Truly Flat Chessboards: Do They Exist?

MGT88

I have owned a handful of different boards, from different manufacturers, over the course of my relatively new/short collecting career, and I have noticed that while each board looks perfectly flat to the naked eye, each board does in fact display some level of warpage upon closer inspection (usually gentle convex or concave cupping).

There was a high-end line of chessboards made by a company called Summerville-New England, which claimed its boards *resisted* warpage better than anything else on the market (for a period of five years, guaranteed), through some fancy engineering (https://www.chesshouse.com/collections/summerville-new-england-chessboards); this got me thinking...if the best engineering available results in (at best) "(holding) surface flatness and (preventing) warping to a high degree of correctness" for a period of five years, what should we expect from boards made with inferior techniques? Creating a perfectly flat chessboard (that also retains this shape indefinitely) may seem easy to the layman, but I think it is actually quite difficult; wood movement is inevitable.

Obviously this is just nitpicking, however, as a perfectionist, I offer this post as comfort for my OCD brethren.

Let me know what you think.

MGT88
PawnstormPossie wrote:

Thin or long pieces of wood and humidity don't go well together.

A climate controlled environment should help the lesser engineered products.

Definitely, however in the case of the boards I have owned (which are higher-end), they arrived fresh out of the woodshop in slightly warped condition. I actually took photos etc. of my boards when they arrived and examined them months later to see if my home environment had any affect on them, and I determined that their condition hadn't changed (kudos to the manufacturer in that regard). Just to reiterate again, however, 95% of people would not consider these boards "warped"; the level of warpage I'm referring to is quite minuscule.

greghunt

"perfectly flat" is an undefined term, so its impossible to say what the border between that and not perfectly flat is (let alone whatever "high degree of correctness" means).  Plywood or chemically impregnated timbers tend not to warp as much as solid, untreated timber.  Traditional boards are veneered rather than made from blocks so the pattern of movement is a bit simpler.  Solid timber moves over time, its just the nature of the material.  

52yrral

I have a simple flat marble chessboard. happy.png

MGT88
52yrral wrote:

I have a simple flat marble chessboard.

smart man

MGT88
greghunt wrote:

"perfectly flat" is an undefined term, so its impossible to say what the border between that and not perfectly flat is (let alone whatever "high degree of correctness" means).  Plywood or chemically impregnated timbers tend not to warp as much as solid, untreated timber.  Traditional boards are veneered rather than made from blocks so the pattern of movement is a bit simpler.  Solid timber moves over time, its just the nature of the material.  

Yes it starts to get technical, akin to the roundest object in the world being 99% round (a man-made sphere) or the blackest  object in the world absorbing 99% of the light that hits it. The other difficulty is actually finding a flat surface (most surfaces are not actually flat) or other mechanism to test the flatness...I would also add that combining various woods (dark/light squares, frame, etc.) into a single object (the board) adds to the issue...seems like it would be better to make the board out of a single wood and stain the dark squares.

DENVERHIGH

This is flat because it is covered with high temp glass . . . It’s a butterfly wings board made in Brazil in 1930's . . . They aren't made anymore. . . Endangered species . . .

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MGT88
DENVERHIGH wrote:

This is flat because it is covered with high temp glass . . . It’s a butterfly wings board made in Brazil in 1930's . . . They aren't made anymore. . . Endangered species . . .

.                                                   

I had a piece of tempered glass made to put under my boards; I just assumed that glass would be perfectly flat, however, I discovered that the piece of glass I had made is not actually perfectly flat (it is bowed upward, like a dome) and then looked into it online; apparently tempered glass is almost always warped because of the manufacturing process. That is a beautiful board you have there though.

MGT88
PawnstormPossie wrote:

Coming from a Quality background, I can tell you special processes and their control brings a greater level of quality.

You're not going to stop wood from "warping" when exposed to humidity and/or temperature changes.

When you place a board on a table, the top is more exposed to the elements than the bottom. The grain structure/alignment dictates how the wood naturally flexes.

They seem to understand these things and have designed a product to lessen the natural effects and mechanically secure the wood to limit movement even further without complete restriction. 

Truly flat can be achieved, maintaining it is the hardest part.

As long as you wax it when/how needed and keep it away from temperature/humidity changes (as much as possible), it should last much longer than the 5 years before any cracking or seperation would occur .

A single piece of wood will warp more easily. How would you prevent bleeding from a dark to light square if staining the squares?

Yeah this is why I temperature/humidity control my home office (where I store my boards) and store my boards vertically (so each side is equally exposed to the environment). I have a board where each square is "carved out" (hard to describe), I'm sure a similar technique could be used for square staining (i.e., carve out each square with a recess for the stain to pool into). It just seems to me that gluing long strips of different types of wood together begs for cracking/separation/warping issues; that said, I'm no woodworker, just a thought.

MGT88
PawnstormPossie wrote:

Re: carving squares for staining

You'll still have the issue, only now it will be in the recess.

Re: gluing long strips

Probably the weakest link. There's not a lot to encourage the separation/cracking.

I help build 2 custom 21' shuffleboard tables. Everything is magnified over that distance. The boards are constantly exposed to temperature/humidity changes due to being near doors with lots of traffic. They have adjustability though.

Re: storing boards vertically 

Could be more difficult than it appears. If they're leaning slightly to one side, gravity can eventually have it's effects. Just letting air flow underneath should be sufficient. 5 small felt pads (dime size) would work.

Yeah they are leaning to one side; I considered the effect of gravity but figured it was less of a concern than unequal humidity...I rotate my boards to help with this. I have thought about laying the boards flat and raising them up with something (like felt pads as you suggest), maybe I'll look into that again.

magictwanger

There is no way to keep wood from taking on and losing humidity.One simply must expect some movement over time.The best way to keep a board is to have the room properly humidified all year long.I use a small in room cool mist humidifier(Vornado makes very reliable ones).I have done this for over 25 years,with my guitars and now the chess collection(which has grown quite a bit,since selling off my guitars....hand irritation,due to the "age thing").

I originally stored my boards vertically and had no issues,but I now place them flat,under the coffee table,in my hobby/chess room,where I rotate different sets and boards on.I also have an acrylic dust cover over these sets(because I am also OCD....but it looks great...Ha).

Overall I am quite pleased with the stability so far and the overall appearance is quite nice....If the wife likes it,I must have done something right.-happy.png

MGT88
hahaha, yeah I do my best temperature/humidity control my office year round too (I have a humidifier and hygrometer)
magictwanger

I'll tell ya' how OCD I am....I have 2 hygrometers in the room.The wife knew I was nuts when she agreed to marry me.-happy.png

MGT88
LOL; I have a back-up hygrometer, just not in use
greghunt

Finding a surface that has measured flatness is actually fairly easy, they are called surface plates.  If you want something that is dimensionally stable and not likely to split (blocks will all warp in different directions, a single piece will warp in fewer directions) put veneer on both sides of marine ply, but in this forum thats an un-cool answer.  

Eyechess

Actually I agree with the veneer on both sides of marine ply.  So I guess I am also not cool.

About 20 years ago I made a folding board like this except only put the veneer on one side.  I also used Soss hinges, yeah major stuff.

I gave the board to a then young soon to be master.  I saw the board a couple of months ago and it’s still flat. 

52yrral

You cool for giving him that board! happy.png

greghunt
Eyechess wrote:

Actually I agree with the veneer on both sides of marine ply.  So I guess I am also not cool.

About 20 years ago I made a folding board like this except only put the veneer on one side.  I also used Soss hinges, yeah major stuff.

I gave the board to a then young soon to be master.  I saw the board a couple of months ago and it’s still flat. 

Come to that, MDF is flatter, would work even better and would be even more uncool.  win/win/win!

magictwanger

Btw,unrelated but so nice....That butterfly wing board is absolutely amazing! Love it!