Board games have had a long history. While modern games are made with synthetic plastics and polymers, wood was the early choice for making board games. Ancient times leaned towards the use of animal tusk-based ivory, which was slowly phased out in favour of the easier to obtain wood. Even today, it is not difficult to find wooden parts or even boards, with hardwood chess sets and boards being a stalwart in terms of pure quality.
Plastics are undoubtedly more affordable, thanks to their ease of shaping using modern technologies. On the flipside, wood takes carving, with most wood-based boards being handmade to perfection by skilled woodcarvers. It does show, from the distinct veneer to the touch and feel of the individual pieces, wood is certainly a good choice of material.
Cons of Wood
The problem with wood? It corrodes and breaks down over time. While plastics can feel overly lightweight, there is no doubting their longevity. Plastics don’t degrade until decades, or even centuries have passed. On the other hand, wood is organic, and wear and tear becomes a legitimate concern. Paint falls off, parts can break off easier, and replacements are elusive and expensive.
Nonetheless, wood does have its appeal. Let’s begin with the types of available woods.
Much like plastic coming in many different configurations, such as polyethylene, Bakelite and Catalin, wood has their variants as well. Wood mainly comes in two main types, which we’ll refer to as softwood and hardwood. These mainly differ in the trees they come from, as well as the general feel of the wood.
The name is somewhat misleading, as softwoods are only comparatively soft. Softwood comes from the gymnosperm trees, such as pine and spruce trees, and has a significantly higher usage amount than hardwood. Chances are, your doors, furniture and even paper are sourced from softwood trees.
The main reason we refer to these trees as ‘soft’ is due to the lower density. Though, this also contributes to the overall lower cost, owing to the easier cutting procedures and quicker growth rate. The lifetime of softwood is acceptable at best, especially for the medium-density-fibre (MDF) products. However, with good care, they can certainly last a long time.
Expect to find softwood used in our boardgame tables and Chinese Checkers sets.
On the flipside, hardwood comes from angiosperm trees, which have broad leaves, such as maple and oak trees. Hardwood is less common, and can be attributed to the higher cost. As you might expect, hardwood is much more durable thanks to its higher density. This makes it the choice for high-quality furniture, and even housing foundations.
Hardwood is luxurious, and that’s not just because of the price. Thanks to the higher concentration of lignin in hardwoods, as opposed to the focus on cellulose in softwoods, hardwoods offer up a higher degree of protection to decay. Hardwood furniture from centuries prior still work well today, and that same level of quality transfers to the hardwood boardgames.
Hardwood can be found in high-grade chess sets and carrom tables.
Its not hard to differentiate hardwood and softwood. Feeling the weight and touch of the wood is often enough, with hardwood having a distinct heft. A failsafe way is to differentiate using the grain pattern. If you can see the growth rigs at the cross-sections, then you’re working with real wood, rather than MDFs. If you can see dense lines in the grain pattern, then you’re likely working with hardwoods.
Why is identifying wood important?
Because the pieces and the board are the soul of classic games. In carrom or chess, the board and pieces are where you spend almost all your time, and many players are particular about the feel of the pieces.
A common modification that players choose to make during restoration is to swap out pieces with hardwood pieces. This comes with obvious advantages, such as the durability and workability, but also customizability. Painted hardwoods, done carefully, are surprisingly resistant to wear and tear.
Care and Repair
Wood can crack and roughen over time. Fortunately, the long history of wood means that methods of repair are well-known and refined. Common defects and solutions are discussed below.
Stains and water markings can be a major issue, but a simple way of clearing things out is to use work with a cleaning reagent. Lemon-oil cleaner is a great choice, and can allow you to remove stains without harming the wood and paint. Simply spray a small layer, leave for 10 minutes, and wipe it off.
Particularly common on boards and pieces, this issue might result in potential splinters and scratches if not handled immediately. In the case of unpainted wood, store-bought sandpaper is a simple solution. No power-tools are needed.
Adhesives can wear out over time. Fortunately, this can easily be remedied fixed by careful application of a replacement adhesive. For the best effect, use acid-free or neutral adhesives. Raise the area with a small tool, and then apply the replacement glue to the area using a small brush. Try to apply as thin a layer as possible to prevent raising.
Wood putty is your friend here. For minute cracks, using a correctly-coloured wood putty can work wonders. Sometimes known as pore fillers, all you need to do is push the putty in using your fingers, or the spatulas if provided, overfilling slightly. After the putty dries for 8 hours, some sandpaper is used to smooth out the excess putty.
If you want your board to gain waterproof properties, adding in some clear varnish can be an option. Clear varnish or shellac will give your board and pieces a glossy finish, and in the case of shellac, an amber hue. Beauty isn’t the only addition though, as these prevent decay and wear as well. First, apply a layer of sealant fixative and let it dry for 8 hours or more. Then, apply your finish of choice using a brush, being careful to ensure a level layer. Then, leave it to dry, applying a second layer if deemed necessary.
Should any issues be too difficult to fix, a skilled craftsman can help with the restoration. Faded paint is difficult to fix at home, but a professional can help make things good as new with the right tools. Some enthusiasts even request piece replacements, with full-on replicas being made with higher quality materials.