Friday, May 4, 2018

Royal Game of Ur - Part VIII - Game Board Complete

Yes, that's right. Part eight. I last blogged about this project in September, and that post starts with excuses to why it is taking so long.

My woodworking has been in a funk lately, and the idea of this board in the first place was  something quick and easy that I could do to get me back in the swing of woodworking.

Maybe it'll work this time.

Anyway, I finished the game board.
Finally completed.
Just in case you are wondering, I based this one off of the game board in the possession of the British Museum - an ancient Sumerian artifact somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 years old.
The original, made a long time ago. I took many liberties, but I think it will do.
Bear with me while I explain what I did:

The part that I was most dreading was carving the rosettes. I intended to chip carve them, but was unsure of my skill, since I have never chip carved anything before. So I thought about it for about it for around eight months.

I found my test piece the other day, and it didn't look as horrible as I thought it did when I made it. I decided if I did that, it would be better than not finishing it at all.

I also figured out that I didn't need to chip carve, at all. That was too hard to learn on this hard wood. So, instead, I took an old gouge I happened to have, sharpened it up, and used it to make the leafy shapes, and cleaned up with my new chip carving knife. Finally, I used my chisel to mark the outer outlines.
Rosette. It could have been worse.
After I did those, the rest was pretty easy. A combination of laying things out with dividers, carving small circles with my eggbeater drill, and drilling holes for Hillbilly inlay.
Not sure why I used blue tape, but it did make some nice layout lines.
The great part of this project, was I could do it at my desk (which is in my shop), and work on it between my lessons teaching Chinese kids English.
Between classes.
I really like how the eyeball thingies turned out. Drill some holes for the eyeball inlay, chop some eye patterns with a gouge (eyeballed, of course), and more eyeballing of the little crosses with my chip carving knife.
The only thing not eyeballed was the location of the eyeballs. I used dividers for those.
Some hide glue and 3mm bamboo skewers made the inlay. This would have taken forever if I had decided to make my own dowels with a dowel plate. Greg, you are my hero for this idea.
I have no idea what the purpose of most of these tiles will be in the game, but they sure do look cool!
After all that was done, before I cleaned anything up, I cut out a little stencil in some scrap cardboard and spray painted the rosettes.
Red and blue rosettes.
My next step was a bit of a risk. I had an idea, and hadn't heard of anyone else's experience with it. I wanted the lines I carved to pop out, so I thought Greg's method of Kohlrosing would be a good idea. The only thing I happened to have around that I could think of was black shoe polish.

I went with it.
I learned spit-shining in the Army.
Here's what I did: I brushed it on, trying at first to only blacken the raised panels on my board. There was plenty of parts where I went over, so I just went with it.  I was careful to get black in every little nook and cranny so it would show up later.
Don't worry, I'm not done yet.
Once that was all done, I let it sit for ten minutes or so, then I used the boot brush. No idea why, I guess old Army habits die hard.

Now it is time to clean it up. I sharpened my smoothing plane and set it for extremely light cuts. I didn't want to plane my newly blackened lines away, only to have to re-carve, re-blacken, and re-plane-them-away again.
Cleaning up the shoe polish.
Many of the inlays were still a bit proud after having cut them with a flush cut saw. Once they were all leveled, I start taking shavings off of the panels, one by one the best I can.

This didn't turn out perfect, but I like the effect.

After this was done, I treated it to a coat of my super-secret-home-refined linseed oil.
I like this effect.
The black shoe polish does indeed accentuate the lines I carved. Plus, it gives an air of age to the game board. I like it.

Not quite complete, but I do have some functional dice.


 If I build another one of these, there are some things I really like, and some things I'd do differently.
  • It might be a good idea to do the carving before planing and sawing away the grooves. There was some blowout in a few spaces because there was nothing to support the fragile edges when chopping a decorative line near the edge. Or not. Perhaps a backing piece would be a better idea.
  • The shoe polish was a great idea. But, it gets in the grooves no matter what. Go with it, or mask it. But with a wood like this, the black will stay in the pores of the wood.
  • Try to complete the next one in less than nine months.
  • Cutting the rosettes with a gouge was a masterstroke: I never could have achieved such uniformity with a carving knife. Maybe others could.

Next I'll have to come up with a plan for the game pieces. Stay tuned!

If (like me) you've forgotten all about this project and want to read all the posts about how I got to this point, they are all here.


  1. WOW! Looks great. Don't worry. My woodworking has been in a funk too. I have yet to finish my ebony dice, but we have played with our UR game many times. Thanks so much for sharing this project with us. Great to see your work, as always.

    Take Care,

    Chris from Florida

    1. Thanks, Chris! I really appreciate that. I love that you have been playing this game on a board you made. You should post about it on your blog!

  2. Spectacular!
    I really like how the surface came out after shoe polish and ultra linseed oil treatment.

    1. Thanks Jonas! I am pleased with the result. I was unsure of how the shoe polish would turn out, but figured it ought to work. So, no test piece, I just went for it!

  3. Looks great, Brian. You pulled off a number of interesting techniques, thanks for sharing them.

    1. Thanks, Jeff! I always like to incorporate something I've never done before in a piece. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

  4. I like it!! The shoe polish method adds a nice touch. I’ll have to remember that one.
    I’m not 100% sure if your giving me a little credit or laying the blame on me. Either way, it looks like you may now hooked on bamboo skewers. Now lets see if I can lead you down the dark path of the popsicle stick. LOL

    1. Thanks, Greg! I would never have thought to use bamboo skewers in woodworking had I not seen it on your blog. It is the absolute most perfect thing for this project. I might experiment with coloring them somehow on a future project.

  5. That turned out really great! I like the patina look on this.