The Types of Wood for Chess Pieces

Whether you are interested in making a chess set by hand or you would just like to have a finer appreciation for wooden handmade chess pieces, you should be aware of the details about this particular form of art.

Rarer woods for crafting a specific type or style of chesspiece are obviously going to cost you a lot more. An important point to bear in mind is that if you are going to get a type of wood that is not native to your country, it may need more care such as oiling to prevent cracking and splitting. Try to choose woods that come from a similar sea level/humidity to the one where you’re living.


Boxwood is the most commonly used wood for chesspieces or ‘chessmen’. It is a solid wood with a clean detail and consistent colouring. Its hardness allows for it to be carved very delicately without falling apart as some softer woods might. It is also not a very expensive wood. It comes from a tree called, as you may have guessed, the boxwood tree.


Ebony is a very dense, solid wood. When polished properly it is a dark, almost black, colour. It was used in the famous original Jacques chessmen from the mid-1800s. It is one of the main types of materials used for chessmen – the black pieces. Due to the higher cost of ebony today, it is becoming the reserve of the wealthy.


Rosewood is a complex brown colour with red details. It is often chosen for its aesthetic appeal and its wood is softer than ebony. Because rosewood tends to have a lot of naturally occurring oil, it makes for a difficult task to lacquer them.


Sheesham is also known as North Indian Rosewood. It is abundantly available in India. It tends to be quite oily so lacquering is not always an option, but it does polish very smoothly. Due to its abundance and ease of availability, many mass-produced sets are made from Sheesham.

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