Building a Go Board

As someone who mainly practices mathematics, I was already satisfied by the theoretical solution.


@Vsotvep Just like the architects I work with haha. Seems like I’m always giving them bad news.


There is a dearth of information on the web regarding building traditional floor gobans. Last time I checked I could only find a couple of old sets of pictures of some japanese-built gobans, not really very helpful stuff, at least for the un-initiated like me.

Being a complete amateur, I too started doing some (so far only table) gobans out of refused hardwood, such as when trees are felled for sanitary reasons. I can share some advice on cutting and drying wood in order to avoid the worse in cracking. If you buy your wood, you should not have to worry about it, as it should already be appropriately dried. Do bear in mind that most wood is kiln-dried (otherwise you’re looking at roughly one year per inch of thickness), and you may want to but slightly oversized boards, let it sit for a while, and the plane them to final dimensions, as there may still be room for warping from additional moisture loss or intake.

My experience is with plane wood, which is quite dense and IMHO a good wood for gobans. I do prefer some texture on the wood, so if you’re looking for a kaya look, with very fine grain, YMMV.

The blocks have been cut to final shape with a table disk saw, and flattened to the appropriate thickness with an electric planer. I have then used increasingly finer sandpaper grades to get the surface finished to the required smoothness. I did not use very fine-grained sandpaper, as far as I recall only went to about 250. Finer than this, the wood would start to get a mirror-like quality that I didn’t like.

As for the grid, a friend has a silkscreen with the goban pattern, complete with the hoshi. It should be relatively inexpensive to have one done for you at a supplier, but it is definitely something you’d like to have around for several boards, otherwise its cost may be a bit too much just for one board. The resulting grid, however, is top notch. I can try expand on this a bit further on a different post if it is of interest to you. This has mostly been done by my friend, with myself as a helper, but I can try to give some detail.

Finally, I have used oil for teak wood to protect the finished board. I’m fond of an open pore finish that feels natural, rather than closed-pore finishes such as polyurethane-coated. The teak oil will darken the wood slightly and emphasise the grain, which I quite like. Again, YMMV. :slight_smile: I used a piece of old cloth to fully “paint” the board, and let it sit for a couple of hours in order for the wood to absorb the oil. You can then use a dry cloth to remove any excess oil if you find it is greasy to the touch.

I don’t have much experience, but feel free to ask any questions, I’ll try to answer as best I can.


@Pimenta, you used a single block of wood from a felled plane tree, did I get that right? May I ask how di you happen to find such a big tree lying around? Did you go to a recyling facility of some sort where city/contractor would bring the trees they had to fell?
Just curious to see if the experience can be replicated…

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I look around for trees that have fallen during rough weather. Sometimes the tree is already cut into cylindrical sections and waiting for it to be carried away into what is essentially the municipal waste management facilities, meaning, it will be burned or composted.

I did manage to find sections of really large diameter plane trees once. Unfortunately, the company doing the felling (in order to prevent disease being spread to the nearby trees, so they told me) would not cut some blocks for me, saying they were obliged to send them to the municipal waste disposal. Those were ~2m in diameter and would have given magnificent thick masame floor gobans, I’ll tell you that.

I’ve been able to get some smaller logs on other occasions, plane, till, and more recently some wood I still couldn’t identify. These are smaller in diameter (~1m or less), and thus I can only get away with relatively thick table boards (up to around 8cm), normally out of two or three glued pieces of wood. A lot goes to waste after getting rid of cracks, defects, taking into account shrinkage, warping, etc.

But essentially, I’m just kind of playing the guy that goes around “stealing” bits of wood after weather rough enough to fell some big trees, and then try to see what I can accomplish with what I was able to salvage.


I did try to go the the municipal waste facility after they took in the bigger logs, only to slam head first into the kind of mindless bureaucracy where the easy answer is to say no to everything. Once something is in there, it can’t get out…

The lady overseeing the felling gave me her contact and told she’d be happy to dispense of some refused wood they had lying around at their company’s premises. I never followed up on her offer, so I couldn’t tell if it was any good, or old and cracked and useless for my purposes. Still, she seemed genuine, and perhaps talking to these companies that perform such services to municipalities can be a worthwhile endeavour in trying to get some good salvaged wood.

Good luck!

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After getting the wood, you should immediately saw it across its length through the mid-plane, in order to prevent it from cracking. Ideally, you’d cut it down to rectangular blocks approximately sized to what your final purpose for them is, with enough margin for warping, shrinkage, etc. More margin is better, if your tree is big enough. Sealing the planes cut perpendicularly to the grain (i.e., those horizontal if you picture the tree while still standing up) with wood sealant (which I heard from some American sources, but couldn’t find in Europe) or with melted candle wax (I used those bags of tiny white candles you can find in IKEA and many other places) may also help you prevent the worst cracking. You will then be looking at at a long time (~1 year per inch of thickness) to having it properly air dried. During the first couple of months, when the wood is still very green and losing lots of moisture, check weekly and use a steel wire brush to scrub the surface out of the copious amount of mold that will grow out of it, to avoid having the wood stained by it.

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@Skurj, I thank you again for all of your help, sorry about my late reply, I have been somewhat busy these last few days. To further clarify, I do mean a face to face glue-up. I personally don’t think I would mind seeing the grain like that even though it is a distraction to many people. I will be very selective with my Oak though as I don’t want the grain to be too busy. I have a slight change of plan now however:

Wow! I was not expecting to spend that kind of money, and unfortunately that is out of my budget. This just goes to show how very little I know about all of this. Thank you though, as I can use that information to get an idea of how much I will be spending.

So here is my revised idea: I will actually go 19 x 19 inches and about 2 inches thick, without the little legs. So it will just be a basic table-top goban like what are commonly sold. However, for my personal touch I will do a little routering along the sides of the board. I still have a little while yet before I begin this, but I guess my next question would be how to make the lines and what finish to use for the board. Again, I am sincerely grateful for your help!

I think this is meant as an estimate for a solid block. Planks or beams should be a lot cheaper.


You can do applied graphics with a sharpie or large printer

You can etch the surface as with a router, dremel, laser or CNC machine

You can do an inlay with the etched surface using tinted wood filler, powdered metals, powdered turquoise, or epoxy.

You can go with a building finish like polyurethane or shellac, that will create a hard shell over the wood and give superior protection

You can use a wiping varnish like Formby’s or Watco Danish oil. These will not build on the surface but rather soak into the wood pores and retain the wood feel. Some penetrating oils do harden the surface, while others leave it vulnerable to damage.

You can also use a wax finish, sometimes sold as “butcher’s block” sealer + conditioner. I think this is how traditional Asian boards are finished but I could be wrong.

If you decide to go the sharpie route for your lines I would suggest a building finish to create a layer of protection over the ink. I’d also recommend applying two coats of polyurethane before drawing your lines. Ink on the raw wood will probably bleed too much to look good, and it will be impossible to fix any errors. If you draw your lines over a solid polyurethane layer the lines might stay sharp, and can easily be erased with a little 220 grit sandpaper. Once the lines are satisfactory then seal it with a couple more topside coats.

If you decide to etch your lines then just use whatever finish appeals to you the most. No need for super tough protection since the lines are cut in to the surface permanently.

Staining is up to you, be aware that many protective finishes applied over stain begin with a light amber tint that will darken a bit with time. Shellac can be purchased in a clear version that has no tint. My personal opinion is that amber tint makes stained wood look absolutely gorgeous and rich.

If you want to match the gokden honey color of traditional Asian boards use minwax colonial maple stain and minwax polyurethane.

Let me know if you have any questions about other details and I’ll be happy to share my biased opinions.


Thanks so much for the info! It looks like it won’t be possible to find anything similar where I live (we only have oaks and juniper for hundreds of miles around), but your description was fascinating. A 2m diameter plane tree must be a sight to behold.

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Oak is very likely also a great wood for a goban.
There’s a garden no far from my parents’ home that has a couple dozens of those old plane trees. They are indeed a sight to behold. Unfortunately a handful of them were felled a couple of years back, I was told to prevent some kind of disease to spread to the other trees around them. Even worse, They insisted in having the wood chipped and I couldn’t get any… :expressionless:


I am currently working on my final required project for the course and I will be starting the goban in 2 or 3 weeks. Hopefully I will be able to post pictures of the progress as I build it. I might run into a few questions along the way, and if my instructor is unsure (I doubt he will be), I will ask away. Thanks again for all of your kind help.


Sorry about my delay, the final required project is taking a little longer than expected. It could still be a couple of weeks before I start. However, I am working on preparing a set of plans and materials for my instructor to see. Thank you for your patience!


I am finally almost ready to begin! Assuming all goes well, I should be starting the project next Monday. Originally, I was hoping to post pictures of the project’s process, but I do worry about the privacy of myself and the school to a certain extent, and so we may have to forego that unfortunately. However, I will be happy to post a picture of the completed project when I bring it back home.

Hopefully I will give you a general summary of the planned procedure on Monday as well, when it is set in stone with my instructor. Originally, I was hoping to etch the lines with the laser but I will probably just sharpie them over polyurethane as @Skurj recommended. Now I do have a question for you Skurj concerning the lines. How would you recommend planning the sharpie for the lines? With a couple of coats of finish, I don’t think pencil marks can go on initially before the sharpie. Do I just need to be really careful and use a ruler for the lines, or do you have a different suggestion? Also, do you have any tips for keeping the width of the line consistent when applying the lines. I appreciate all of your help and the help of anyone else. Thanks again!


Razor knife with a brand new blade. And use a light touch with just the tip to make a tiny mark at each of your border vertices. The line will be just barely perceptible in the poly finish until you’ve drawn over it, and the next coat will fill it back in.

Use an ultra fine tip sharpie, and not a brand new one.

A brand new tip will make finer lines than one that has been used and crushed a bit, so with a brand new sharpie the first lines can end up noticeably slimmer than the last ones. It’s good to practice a bit anyway and after a dozen lines your tip width should be stable enough.

Here’s a bit of good news: with a coat or two of poly down first, you won’t have to contend with the sharpie bleeding into the wood pores and making fuzzy lines.
Here’s a bit of bad news: sometimes sharpie doesn’t perfectly adhere to polyurethane, depending on some chemical factors and the smoothness of the finish. When the solvents in the next coat of polyurethane hit your naked sharpie lines it can blur or dissolve them.

My experience has been that metallic sharpie colors are much more prone to being ruined by the poly brush, and plain black is much more stable. Don’t go crazy with sanding before the lines go on. 80 or 120 grit is fine. Save the 220 for your top top coat after you’re all done with everything.

EDIT: If you test a scrap piece and the brushed-on poly is ruining your sharpie lines, minwax makes a rattle can of spray polyurethane. It’s not efficient for such a large surface area to use it every step, but one thin spray coat over your new lines will ensure that the subsequent brushed-on coats do not erase anything.

To keep the drawn lines as consistent as possible you must also maintain a consistent speed and pressure, or the ink can pool or bleed a bit and give you a slightly wider line. This becomes tricky when trying to stop a line accurately at the border of your grid. Naturally you would have to slow down the movement as you approach the end of the line.

So a thing I’ve done with pretty good results is to make each line using two movements, each from the grid border to just past center.

First place your straightedge to connect opposite points.
Put your pen tip down at one end point and begin moving immediately, but steadily and not too fast.
As you near the center of the board, gradually lift your pressure while maintaining a consistent speed to draw the line until it tapers into nothingness before you reach the other side. Then, without shifting your straightedge, begin the next movement at the opposite point and repeat the same motion in the other direction until you’ve just overlapped the first line where you began to relieve pressure on the pen.

If, by chance, you do overshoot your end point or make an error, you can use the razor knife or a tiny piece of sandpaper like an eraser to scrape the ink and clean it up. Re-draw if you must and keep going.

I highly recommend keeping a couple scrap pieces of the same material handy and testing each step of the finishing process on those first.
Sanding, polyurethane, tick marks with a razor knife, grid lines, polyurethane again. Test those steps on the scraps exactly as you would do them on your finished board and you’ll learn a ton about what to expect when it really counts.


I made similar MDF/sharpie boards a while ago actually… My method to keep lines parallel was to print a grid template (went to a print store for the larger than a3), sticky tape it to the MDF, and press the sharpie on all the outside intersections.

If you get the pressure right, a tiny dot of ink goes through the paper onto the MDF, then you can use a large ruler to connect all the dots. (Leave the outside lines till last).

I also used a laser cutter to etch lines on smaller boards… that was a little easier (but couldn’t fit a 19x19 in the print bed)


I posted some of my methods and tips here.


Wow! Nice job. That is a gorgeous board. You inked the lines very well.


I thank everyone for their kind help. @Skurj, I am extremely grateful for all of your help, and I appreciate your detailed responses. My instructor confirmed the idea today, I will start the construction tomorrow. He says the plan seems to be very solid. However, I will actually be using the laser for the lines instead of the sharpie despite what I had planned. Using the laser is going to be a lot easier than I anticipated, and my instructor said that it will be safer. In addition, he said that we can simply etch the lines to appear very dark on the board instead of using some filler. Here is a brief summary of the planned procedure:

  • Rough-cut oak stock to 19 1/2 inches

  • Square one side of board

  • Rip-cut these planks into 2 1/4 inches (this will eventually be the thickness of the board)

  • Square all sides of all stock, then face to face glue-up of stock

  • Plane to final thickness, sand, laser lines, and use polyurethane for finish

Again, I thank everyone for their help and if anyone sees a problem with this procedure or has any suggestions I will be glad to hear them. :smile: