Caring For Your Chess Set

High-Value Asset Acquisition

If you are passionate about the game of Chess and/or are an avid collector of Chess memorabilia – whether it’s a precious family heirloom you’ve inherited, an unexpectedly spectacular gift you’ve received or a serious investment you’ve consciously made – the acquisition of an exquisite Chess set, would most certainly have you emotionally invested in full measure.

Potential for Long-term Return on Investment

It will most certainly occupy a pride of place in your living space. Be admired and appreciated by those who you invite into your home. Be the subject of cocktail party chatter and dinner-table talk. As its owner, you’ll bask in its reflected glory.

In your mind’s eye you will see how even years from now, on various occasions, you take the set – still looking as regal as ever – down from its showcase, pass the knight around for people to admire the craftsmanship up close and personal, perhaps play a game or two with it – memorable occasions, photo ops for the ages.

Risk Factors

But as with the acquisition of any treasured showpiece, all the associated positivity and pride of possession comes tinged with an element of anxiety over its maintenance and upkeep.

How do you ensure it doesn’t get shabby over time? how do you ensure there are no stains, or no dirt gets ingrained, in the substrate, that pieces don’t get cracked or chipped, that the veneer on the board doesn’t get scratched or warped?

How do you ensure it retains its majesty and luster over a lifetime that could potentially stretch over generations but could so easily be cut-short by carelessness, indifference or neglect?

Key Safeguards to Reap Full Dividends

Here are some tips on how you could extend the lifespan of one of your most treasured possessions, ensure it looks no worse for wear after years and years of use, so that the compliments keep pouring in over decades to come. These tips are mostly for solid wood chess sets, which form the vast majority of high-value chess sets with display-worthy craftsmanship.

How To Best Care For Your Treasured Chess Set From Dust And Stains?


Even the most stunning details in the substrate and craftsmanship of your chess set can be marred by dust, fingerprints and stains. These are the most common, everyday problems you’ll have to contend with. One way to avoid this is to display your set from within an enclosed glass case. This may mitigate, but not eliminate the problem. Sooner or later, you will need to clean your chess board and chessmen. Wiping with a soft, dry lint-free cloth will usually suffice to deal with dust and fingerprints.

Solid wood chessmen are naturally resistant to stains, as they are usually treated with a natural, durable, protective coating of sealing wax and luster. To deal with stains on solid wood or hardwood chess boards, you first need to determine whether the surface of your chessboard is coated with acrylic-based lacquer or polished with wax-based varnish.

Stains are relatively easy to deal with if the surface of your solid wood chess board is lacquered. You can remove the stain using a piece of cloth dampened with a mild detergent solution. Wipe the surface dry immediately thereafter with a clean, lint-free cloth. Ensure that you do not use any abrasive cleaning solution, as they may cause permanent damage to the lacquered finish.

However, if your solid wood chess board has a waxed surface, don’t try removing a stain as soon as you notice it. Instead, it is advisable to regularly polish such surfaces at intervals of four to six months with high-quality wax, which will obscure any stains. Take a small quantity of beeswax and apply it to the surface in a circular motion with a clean and lint-free cloth. Leave it to dry for a while before buffing the surface to remove excess wax and attain the desired sheen. Take care not to use any solvent-based cleaners or wax stripping substances, to avoid permanently damaging the surface.

Stains on veneered chess boards may be dealt with in much the same fashion as those on solid wood chess boards. However, some manufacturers advocate replacing the mild detergent solution with diluted vinegar solution. Either way, take care not to wet it excessively and follow-up by wiping with a soft dry cloth to remove any remaining moisture.

How To Protect And Care For Your Chess Sets From UV Rays, Heat And Moisture?

You need to know what materials have gone into the making of your chess set are, and how they have been finished.

For instance, if your board and pieces are made from Boxwood, exposure to UV rays may cause an undesirable darkening in the color of the wood. Boxwood sets must therefore, on no account, be kept in a location where it is exposed to direct sunlight. If you display your set within a glass case, you may even consider an anti UV coating on the case.

Extremes of temperature may also affect the chess set. If the pieces or the board are wax-varnished, the wax may melt and run if exposed to high temperatures. Extremes in temperature and moisture may also cause warping and cracking on the surface of veneered/ Solid Wood Chess boards.

Good reasons to ensure that you keep your set is protected from the elements within a glass case, in a cool, dry environment - within a 12°C to 24°C temperature range. You may need to make provisions for air-conditioning the area where the set is displayed, during particularly hot and/or humid summer and during the monsoons.

How To Protect And Repair Chess Sets From Mechanical Damage?

Impact damage to chessmen may be of two types. Small details may get chipped off – which is difficult-to-impossible to fix.

However, for clean breaks, pieces may be stuck back together, using QuickFIX or any other quick-action glue. The bases of all chessmen in high quality chess sets are felt-lined or baize-lined to ensure that the chess board doesn’t develop scratches on its surface. This lining can wear-off over time, so ensure you keep track of their condition and replace the lining from time to time.

Lacquered chess boards come in two varieties – high-gloss and satiny matte. Those lacquered to a high gloss look great, but are prone to get scratched or chipped. Major scratches or chipping may cause permanent damage. But for minor scratches or loss in sheen, the affected surface may be polished using a product called Scratch X – normally used to treat scratches on the car body surfaces. Scratch X is gentle and its progressive action removes light scratch marks, leaves a rich gloss when buffed off.

However, when it comes to lacquered chess boards with matte finish, it may be better to leave minor scratches untreated as they will not be too visible against the matte background. Polishing with Scratch X on the other hand, may result in patches with high sheen which may look odd, as they will contrast conspicuously with the overall matte finish.