces or even rosewood. ULots of choices out there. Never heard of painted black pieces unless maybe its made in China?






    I have this in black and white and red and white. The white pieces are natural boxwood with lacquer.  I like the shiney look of laquered pieces.  I have a laquered board that goes very well with the set.   I


    As far as chipping pieces I guess i would use shoe polish or a marker if the under wood was a a different color.  But if a piece chips its not going to be perfect anyway.  But like I said these pieces are 15 years old and no chips.

    Edit: my white pieces are not the ivory they are just the natural boxwood. The have a nice golden hue. 

  • #18

    An alternative to a wooden set is this one made from resin:


    At US$90, the price is higher than a regular plastic set, but much lower than a comparable wood set.  I have one, and it's a good choice for someone who likes heavy, large pieces.  It came with a nice wooden slide-top storage box and an introductory chess pamphlet.

  • #19

    Thats a nice looking set!


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