Burnt wood chess board with hidden compartment.


This project started with me wanting to make a steam engine. I recently got a small metal lathe which is ideal for making metal engines. Unfortunately I have very little experience with lathes and I thought that a good way to learn it to make chess pieces – which of course means that I needed a chess board. As with many projects there were a lot of things I wanted to try including burning the wood. Everything worked reasonably well (see below for some issues that I had*) and the result is a functioning chess board with a hidden compartment.

The playing area of the chess board itself can be removed from rest of the structure. It is within the regulation size for official chess tournament and the pieces will match the size. The locking mechanism to keep the board in place is very simple but well hidden. Once the board is removed a secret box is revealed. There are two riddles and eight dials (each dial has 10 letters) on the lid. It means that there are 100000000 possible combinations. Unfortunately box is made from 3 mm plywood – which is not very strong. The point of the box is not security but more as a fun side project. I may make smaller versions of this lock box into kits to sell.

The riddles on the inner box, as well as the text on the border of the inner chess board, is in a font I created. I wanted something that looked a bit more decorative than normal text. I actually spent a lot of time on making the font (not only the letters but actually making it into a font file). The font itself is based on a “secret code” we used as kids. It is quite easy to decipher and there is some help on the sides of the secret box. The text around the sides are chess related quotes. I think the font works reasonably well as a decoration.

font example


*One of the problems I had was that the wood I used for the outer box was not very straight. I used pallet wood (I think maple) and random pieces of other wood that I found here and there. Bent wood is usually not such a big problem but when burning the problem is made much worse. After burning it is also not possible to plane or sand the pieces to fit this will remove the burnt sections – which is what you wanted in the first place. I ended up using a lot of clamps during assembly to get the pieces into the correct places but I also made loads of little custom changes to make the box as square as possible.


I was also able to use the lathe in making of the board. I turned the small handles for the drawers and the four feet. They are definitely not identical but close enough that the differences are invisible when standing 40 cm apart. I am quite happy with how they turned out – and quite hopeful that I can make chess pieces that look similar enough to each other. This is of course the next step and I have already made 4 pawns. I am looking forward to the next few weeks making the other 28 pieces. I have not yet decided how I will darken the black pieces but it will probably not be with fire. Whatever I decide will be in the next update and video.

“The blunders are all there on the board waiting to be made.”