GO for the Game

Use your joinery skills and a special jig to create an ancient but ever-popular game

Computers started to beat humans at chess in the late 1980s. But the world’s best programmers really struggled to achieve the same success with the game of Go. Originally developed in ancient China, Go is probably the oldest board game in history. Today it enjoys worldwide popularity (see sidebar, facing page).

Go gameboards come in different sizes, but mine is based on the most widely used dimensions, which match up well with standard black and white game pieces, or stones. The board shown here is made using walnut as the primary wood, but I’ve also made versions in maple and cherry.

Designing and building this board game was challenging and fun. I wanted an Oriental-style design that would look good enough to keep on a coffee table even when not in use. After all, an ancient game like Go deserves a well-crafted gameboard. A pair of opposing drawers built into the base solves the problem of storing the lozenge-shaped stones.

My biggest challenge with this project was figuring out how to rout a perfect grid in the gameboard surface.

Your Go game adventure begins on the facing page. See the Buyer’s Guide (p. 66) for stone sources.

A gameboard grid on a beautiful base

Poplar is a good choice for this project’s interior parts. Use clear hardwood to make the gameboard and outer base assembly, including drawer fronts.

Construction Sequence

  • Cut posts, rails and drawer fronts to size.
  • Make locking joints for posts and rails.
  • Cut and sand curves in posts.
  • Assemble the base, including the inner frame.
  • Complete drawer joinery and assemble drawers.
  • Fit drawers in base and install drawer guides.
  • Make the jig for routing the top. Rout the top grid.
  • Apply finish.
  • Join top to base with 4 figure-8 fasteners.
  • Play the game!

Learn more about Go

More detailed directions for playing Go can be found online, but the basic game goes like this: Plays are made by placing a stone on a “point,” or intersection. You always start with an empty board, and black plays first. The object of the game is to win “territory” by surrounding one or more of your opponent’s stones. Stones don’t move once they are placed, but “captured” (surrounded) stones can be removed from the board. For news, strategy, and interaction with other Go enthusiasts, go to the American Go Association: www.usgo.org.

Make a base with room for built-in drawers

The base is a post-and-rail assembly that includes an inner frame. Make sure to cut each drawer front from a single board that’s at least 18" long. This will enable you to keep the wood grain continuous, and to create just a small (1⁄16") gap between drawer fronts and drawer rails. Dry-fit the post-and-rail assembly together so you can determine the correct dimensions for the inner frame.

Rabbet the rails. A stopblock on my tablesaw’s crosscut sled aligns the shoulder cuts. Then I run each rail vertically through the blade to create a tongue. Complete each tongue by making a 1⁄4"-wide shoulder, as shown in the drawing above.

Too many clamps? Once the inner frame is completed, the entire base can be glued together. If you don’t have as many clamps as I do, you can simply glue the inner frame to one half of the post-and-rail assembly at a time.

Base Construction Sequence

  • Rout stopped grooves in posts.
  • Cut curves in the posts on the bandsaw, then sand curves smooth.
  • Cut side rails to finished size. Cut the 2 drawer rails to finished width but about 1" longer than finished length.
  • Cut drawer fronts from drawer rails, and mark adjacent parts with chalk to keep grain continuous. Then cut drawer rails to finished length, allowing 1⁄16" space between drawers and drawer rails.
  • Cut tongues in rails to fit in post grooves.
  • Build the inner frame, using biscuit joints to join all 4 parts together.
  • Glue the base together.
  • Move on to drawer construction.

Drawers get inset backs and locking rabbet joints 

The drawer opening that extends through the base allows for sides 81⁄2" long. (Confirm this clearance by measuring your completed base.) See the article that begins on p. 56 for details on creating the locking corner joint used to join drawer fronts to sides. Inset the drawer backs as shown, so that  it’s not necessary to remove the drawer for full access to the stones. Since pulls would disrupt the sleek style of the base, each drawer has an integral finger pull along the front’s bottom edge. 

Easy assembly. Instead of sliding the bottom between the drawer sides, this drawer joinery requires the bottom to be slid into place between the back and front.

Make a grid routing jig, then put it to work

Since I don’t have a CNC machine in my shop, it was necessary to figure out how to rout the 19 × 19" grid into the top of a solid wood panel. I came up with a jig that clamps in place on my router table and relies on fences and 1"-wide spacers to accurately position the board for a progression of stopped cuts. The routing procedure is simple: Place one edge of the board against the back fence and the adjacent edge against the side fence. Pivot the board down onto the cutter, push it forward until it hits the front fence, then lift the board’s back edge up off the cutter. Rotate the top 180° and repeat the process. After you have made the first 2 cuts, fix a 1" spacer strip against the side fence and repeat the process. I use this technique to rout all of the cross-grain cuts first, then repeat the procedure to rout with the grain, this time removing one strip at a time (instead of adding spacers) until all of the cuts have been made.

Keys to success

  • Dimension the jig and the board carefully. The jig is designed to work with a board exactly 21" square.
  • Make sure your board is flat and smooth. Gluing up the board from at least 3 narrower boards is a good idea. Sand both faces smooth before you begin routing.
  • Start with a new router bit. (See Buyer’s Guide, p. 66.) A sharp bit is critical for this routing work.
  • Test your jig for accuracy. Cut a plywood blank that matches the board’s final dimensions, and complete a test run with your jig. You’ll be able to perfect the “drop, rout, stop and lift” routing technique. More importantly, you’ll find out if the jig’s stops or spacers need any adjustment.
  • Clear sawdust after every cut, so that it doesn’t interfere with the jig’s accuracy.
Drop and rout. With the board edges registered against the jig’s side and back fences, drop the board carefully onto the bit, then push the board forward while maintaining contact with the side fence.
Lift, flip and repeat. When the board contacts the front fence, lift the board’s back edge up off the bit. Then flip the board 180° and repeat the procedure to rout a mirror-image groove.
Insert spacers, one at a time. Screw the first spacer in place against the side fence, then rout two more grooves, using the same drop, cut and lift technique.
Nearly done. With the last spacer in place, you’ll rout the outermost grooves. Make sure to place a support board support on the router table as shown, to keep the board level as you rout.

Apply finish, attach the top, and play!

I rounded the edges of my top with an oval bullnose bit. Then I masked the top with painter’s tape so I could paint the grid grooves. After several coats of wiping varnish (applied to both sides), the top was ready to attach.

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