Chessboard

So I seem to be scaling up my woodwork projects, and last year I was pruning a big branch out of our apple tree when I thought it would be nice to save the bigger pieces, let them dry out and see what I could make. Eventually I figured, why not give a chess board a try? With just hand tools? And a titchy workmate-style thing for a bench? That I have to set up in the back garden because my next project really needs to be Clearing the Shed… that’ll all work really well, right?

Four months later: February me was an idiot. But I did get there.

Did I mention I carved the pieces as well? Yeah I did that too, and hopefully without any further bloodshed here they are:

And I’m going to show off the inside because I’m nice and pleased with that too:

The hinges and spine of the ‘book’ are from an old bedside cabinet, and the rest of the frame and the black squares are oak from the shop. I didn’t have any dark stain, and can’t go out to buy any, so I ended up using shoe polish – I’ll have to see how that stands up to repeated handling. The pieces are all chiselled from apple branches, which I formed in an old worn benchhook and finished in a £5 bench vise from the supermarket. And the rest of the wood, including the white squares and pieces, were rubbed down with beeswax for a really nice finish before I finally got to break out the power tools to, uh, drill the screwholes.

Next time I will try and get time with some kind of table saw and powered sander, because hand-cutting 64 individual squares and then sanding every single one was the particular step that came nearest to breaking me. Unseasonal warmth to the rescue! February and March were dry, April was dry enough, and early May I was doing the finishing touches inside so that was fine.

So what’s next?

This years’ reading

I’ve read a lot of books this year, almost sixty already, and these are my favourites so far:

Drew Williams, The Stars Unclaimed. A great big slice of action-movie fun, with pace, invention and humour poured on generously.

Kirsty Logan, The Gloaming. A slower-paced book than anything else here, this is Logan’s second novel and it is beautiful. It manages to be about island life without ever feeling isolated, and is entirely magical.

Luke Pearson, Hilda and the Stone Forest. The Hilda series continues with this latest instalment, and it’s my graphic novel of the year.

El-Mohtar & Gladstone, This is How You Lose the Time War. Short, crystalline, and without a spare word.

Wells, Murderbot series. This series is up to four novellas, with a novel coming next year, and my word they are fun. An extremely efficient robot security operative with a heavy case of social anxiety and a sarcastic attitude might be my favourite character in any medium this year.

Valente, Space Opera. Every single page is studded with inventive touches, there’s not a humanoid with a prosthetic head in sight, and Valente goes all-out in writing, imagination and wit with this Eurovision-in-space that is soaked in her love for the subject, and the whole book shines in the best and most glorious way.

Jamie Smart

I’ve been a huge fan of hard-working comics legend Jamie Smart for about fifteen years now, ever since reading Bear straight through back in 2004, and my oldest kid has managed to catch the fans off me. Well, Jamie just wrote Flember, an illustrated novel, and he sent us a signed copy. Look at the inky glory!

Yeah, he’s an actual Boss. Cheers Jamie!