Failure Is The Opportunity To Begin Again More Intelligently

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. I think that’s a quote from Henry Ford. Or something along the same lines anyway. And it’s a reminder that things don’t always work out as planned. This week has been a shining example of that in more ways than one. As you may have noticed by now I don’t have a usual project video for today. This post is a reminder that everyone makes mistakes and I’m no exception to that.

My boss asked me to build a speaker box for her father. She dropped off the speakers and gave me his rough sketch. The first step in any planned project for me is to draw it out in SketchUp. This will not only let me lay the pieces out to optimize the cutting process but it also gives me a first look at how it will be assembled. Here’s the final SketchUp model for his design.


With all of the SketchUp work completed I took to the shop to knock it out real quick. One positive note is that my infeed support arms really help!


At this point all is going well. The box is coming together quickly and easily. Woohoo! Time to cut the holes for the speakers. Then the moment of curse words and self implied insults. I designed the box for the wrong size speakers and didn’t realize it until everything was cut and ready for the last piece to go on. When I received the speakers from my boss I verified that they were 15” speakers. For whatever reason I built the SketchUp model to accommodate 12” speakers. I knew it was for 15″ speakers….why did I use 12″ speakers in SketchUp?? Have you ever had one of those complete project failures that you didn’t catch until you were nearing the end of the project? So now I have a glued up $37 MDF paper weight. Oh well. I’ll complete this one and put it on Craigslist to get my money out of it. I suppose I can look at this as good practice for the “real” speaker box build this week.


So that was failure #1. The “replacement” project I chose was to make a cheap chess/checkers board. I’ve had a neat set of carved stone chess pieces for about a year now and haven’t gotten around to making a chess board. Most of the time when you think of a chess board you think of a nice walnut and maple board. I do anyway. Because I can’t find any walnut locally and I’m way too cheap to buy nice hardwoods online I figured it would be a good time to try to make a faux walnut and maple chess board out of either plywood or a glued up panel of the same species of wood.

I ended up making several different test boards and none of them turned out great. The grid pattern itself is easy to make with the table saw. Coloring the resulting pieces are where I can’t quite get it. I tried using tape and spray paint but was consistently getting paint bleeding into the taped edges. I tried staining in several different methods and they all bled into the edges. And I tried wood burning. This was the best method so far but it was ridiculously time consuming and I wasn’t completely sold on the way it looked. I might try to revisit the wood burning process and see if I can improve upon it. Here’s a few pics of the best outcome for the stained version. It looks a lot worse in person.

IMG_1327 IMG_1328

I’d really like to make a chess board out of this plywood panel method. Any suggestions? Is there something obviously simple that I’m missing? Anyone have good luck making a chess board without the traditional method of cutting and gluing contrasting wood? I’d love to hear any thoughts or suggestions you may have. Anyway, thanks for reading folks. Have a great day.



  1. Try cutting a rebated 1/4 inch grid into the board . Then cut the squares blanks in a strip. Cut a rebate in the back of this strip leaving a 1/8 edge on each side. You can then cut the strips to size and use the rebate to seat the squares in.. they should all lock in place. Just stain half of the strips befire cutting them to size.. just an idea. Cheers, Tony

  2. I made a chess table in a class in my 9th grade year of school. Instead of making a solid piece board I took two pieces of wood and stained them first. Then cut them into the squares and did a glue up of them. Yea, it’s quite a bit more work but it works.

  3. If you want to make it from a single piece of wood and stain the black pieces individually, why not go ahead and add a clear coat to the white spaces. Then you can stain the whole thing and not get absorption into your white spaces.

  4. Use surface products that do not soak in. Do the light colored squares first to seal them. Use shellac maybe or clear acrylic spray. Then use something thick like gel stain for dark squares. It might work?

  5. Start w/2 boards stained different colors. Stain both sides. They need to start at 8 squares by 4 squares plus room for the kerf waste.

    Cut each board into strips 1 square wide.
    Glue alternate color strips together.
    Now cut the board apart again perpendicular to the original strips.
    Reverse every other strip and glue back together.
    You now have a complete board.
    Hope this helps.

  6. How about filling the kerfs you have between the blocks with a very light colored inlay of some type, or a piece of white plastic laminate.

  7. Hey Jay … at this point in my woodworking “career” this sounds like the start of EVERY project for me. My last 3 projects which I was recording for YouTube all had issues. First one – wrong blade on the scroll saw, Second one – Measured the wrong angles for my band saw dust collection and Third one – my table saw stopped working! Nice to know the experts have it tough sometimes too.

  8. Love the topic. We try to learn for our mistakes to improve our future projects. Sometimes these mistakes cost us money, sometimes they just cost us more time. But in the end we gain experience and hopefully don’t make the same mistake twice. I would like to see maybe once of month topics on how we can learn from mistakes in our shops.

    • Ya. What John said. And not just Jay. All the YouTube posters should do this. I learn as much from what can go wrong as what can go right. Maybe more!

  9. I had a good bit of success using spray paint. I didn’t cut grooves into it or anything; just took a flat piece of plywood, made a grid out of painter’s tape, and spray painted one color, then moved the tape squares and sprayed the other color. Didn’t have any issues with bleeding or anything.

  10. Maybe try taping off the squares to be stained and stain them BEFORE you cut the kerfs between the squares?

  11. I understand your not wanting to glue-up a bunch of separate pieces, but what about laminating an odd number of the alternating species side-by-side, then once cured, cross-cutting the striped “cutting board” you’ve made and alternating every other strip? Once they are re-grouped you have your checkerboard pattern and can laminate the strips one more time. This may be the process you’re wanting to avoid, so I suppose the main benefit this procedure offers is not gluing-up an entire board of cubes.

  12. Jay, on the topic of ‘failure’, trying to make your 2×4 bench. I thought I knew how to use a ‘speed square’, measured all my angles and made my cuts with a cicular saw, looks great. Then I tried to dry fit it–WTH nothing fits. Frustrated, I thought ok, so I went to utube typed in ‘how to use a speed square’ and the first thing that popped up was ‘speed square 101’ and as soon as I saw him draw the first line I knew where I had made my mistake. I was drawing my line on the wrong leg of the square! So I went back and tried to salvage my already salvaged lumber and only had to replace the 20″ parts. But when you turn the square over from the proper leg it indicates 30″ so you can use the wrong leg just rmember if you want 15″ set it at 30 and you’ll get 15″. I never knew!!!

  13. Jay, I’d just do it like an end grain cutting board. Two different woods/stained wood. Cut some strips, alternate the strips, glue it up. cut it again, flip every other strip and re glue. Or just watch steve ramsey’s first ever you tube vids and copy that :D

  14. Thanks for all the reply’s folks. The objective is to use a solid plywood panel. I know cutting and gluing strips to form alternating patterns would be the best bet but I’m just looking for a different approach. Thanks for all the feedback.

    • I had a similar situation when I was building a desk top that I wanted to make look like zebra print but wanted to stain the stripes into the light colored wood instead of painting black and white zebra print. For your application I would suggest this:

      First mark out your grid on the plywood and use a straightedge and razor knife to score the wood grain on the grid lines.

      Next, use a small paintbrush to apply stain to the dark squares by working away from your scored lines and letting the stain bleed up to the line. You may still get a small amount of bleeding across the score.

      Then, once all your stain is dry, cover the entire board in wide painters tape and cut your grid with your table saw. This should be wide enough to cut away any wood that the stain bled on to and should leave all your squares covered in tape.

      Next, you can spray paint the board to color the kerfs left by the saw and remove the tape.

      I have not tried this as I’ve described but it looked good playing out in my head.

      Good luck with the project.

      P.S.- My zebra desk turned out great using the razor knife technique.

  15. If you used an oak plywood, you could try an ebonizing technique. Oak takes to this really well, and all you need is steel wool and apple cider vinegar…

  16. Couple of ideas just by looking at it. The easiest might be Steve Ramsey’s way of transferring a printed image to wood using a printer. You could just transfer a printed image of a checker board onto your playing surface and then spray some lacquer over it. Check out his page its on there somewhere.

    Another way that I can think of is by making a template out of 1/4″ hardboard (maybe even poster board?) with all of one colored square cut out. Then over lay it on your playing surface that has been painted one solid color and then spray paint the pattern on it. Before cutting the squares out, make them big enough so the kerf grid cut by the table saw will remove any bleed over. Just a thought. Sometimes ideas aren’t worth crap when you try to apply them, sometimes they are.

  17. What about cutting some small ‘shims’ that could placed into the saw kerfs without any glue? Then you could do your staining or burning, and remove the shims. Anything that bled over would be on the shim, and not on the next square. When you’re done, you cut some nice strips to make an inlay to fill the kerfs.

    Thanks for the great videos and ideas. Keep ’em coming!

  18. Cut your grid, seal with a couple of thin coats of dewaxed shellac. After your shellac has cured search out a technic molders and crafters use called “dry brushing” with a good enamel craft paint. I think you will be surprised at the results. Great page! Enjoyed all your content.

  19. I think the board squares looks fine. Inlay some aluminum or brass in the saw kerfs to dress it up.
    Thanks for the great videos and projects!

  20. If you layout and paint your squares first using tape etc to minimise bleed, then make the cuts with you saw and let the kerf remove the overlap. Will tat work?

  21. Looks to me like you could do everything you’ve done thus far, but now fill your cut lines with a strip of another kind of wood. That should cover up any bleed that you are seeing in the gap between squares…

  22. Are you applying the stain after you’ve cut the grids? It may be a bit of a hassle but what if you apply the stain then cut the grids? I suppose sanding down any rough edges with this method may be difficult without marring the finish, though.

  23. I just got back from eating at a local Chinese restaurant with my sister. Her fortune cookie said……. “Failure Is The Opportunity To Begin Again More Intelligently”
    and this was the first website I visited. Odd.

  24. Try this: stain all the squares right to the bottom of the grid kerf, don’t worry about the stains mixing or overlapping in the kerf. Apply a sealer to the whole board making sure to seal the kerf as well. Apply as many coats as necessary. When the sealer is dry, paint the bottom of the kerf with some contrasting color using a fine pointed brush or a calligraphy pen of a width slightly less than that of the kerf.
    You could also try putting a layer of pin-striping tape in the bottom of the kerf, burnishing it down well. Apply another coat of sealer if necessary.

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