Making a maker: laser cutting a chessboard

Last week, I showcased a beautiful chess board that I was hoping to make at TechShop with a laser cutter. After a lot of trial and error with 3D printers, I was prepared for it to be a tough project that wouldn’t yield quite the same result.

Photo courtesy of Instructables user nikoala3.

Photo courtesy of Instructables user nikoala3.

But in the end, the board turned out perfectly. Laser cutters are a lot more forgiving of the inevitable mistakes, and it didn’t hurt to have some in-depth help from the TechShop staff.

Laser cutting began with a few sheets of wood (particle board sandwiched between two layers of birch veneer). We set each one on the bed of the machine and closed the lid.

TechShop laser cut chessboard Each design begins as a file. I downloaded the board from Instructables and then we loaded it into CorelDRAW. From there, you can output it directly to the laser cutter.

The main two settings you have to worry about are speed and intensity. Tell the laser to move too fast and it won’t cut all the way through the wood. Tell it to be too intense and it will create a flame, putting the machine in danger. You have to balance the two to get the right cut.

We couldn’t find a balance that allowed us to cut through on the first try, so we went over the design a few times with the laser before the pieces would pop out.

TechShop laser cut chessboard While the checkered part of the chess board looks like it is made of two types of wood, the darker parts are actually just slightly burnt wood. The laser etched it all out beautifully.

TechShop laser cut chessboard The only problem we ran into was when the supply of pressurized air went out in the building. As a result, the flames flared up more regularly. But it was quickly restored and we went back to work. Eventually, we were able to pop all of the pieces out of the boards of wood.

TechShop laser cut chessboard

TechShop laser cut chessboard

TechShop laser cut chessboard The laser leaves a scorch mark wherever it touches the wood, so touching the edges of the board resulted in a our hands being covered in nasty black marks. A half hour of sanding left us with a much cleaner board.

Then it was time to glue everything together. The board has a drawer and outer box. Instructables user nikoala3, who designed the box, kindly created each piece with a different set of interlocking shapes on each side, making it nearly impossible to put a piece in the wrong place. I used regular Elmer’s glue to put it together.

TechShop laser cut chessboard Easy! I had a finished chess board with a sliding drawer. Next week I’ll tackle the chess pieces, which I am making with a 3D printer.

TechShop laser cut chessboard