For many, chess is just a hobby, something to pass the time between classes or during lunch. The more you play chess, though – especially the more you play it with skilled and experienced players – the more you realize that it is a game with a lot of depth, depth that you can begin to explore if you so choose. You’ll find that chess isn’t just a game of move and countermove, but rather, it is played several turns beyond the first initial moves, a game wherein strategies have been developed, tested, and refined over hundreds of years.
At first, all you need is your chessboard and pieces, but you’ll probably soon realize that your opponents are doing more than just playing lots of chess – they’re reading, the villains! Volume after volume of chess strategy and analysis can be found at your library, at bookstores, and online at chess blogs. Videos of matches, great and small, can be found online or at other archives. All of these resources provide opportunities for study that can’t be ignored if you intend to improve your game.
Once you have really taken the dive into chess, you will find that your simple chess set – cardboard and plastic, in all likelihood – just doesn’t cut it. True devotees to the game tend to invest in a set that either has some meaning to them or which they simply really enjoy the look of. At The Chess Store, a wide variety of styles are available, made from many different materials, painted and unpainted. Regardless of your tastes, the chess set for you can be found with us.
The Wood Option
You can never go wrong with the classics, which is why wood chess sets are among the most popular chess sets for players who are getting serious about chess – or their loved ones who are simply looking for a great gift. Wood chess sets come in two varieties: natural, and stained. Obviously, the wood used varies; maple, elm, ebony, rosewood, and ebony are just some of the types of wood frequently used to craft these works of art. Staining creates even more variety among sets, rendering them darker or lighter, and adding a smoother finish to the board and its pieces.
If you’re looking for something a bit more on the rustic side, an unstained set is probably for you. If you prefer a more refined and practiced look, a stained set will give you exactly what you want. Regardless of the material and staining – or lack thereof – you can trust that these pieces are sturdy. Only the finest wood is used in the chess sets offered by The Chess Store, and this is a set you can use for decades to come. You may even end up giving it to a child or grandchild, continuing the tradition of chess in your family with what has become an antique.
The Metal Option
Of course, for lasting power, nothing quite beats metal. A variety of materials, from brass to nickel to silver, are available; all of them finished beautifully. Some pieces offer a blend of metals, and others are even a blend of metal and wood for those interested in both materials for their set. Metal pieces can also be treated to look “aged”, giving them that green tint that old copper – like the Statue of Liberty – has to it. If you’ve ever wanted to play with a chess set that seems like medieval kings also had a crack at it, a metal set may be for you!
Themed metal sets are also available, with some of them harkening back to the Middle Ages in Europe, and others attempting to call up figures of Greco-Roman mythology. All of the pieces are finely articulated, however, with some surprisingly in-depth and detailed metalwork. When combined with a metal chessboard, the whole set can look incredibly beautiful, as well as somewhat foreboding!
Regardless of whether you choose metal or wood, you can trust that the detail and durability of your set is of the highest caliber when you’re buying from The Chess Store. Whether you’re an enthusiast, a professional, or just getting into the game, the chess boards, pieces, sets, and cases we offer are of the highest quality and used around the world. Once you play with our chess sets, you’ll never want to use another set again!
Monday, August 13, 2012
Unfinished Chess Sets
Is anyone out there looking for unfinished wood chess sets?
Since our beginning we’ve always received a lot of calls from people asking if we carry unfinished chess sets so they could finish the sets themselves. Up until now, the answer has always been no… but maybe some day. It’s taken a while, but after 13 years we finally have unfinished chess sets, so let the orders come in!
We’re starting small to see just how much interest there is now that we actually have them. We’re starting with our most popular and best selling chess set of all time – the good old German Knight Staunton, and in the same 3 sizes we offer our finished chess sets.
The best wood for staining or painting is boxwood because it has a light, consistent color and a nice tight grain. Boxwood is the wood that we use for the white pieces on all of our wood chess sets. The downside to boxwood is that it’s more expensive than a wood such as golden rosewood. But to get the right look and consistent texture, we believe using all boxwood pieces is important.
One thing you’ll notice right off is that unfinished chess sets aren’t a whole lot less expensive than the finished ones. The reason being that nearly all of the work and cost of making the chess set is already done, even though the pieces aren’t finished (weighted and polished). When you think about it, thirty-two pieces of wood had to be cut to the right size from a big log, the wood pieces were then individually chucked up on a lathe and carefully turned to rather precise specifications, and then sanded nice and smooth. Plus, the 4 knights were hand carved one at a time. The pieces were then packaged, crated, and shipped. All in all, making an unfinished chess set is still a heck of a lot of hard, time consuming work.
But the main reason people are looking for an unfinished chess set isn’t to save money anyway. The real reason is that they want to finish the chess set in their own unique and creative way and have fun doing it. There’s definitely satisfaction in taking a plain unfinished chess set and making a beautiful piece of art out of it.
For the purpose of providing some samples to share with people of what can be done we bought a few cans of metallic spray paint at the local hardware store and went to town on some pieces. We found it amazingly easy and fun to create some pretty darn cool looking chess sets. It’s hard to tell the painted wood pieces from real copper, silver, gold, brass, and nickel. We also stained a few sets several bright colors and created some pretty nifty looking chess sets where you can see the grain of the wood. We finished these sets with semi-gloss polyurethane and they turned out amazingly beautiful.
Jerri Koos, our director of marketing who is also a pretty talented craft lady, just for fun took some paints and a brush and created a truly elegant and colorful chess set. In fact, here in the next day or two we’ll get some pictures taken of all of the other ones and get them posted to this blog and Pinterest. The colors, patterns, designs that you can create are endless.
If you decide to stain, here’s something you’ll want to keep in mind. Because boxwood is so hard and has such a tight grain it does not accept some stains very well. We recommend water based dye such as J.E. Moser’s Aniline Dye. These dyes are cheap, easy to mix, and come in just about any color you might want. This dye easily penetrates the wood and with the different grain direction you find on the pieces, the dye creates some unique looking patterns and different intensity of colors.
A couple of more things worth mentioning, these chess sets are not weighted but can be weighted with a little extra work. For the handyman, all you need is a drill press and some lead or steel plugs you can use as weight. It’s a little bit of work but if weight is important, it can be done. The last item is the pads on the bottom. It’s as simple as running down to your local fabric store for some felt. Then it’s just a matter of cutting out some round pieces and gluing them on. FYI, we’ll soon have full sets of cutout felt pads with PSA on one side. Just peel and stick.
We hope that both chess players and crafts people alike will find these unfinished chess sets a lot of fun and a rewarding project. We would love to have you send us pictures of your chess set if you buy one and finish it and we hope to make a page on our web site for posting everyone’s work of art. Paint away!
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Chess Pieces, Chessmen or Chess Set.
That is the question.
From time to time we’ll receive a call from a customer that purchased a chess set and to their surprise and disappointment they did not receive a chess board with it. While we try our best to make it perfectly clear, whether it is just a chess set or if it also includes a chess board, there is that rare occasion when what our customer really wanted simply got lost in translation.
What it really boils down to is what "chess pieces" or "chessmen" might be to one person will be a "chess set" to another. Here at The Chess Store we define “chess set” as a set of 32 or 34 (when 2 spare queens are included) individual chessmen. However, some people define a chess set as a set of chess pieces or chessmen with a chess board. Not an unreasonable use or meaning of the two words and it can go either way but we have chosen the "chess set" road.
From our perspective, a chess set is a chess set and a chess board is a chess board. One does not necessarily imply the inclusion of the other. When we purchase chess sets from our suppliers, our purchase orders state “chess sets” and the items on the invoices we receive are described as “chess sets”. We purchase complete chess sets, not chess pieces.
The term “chess pieces” could be used to describe 2 chess pieces or a million chess pieces, regardless of whether they make a complete and cohesive chess set or not. When you say chess piece you are referring to a single chess piece and the plural form of the word only implies more than one and not necessarily 32. When you use the phrase "chess set", it’s exclusively is in reference to a set of 32 or 34 chess pieces.
It seems to be evenly divided between the stores that use the phrase “chess set” and “chess pieces” to describe a complete set of pieces. For the time being, we’re going to stick with the more traditional use of the word “chess set”. But, someday we might find that we need to convert for consistency sake and use the terms most shoppers have in mind when they think of a chess set.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Wood Chess Boards – Inlaid or Solid?
Over the years we have had a lot of customers that are completely confused about wood chess boards and what they are buying, and it’s understandable. What is an inlaid chess board anyway – what does that mean? And when people look at the chess boards on the website, they certainly look like they are solid wood. Who would know? So let me give a brief dissertation on wood chess boards.
There are really only two types of wood chess boards, a solid wood chess board that is made from nothing but solid pieces of wood glued together and inlaid chess boards that are made from a substrate of some sort, like a particle board (a wood material) and are covered with wood veneer. They are both "real" wood chess boards but they are made differently by using different types of wood material.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of chess board. The first thing one will notice is the price difference between the two. A good quality inlaid chess board with 2.25” squares can be purchased for about a hundred bucks. A good quality solid wood chess board of the same size will cost about 4 to 5 times that much or even more. There are two things in play here; one is that all of that solid wood is pretty darn expensive and two, it’s simply a lot more work and takes a lot more labor (skilled labor at that) to make a chess board from a set of seventy or more solid wood pieces that all have to be perfectly glued together.
There are obviously other differences beyond cost. A solid wood chess board can have a lot more problems than an inlaid board simply because of the solid wood. Solid wood is sensitive to moisture and needs to have been properly cured before being made into a chess board. Solid wood is more apt to warp over time and can develop cracks. The joints of a solid wood chess board can over time start to separate if the wood was not properly cured or if the gluing job was sub par. Having said this, the real craftsmen making wood chess boards for a living know all of these things and are careful about the chess board construction. So you shouldn’t have to worry too much about this if you buy a chess board from a reputable company.
An inlaid chess board can look every bit as beautiful as a solid wood chess board. You will generally have a lot more options with the type of wood you can get with an inlaid chess board. For example, we offer inlaid chess boards in walnut, mahogany, tiger ebony, elm root, teak, rosewood, African padauk and in a range of different color stained veneers as well. It’s a huge choice, whereas solid wood chess boards are more limited due to the availability of solid wood and the cost of it. But you can get a lot more creative with the design of a solid wood chess board simply because you are working with a 3 dimensional pieces of wood rather than a 2 dimensional piece of veneer.
For the money you cannot beat the value of a high quality inlaid chess board. You can get just about any size and any type of wood or color for less than $200. We have our inlaid chess boards made by Rechapados Ferrer in Spain and the quality of their workmanship is remarkable. We also have a nice collection of inlaid chess boards from Italfama in Italy . The quality of these chess boards is excellent as well. We also carry a line of inlaid chess boards made in China . These are decent inlaid chess boards and are an excellent value for the price (less than $70) but the quality is not as good as the Rechapados Ferrer or Italama chess boards and for the price you wouldn’t expect it.
We currently carry two solid wood chess boards made by a company here in the United States . We carry American black walnut and maple and African Padauk and maple. These chess boards are absolutely beautiful and very well made. You would not go wrong with these boards.
We hope this makes it a little easier to choose what type of wood chess board is right for you!
|Inlaid African Padauk and Birds Eye Maple Chess Board|
Sunday, March 11, 2012
What Makes a Good Chess Set?
There’s a lot more to making a good chess set than you would imagine. It starts with a raw piece of wood or maybe even an entire log and culminates in 32 finished chess pieces that have weights inside and pads on the bottom. A tremendous amount of work is required to make even the simplest chess set and times that by ten for the fancier chess sets. Pieces are individually turned on a lathe one at a time and the knights are hand carved with grinding tools, so it's not automatic that a good chess set pops out at the end of the process. Without going into the minutia from our quality documents, we would like to share with you the general characteristics you should find, or not find, on a good chess set.A good or even great chess set is not dependent on how complex or intricate the design is. Our German Knight chess set is terrific for what it is – a good quality, affordable wood chess set for playing the everyday game of chess at home. It’s probably not the chess set you would want to display on an expensive chess board to dress up the décor in your living room but it’s a great chess set for playing. So keep in mind a good chess set is one that fits your needs and one that you just simply like.
Starting from the wood up, a good chess set must be made from a very hard and dense wood such as sheesham (golden rosewood), boxwood, rosewood, ebony, red sandalwood, or padauk. These woods make up nearly all of the good quality wood chess sets in the world, all of which come from India. Soft wood such as pine or wood with an open grain such as oak are not suitable for making chess sets.
The color of the wood should be consistent within the set. For example, a rosewood chess set should not have a mix of dark brown pieces with the more typical orange-burgundy colored pieces. Mixing two different colors looks odd and can appear as though the pieces are made from totally different types of wood, even though they are not. The only wood that is almost never a problem is ebony – black is black.
A good chess set will be in good condition. You will not find pieces that are cracked, broken, dented, scratched, or chipped. Pieces should be sanded smooth so there are no visible lines from being turned on the lathe or at the very least, the lines should be very faint and hard to see. Pieces should be polished to a fine luster to bring out the grain and color of the wood while ebony should look almost like black glass. Beautiful to touch.
A good chess set will be weighted and most chess sets are. The higher priced chess sets are usually weighted more than the less expensive sets. The weights are important to give the chess piece stability on the chess board so that it won't easily tip over or get knocked over during the course of a game. It’s important the weights do not protrude beyond the base because this will cause the piece to lean and wobble on the board. A good quality baize or billiard cloth pad should cushion the bottom and also serves to cover the weight. Cheap felt paper is the sign of a cheap set. Some sets have leather pads; however, we believe that baize is far superior. Leather does not provide a good cushion and it can grab on a chess board instead of smoothly sliding.
Pieces need to be visually straight up and down while sitting on the chess board. They should not be tilted or leaning to one side or the other and they should not be warped (rarely seen). The profile of the piece should be symmetrical and the height of the pieces should be the same (i.e., all rooks the same height) as should be the diameter of the base. The knights should look alike and the features should look the same from piece to piece. For example, the size of the eye should be the same on all 4 knights and located in the same place on the head. Some variation will be seen from knight to knight because they are individually carved by hand but the variation should be minimal and barely noticeable without careful studying.Even though we tout all of our chess sets as being high quality (and they are), more time and attention is spent on the higher priced chess sets than on the simpler and less expensive ones. And, if you’re spending several hundred to over a thousand dollars on a chess set, you should expect that more attention and emphasis was given to the fine detail - you're paying for it! Think of it like a sliding scale in terms of how much time is spent on a chess set. The less expensive it is, the less time that is spent on it. The more expensive it is, the more time that is spent on it. However, the fundamentals that make a good chess set remain largely the same.
The last thing we want to point out is that no chess set is perfect. We look at thousands of chess sets every year and we will find tiny imperfections on even the most perfect set. It’s just a matter of how big a magnifying glass you use. Each chess set has its own unique character, from the wood chosen to the skill of the craftsman making the pieces.
Just to summarize, here are the 8 most important things that make a good chess set:
1. Good quality hard wood
2. Consistent color from piece to piece
3. Good condition - no cracks, broke pieces, dents, scratches, or chips
4. Pieces should be sanded smooth and polished to a fine luster
5. Pieces should be weighted and the weights should not protrude beyond the base
6. Baize pads
7. Pieces should be visually straight, symmetrical, be the same height and have the same base diameter
8. Knights should look the same
These are the basics of a good wood chess set. Get your chess set out and see how it stands up to this check list.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
The New Wood on the Block
If you’ve spent much time looking at chess sets online you’ve probably seen those beautiful red-orange color blood rosewood chess sets. And, you may have wondered why The Chess Store doesn’t carry blood rosewood chess sets. Well, we would like to set the record straight and share with you why that is. There is a blood wood and there are several species of rosewood, but the truth be known, there’s no such thing as blood rosewood. What is mistakenly being calling blood rosewood is in reality – padauk or African padauk (aka Pterocarpus soyauxii).
African padauk is one of the most colorful of all the exotic woods and the term “blood rosewood” is definitely a good description. We just recently started carrying African padauk chess sets and we decided to refrain from the blood rosewood name, we’re sticking with African Padauk. Our padauk chess sets come from India where nearly all of the world’s decent wood chess sets come from. African Padauk is easily sourced in India and is about the same cost as ebony – rather expensive.
The use of African Padauk for chess sets is actually pretty new. The old standard for reddish color chess sets was red sandalwood. But India banned the export of red sandalwood and existing inventories have slowly been depleting to where there are very few red sandalwood sets left. We have a very small quantity left and the selection is getting smaller every day.
While red sandalwood is a pretty wood, African padauk is a lot more colorful and polishes to beautiful luster on the buffing wheel. Another nice characteristic of African padauk is that it does not darken nearly as bad as red sandalwood. What many people don’t know is that red sandalwood can look nice and red at the beginning (brand new chess set) but it will darken to a deep burgundy, almost black, in just a couple of years. The oil in red sandalwood reacts with UV light accelerating the patina process. There’s no way around this except for keeping your chess set in the dark.
While red sandalwood chess sets will become rarer and perhaps even more valuable, if you want a chess set that just simply looks gorgeous, consider African padauk. There’s not another wood out there that makes a more beautiful chess set or chess board for that matter. We have padauk chess boards and they’re just as beautiful. When you get a chance we invite you to check out our new padauk sets, boards, and complete packages. You’ll enjoy the color!