My Upcycling Aesthetic: Shou Sugi Ban Chessboard

For my upcycling project, I have decided to create a chessboard that follows the Shou Sugi Ban aesthetic. Also known as Yakisugi, it translates to the burning of cedar. The aesthetic provides multiple options of how to treat wood designs, but the necessary element in all of these is to char the wood. This provides a visual as well as a structural advantage to the wood. The charring hardens the wood grain, creating a durable, hard exterior to the wood that is similar to the idea of carbon steel. The visual aesthetic can vary, depending on the desired finish of the wood.

Image from Kebony

After charring the wood, the wood is very dark, grey or black. This can be the final version of the piece, but additional options are also available. The wood can then be sanded to show some grain with the original grain color, which provides a stark contrast between the black char on the depths of grains and bright wood color at the peaks. Lastly, a stain can be added to the wood as normal to bolden or change the color of the wood grains exposed under the char after sanding.

Image from ReSawn Timber

For my upcycle project, I will be building a chessboard. I plan to utilize upcycling by using barn wood from my friend. He lives in Kremmling, where his family owns a ranch. This will give the chessboard a unique story, personality, and imperfections. Then, for the base and sidewalls, I will use scrap wood from Home Depot or other hardware store.

For the light and dark squares, I will char the wood board completely, and then cut it in half. Then, I’ll sand one of the halves to give it a much lighter color. Then, I’ll assemble the chess board and connect these pieces together using wood glue and clamps to let them set. Finally, I will stain the whole board with linseed oil or other nontoxic staining liquid to give the board a nice finish. For the pieces, I will order a DIY chess piece set, char the dark pieces, and stain both to finish them. It would also be a nice feature to make the chess set foldable, which would provide piece storage in the middle and easy transport.

Image from The Chess Store

I got into chess last summer when I found myself with a lot of free time throughout my summer internship. I got up to a solid, intermediate level, but found myself “board” of playing the game online. I went through a pretty rigorous search for a chessboard, but couldn’t find anything cool or unique that was within the budget of a college student. I ended up buying a pretty standard board, but I still fell out of practice with the game throughout this year. This will be a great project for me to make a standout board for nearly zero cost that I can play on and show to people for years to come.



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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Matthew Osborn
    February 4, 2024 11:35 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting project idea. I love the idea of upcycling wood to make it into a usable and artistic piece that actually useful for you. What kind of challenges do you think you’ll run into during the charring process?

    • Jace Aschbrenner
      February 5, 2024 1:08 pm

      Hi Matthew! I think my biggest challenges in charring the wood will be getting the temperature right so as to not burn the wood too much, but get an even char around the wood. Another issue is finding the right torch at a reasonable price!

  • Lol “board”. This sounds like a super cool project! I am really excited to see the final chessboard. An interesting product with interesting materials. I am wondering how you’ll char the wood? Maybe using a blowtorch or something?

    • Jace Aschbrenner
      February 5, 2024 1:07 pm

      Thank you Katie! Yes, I do plan to char the wood with a blow torch. My trouble there is if I should char the whole plank before cutting, or cut the board into the needed squares before charring, and then I could use a cheaper/smaller torch.


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