Walt's Thoughts 

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Padauk Chess Pieces Oxidation Solutions

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The banner image above shows the bases of a few bud rosewood chess pieces. Notice the white buildup on the right-most piece.  This is an oxidation problem – and it looks horrible! Without constant polishing, the oxidation will grow worse and worse – getting whiter and whiter with time. Oh … it rubs off easy enough with a soft cloth – leaving a brilliant shine; but it’s annoying to have to polish pieces with this residue before each use. The hardest pieces to polish are the Knights – especially around detailed carved notches in the mane areas.  House of Staunton recommends using a thin coat of paste-wax to place a barrier layer between the surface and the air to stop the oxidation. This worked for a while, but eventually the paste wares off or gets too thin – and the problem returns. Besides that, the paste, unless buffed, can destroy the original shine.

What Causes Oxidation?

I have scoured the internet for information on why that happens. I’ve found nothing. I only have admittance that it’s being studied by CB, and has been seen in sets at HOS. This is my theory: Padauk is a wood that has a high amount of oil in it. Chess artisians make sets from purchased lots of this exotic wood. (Here’s a video demonstrating how they make these sets if you’re interested.) I believe Padauk wood should not be used until it cures. By “cures” I mean, it should be given enough time to set up that it no longer leaks oils from the pores of the wood. Perhaps there are different sections of the tree where the wood has more oil in it than other parts. There are people complaining on the internet, {not chess applications, but wood workers} that this particular type of wood can stain neighboring woods with orange or red colors – or various applied coatings – that should be clear – become stained to a red or orange color, etc … This is probably because the oils in the wood has not finished seeping out of the pores. Therefore, sometimes a chess artisan will work with a piece of wood that has not cured.

Once the piece is made, it goes though a final stage where the surface is finished to give it a shine. (BTW, seemingly, the oxidation is only seen in chess sets – and chess pieces are fairly unique with this finishing method.) The shine is obtained by burnishing the surface with a buffing compounds and wax. A buffing wheel is placed on a lathe, which has 50% cotton, and 50% polyester fibers. The wheel is loaded or primed with the compound. It comes in the form of blocks which are pressed against the spinning pad where the cotton and polyester strings pick up the compound. Next the pieces are buffed against the spinning pad; friction causes the pores of the wood to absorb the final wax. A shiny seal is formed. I believe that the oils from a non-cured piece of wood leaks through the compound, and causes the oxidation – perhaps the oils dry, evaporate, and the oxidation is the compound powder itself ???

In forums on Chess.com, some people report that “eventually the oxidation will stop after a while.” I never experience that for the larger part of a year. I suppose however long it takes for the problem to “eventually stop” may be directly related to how much oil is in the wood. But all this is all speculation on my part.

To back up this theory. I have two chess sets with Padauk wood pieces. Before I lacquered the problem set (outlined below), I used to polish the pieces with a cloth. The cloth would have red on it when I finished. If I polish the non-problem set (or even a non-problem piece) with a different cloth – no red on the cloth when I finish. I think that red is from the oils that are continuously seeping from the non-cured wood.

I do know that with my first set … I only had the problem with 8 pieces. Not all the Padauk pieces. The Knights, the Queens, the King and three particular pawns. The remaining five pawns never had the problem, as well as the bishops, and the castles. So, the problem pieces were probably made from a lot of wood that had the problem.

Stopping Oxidation

I have found a nice solution: I am using Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Glaze which you can get at a local Lowes or Home Depot store, and it will fix the issue permanently. (Krylon makes a similar product but I have not tested it yet.) This product is not a paint, and therefore should not be sprayed onto the pieces as a paint. Thinking that you should back up and use a fine-spray-mist-with-several-coats is the wrong idea. Doing that will not deliver pleasing results with a smooth finish. Think of this product as being a type of shellac, lacquer or varnish – just applied from an aerosol can. Spray it on just thick enough to see a smooth wet coat as if it were applied with a brush, but not so thick that a run or drip could form. The right amount will allow a “wetting action” to happen; basically it will self-level from redistributing itself with a slow flow. You can achieve very professional perfect finishes from this product; it’s not that hard either.

Other tips:

(1) Use a piece of paper (cardboard or whatever) to form a wall between the piece you are spraying, and pieces close to it. If the spray is able to float over to a neighboring piece, it will dry with small droplets on the surface, and will cause THAT piece to have a rough-to-the touch texture – not the smooth finish you are wanting.

(2) [This applies to the white boxwood pieces only] … If you do happen to get a slight non-uniform bump on the surface of a piece, you may opt to use 1200 grit sand paper to smooth that out and respray for touching up. However, if you sand all the way to the wood, then you will have removed the buffing compound that was used on the piece’s original finish. Triple Thick Gloss, if applied DIRECTLY TO RAW BOXWOOD without that compound layer, will dry ever-so-slightly darker … and your piece will not have a uniform color to it. Just letting you know. So, don’t sand all the way to the wood for Boxwood white pieces. It will not matter at all if you go all the way down to the wood for the dark Padauk pieces. You will not be able to tell ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL in color by reapplying directly to the wood or original surface buffed area for those pieces.

As luxury as the set was before, it now feels even more so … and there’s no more oxidation to have to clean. Permanently fixed !

3 Comments

  1. Hello Richard,

    I was wondering if your solution of using paste wax on the paduak pieces is still working. I am especially interested to know about the knights. I have been unable to get the oxidation out of their manes and out of the crevices of the other pieces. (It rubs off fine from the the main body of the pieces.) It seems like you would have to get it out of the manes before applying the wax. Otherwise, it would just show through the wax. I would appreciate any help/suggestions you may give.

    Many thanks,
    Fred

    • Good question… it seemed to work fine for about 2 weeks, then it stopped working. I’m now using a soft toothbrush on the Knights … best suggestion I have at the moment. I’m hopping the oxidation will become less over time (as someone said it would) but I have not noticed it being any less or more. It accumulates heavier the longer I wait to brush them with the toothbrush. Let me know.

    • I have revised this residue article on padaulk chess pieces with a better solution, since the paste wax solution proved to be somewhat a temporary fix. You may want to revisit the last paragraph of the article now.

      thanks,

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