Redwood Gobans

Alright.  This evening we have a happy turn, just a little bit of doing, one of those things one means to get to but of course years go by.

I’ve played the great and ancient game of go since 2001.  If you don’t know what it is I recommend it to you earnestly – it will sharpen your mind.  A wonderful website that is wide and deep can explain everything about it, the history, the strategy, the proverbs – yes, it has proverbs:  Sensei’s Library.

A goban is a go board.  There is a lot of history to this too.  The Japanese, who ruled the world of go in modern times (until recently) mandated that only certain woods be used, actually there was a hierarchy of woods that could be used.  I believe kaya was at the top. It’s quite a beautiful tree.  Bottom line it’s a big old evergreen.

Go boards are apparently divided into really good ones, with regular grain (masame), and less good ones, with irregular grain (itame).  The first board I made, just to be able to play, was of an outdoor plywood that probably was treated with arsenic.  Aesthetically it was a grave fail, but it did allow me to play.  After using it for maybe a year and a half I decided to make a real one.  This was 2003.  Massive hunks of kaya, though, are hard to find at any price, and if you do find them the price is quite prohibitive.  I scratched my head a bit and eventually came up with and appropriately American idea, why not use redwood?  It’s massive, available, beautiful, celebrates the game taking root on these shores.  Seemed like a plan.  Off to eBay and shortly I was the proud possessor of a 24 x 27 x 2 piece of quartersawn redwood – curly redwood no less, with flames, as they call them, a sort of chatoyance.  At that time I did not have any real working equipment, nor so much money, so I went to Home Depot to buy a sander, because I knew it would need a finish.  I walked over to the man with the big chop saw and had him trim it to the lines I had drawn.  Home I went and here it is, a redwood goban.

Old Goban Old Goban 2 Old Goban Corner Old Goban Detail Grain

What a lovely thing.  Even though it’s humble and rough in more ways than not, the wood ennobles it sufficiently, and that I took the trouble to precisely measure out – those are not squares mind you, but prescribed to be 7/8 by 15/16 inch rectangles, because that’s the specification.

Years go by.  This is a 19 x 19 grid.  The game of go is notoriously difficult.  Beginners falter.  The 19 x 19 dimension is daunting.  The culture of go recognize that the game is valid at any grid size, though the weight of particular considerations changes with board size.  I wanted to make a 13 x 13 one as a teaching platform.  Some like 9 x 9 for this purpose but I think at that point the relation between global and local is lost, and that’s such a key part of the game.

There I was on eBay one day and a piece of dawn redwood appears.  I’d not seen that ever commercially available as a wood.  Dawn redwood is a Chinese redwood, actually one of only three types of Sequoia in the world (these days) and the only Asian one.  This appealed to me conceptually, maintaining the redwood idea but gong back to where the game was born.  Can you say itame?  I don’t think it’s because dawn redwoods are necessarily of irregular grain, in fact I know that not to be the case, but the piece I’d beheld looked a little like the sky (ok, I exaggerate) in Munch’s ‘The Scream’  (marginally reminiscent?).  Since it was going to be itame I figured I’d just do it rough and quick, so here we are

New Goban 1 New Goban 2 Gobans End Grain New Goban edge and Face

This last shot shows the swirling sky I saw on the left, but gobans are so not supposed to be about swirling sky.  I figure for those who are not so serious that they bleed from the ears as they play that some light distraction is no great crime.  If they become serious enough to scoff at such lightheartedness, perhaps they’ve become too serious.

Anyway, this post was merely to share this creation and my feelings of happiness thereto pertaining.  I’ve played for 14 years now and the journey of playing and trying and learning has been deeply satisfying.  Mostly I’ve played online at the wonderful server  They keep all your stats for free and there’s a lot to be learned from a history spanning more than a decade.

Dragon Curve

If you ever have a yen to play go don’t hesitate to go there and invite Rusty2 to have a game.  Onegaishimasu.



2 thoughts on “Redwood Gobans

  1. This is an absolutely beautiful piece. I love the texturing on the the firewood it is a perfect Wood choice for this project and as a go-player I would definitely love one of these

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