How to look after your Go board

Two of the most common questions we receive at Go Game Guru are “how do I get better at Go?” and “how should I look after my Go board?

We’ll cover the most important aspects of looking after a Go board in this article.

There are several factors to consider when choosing, storing and generally looking after a wooden Go board. These include:

  1. Choosing a board that’s been dried properly
  2. Understanding humidity, and how it might affect your board
  3. Avoiding extreme heat and extended direct sunlight
  4. Consider what kind of board you have
  5. Other general tips and good habits.

(Give me the really short version)

1. Get a propertly dried Go board

Drying time depends on the type and thickness of the wood. This Kaya Go board took 20 years to dry.

Drying time depends on the type and thickness of the wood. This Kaya Go board took 20 years to dry.

It almost goes without saying, but if you’re going to buy a solid wood Go board you want to make sure it’s been properly dried.

If it’s not, there’s not much you can do to prevent it from warping or cracking afterwards.

Most living trees are composed of over 50% water by weight, but the wood needs to be dried to contain only around 10-20% moisture before a Go board can be made.

In the end, the exact percentage of moisture depends on the equilibrium it reaches with your local climate and the moisture content will change throughout the year.

While the wood is drying, it can change in size and shape considerably. These changes exert considerable force on the wood itself, especially if they happen too quickly. So the idea is to make sure that nearly all of the changes have happened before the wood is used to make a Go board.

In the case of Go Game Guru, all the solid wood boards we sell are dried for a minimum of three years (and five years for thicker boards). You can find more information about how long each board was dried for in the description of that board.

To be clear, this is only something you need to consider when buying a solid wood Go board . You don’t have to worry about this with modern composite boards, because the core of the board is stable and won’t expand or contract in the same way. More on that below.

2. Understand humidity

Extremely dry or wet environments can cause problems for wooden Go boards and other wooden items (furniture, guitars etc). Natural wood ‘breathes’ throughout the year, meaning it periodically absorbs moisture from the air and partially dries out again. This is normal, you just don’t want your board to become too dry or too damp.

It’s not a good idea to store a Go board in a dark and damp location, like a basement, or anywhere else which can become damp for part of the year. That’s because if the wood absorbs too much moisture it can become moldy. However, normal humidity inside your house shouldn’t affect a Go board, even in very humid parts of the world, so you don’t need to worry that much about humidity.

Very dry or hot environments can cause more problems for wood. If a board dries out too much it can crack. Fortunately, there’s more you can do for your board to prevent it from drying out.

The pyramid carved into the bottom of floor Go boards is called a heso. Placing a small container of water below the heso can help in dry climates.

The pyramid carved into the bottom of floor Go boards is called a heso. Placing a small container of water below the heso can help in dry climates.

If you live somewhere which is very dry for all or part of the year, you can use a humidifier in your house to prevent your board from becoming too dry. Many people who live in very dry places already have a humidifier in their houses for other reasons, so once again the board should be ok as long as you store it inside your house.

Oiling your Go board also helps to protect it in dry climates and we’ll talk about that more below.

If you’re worried about your board getting dry and it’s a floor Go board (i.e. it has legs), you can also place a small container of water underneath the center of your board (beneath the heso, which is the pyramid shape under the board) when you’re not using it and this will help to prevent the wood from drying out.

This is a good alternative to a humidifier if you don’t have or want one, or if you’re keeping your board in an air conditioned room.

3. Avoid excessive heat

Some of the issues to do with drying out have already been covered above, but heat itself is also something to be aware of. If you store a board in a location where it’s subjected to extreme fluctuations in temperature throughout the day, that can cause it to warp and maybe even crack eventually.

Once again, the best place to store your board is indoors, because it’s likely that you’ll already want to maintain a reasonable temperature for yourself. However, it’s very important that you don’t store your Go board right next to a heater or stove, or leave it somewhere where it will be exposed to direct sunlight all day, every day, because this will eventually cause it to warp.

If you’re sensible and keep heat and humidity in mind, you shouldn’t run into problems. These aren’t issues you need to fret about. As long as you have a basic knowledge of what not to do and why – which you do if you’ve read up to here – you should be fine.

4. Type and cut of wood

The type and cut of wood is a more minor issue. In terms of the information above, the same applies to Kaya, Shin Kaya (aka Spruce) and Agathis, as well as other types of wood used to make Go boards.

Single piece Go boards

Single piece Go boards are a more traditional option.

Single piece Go boards are a more traditional option.

Single piece Go boards (which haven’t been cut internally) are solid wood boards.

They’re more traditional and are very popular, but they also require the most care and cost the most to make (with the cost dictated mainly by the cost of the wood used).

Here are some examples of single piece Go boards:

Multipiece Go boards

You can spot a multipiece Go board by looking at the end grain. This board was made out of three pieces of wood.

You can spot a multipiece Go board by looking at the end grain. This board was made out of three pieces of wood.

Multipiece Go boards are more resistant to warping and cracking than single piece boards, because they’re made out of several smaller pieces of wood (usually two or three pieces).

However, the individual pieces are still solid pieces of wood and you should still pay attention to the advice above if you want your Go board to last for as long as possible.

We only sell one multipiece Go board, but you may find that they’re more common on other websites.

Composite Go boards

Modern composite Go boards are highly resistant to warping and cracking and require less care.

Modern composite Go boards are highly resistant to warping and cracking and require less care.

If all of this sounds like too much effort for you, modern composite boards (like veneer boards, for example) require very little care and can outlast solid wood boards.

We sell several boards like this and they’re highly resistant to warping and cracking.

Here are a few examples:

With modern composite Go boards, you should still avoid excessively damp environments as above (to prevent mold), but you don’t have to worry about dry environments or heat at all1, because the boards are held together by very strong bonding agents and have a stable core.

In our experience, solid wood boards are more popular because people like the idea of a single piece of wood. Some people also mistakenly think that veneer means the quality isn’t good, but this is a misconception created by very cheap furniture.

Wooden veneers have been used for hundreds of years and have historically been used to make very high quality furniture (here’s an article about that by an expert furniture restorer).

We believe these boards are technically superior and offer better value for money for the average player. We also understand that some people want a more traditional style of Go board. Ultimately it’s a personal choice.

Random disclaimer

1 When I say that you don’t need to worry about heat at all (with composite Go boards), that doesn’t mean that you can set fire to your Go board, throw it into the sun or use it as a shield when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

While we’re on this topic, you also shouldn’t use your Go board as a weapon unless your life or freedom depends on it. If you do any of these things, please don’t hold me responsible for the results. :)

Sato Tadanobu uses his Go board as a weapon, to resist arrest, while simultaneously pulling the hair of his mistress (who is said to have betrayed him). Don't try this at home.

Sato Tadanobu uses his Go board as a weapon, to resist arrest, while simultaneously pulling the hair of his mistress (who is said to have betrayed him). Don’t try this at home.

5. General Go board care

Three very simple habits will help you to keep your board in good condition:

  1. Don’t store anything on top of your Go board.
  2. Dust your board off before and after playing.
  3. Don’t use your Go board as a weapon (see above).

Don’t store things on your Go board

It’s best not to store anything on top of your Go board if possible.

It’s not uncommon for people to store Go bowls on top of their board (for space reasons and convenience, if nothing else). If you must do that, make sure to lift, rather than slide, any items off the board.

Don’t carry the board around with bowls on top of it in case they slide accidentally (unless you have a cheap board and don’t care if it gets scratched).

You’re probably going to be looking at the playing surface of your board for hours at a time, so you really don’t want it to get scratched. And the most common way in which boards get scratched is someone sliding things across the top of it.

It’s very important that you don’t let anyone put a drink or a pot plant on top of your Go board (yes, this does happen). Wine, in particular, can easily stain a board and pot plants can ruin wood if they’re leaking water onto it for any significant amount of time.

Keep your Go board clean

Dusting your board is fairly straightforward doesn’t take long. It simply removes dust and other grit to reduce wear on the playing surface.

If your Go board is precious to you, it’s best to lightly dust your board before playing and dust it again when you finish, to remove any dirt that might have been left by your Go stones.

Use a soft cloth and be gentle (you don’t want to grind dirt into the wood). If there’s a lot of grit on the board for some reason, you can use a slightly damp cloth to remove it and wipe the board dry afterwards. Be careful not to make your board too wet.

Luxury Go boards come with a cover

Most luxury boards come with a cover to protect the board when it’s not in use. At Go Game Guru, we include a cover with all Kaya boards, and all floor boards over three inches thick (regardless of the type of wood).

A cover isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps to keep the board clean and prevent accidental damage. If you have an expensive Go board, you’ll probably want to use one.

How to oil your Go board

If you want to make sure a solid wood Go board lasts for as long as possible, you can also oil it periodically. Oil can serve as a replacement for the moisture in the board and help to prevent it from drying out. This is only necessary with solid wood boards.

You only want to apply a light oil to your board and we recommend Camellia oil (aka Tsubaki oil), which comes from Camellia japonica (not tea seed oil). All of the solid wood Go boards we sell have been treated with Camellia oil and we can send you more if you need it.

You can use a soft cloth (some old cotton rags will be fine, as long as they’re clean and soft) to rub the oil into the board (including the face and also the sides and the bottom). Use it very sparingly. This will help to protect your board from heat and humidity (and will also provide a small degree of other protection to the surface).

It’s best to put your board on something clean and soft, like an old towel, when oiling it. This will help to protect the edges of the board from accidental damage while you’re moving it around and will also stop you from making a mess with the oil. An old towel on top of carpet would be good, for example.

Unless you live in a very dry climate, oiling your board once a year or so should be sufficient.

If you can’t get Camellia oil, (boiled) Linseed oil is a reasonable alternative (not raw Flaxseed oil though, it will go rancid). In general, it’s best to stick with the one kind of oil, so you should ask the people who sold you the board if you’re not sure (if you bought your board from us, use Camellia oil).

Some Go boards (not ours) come with a bag of wax, and you can reapply a small amount of wax instead of oiling the board if you want to. Often the wax is only meant to be temporary though and oil will better protect your board in the long run.

Camellia oil is also traditionally used to help protect Japanese woodworking tools, so you might be able to buy it at a local woodworking store. If you can’t find it anywhere, you can contact us and we’ll order some for you.

Summary

To recap, avoid excessively dry or damp conditions. Keeping your board inside, where you live (not in the basement or garage) should be fine in nearly all cases.

You can use a humidifier or keep a small container of water near your board in very dry climates.

Avoid fluctuations in heat – for example, don’t store your board in direct sunlight or next to a heater. You can lightly oil your Go board with Camellia oil, to make it last longer.

Modern composite boards require very little care, but traditional single piece boards do require care. Ultimately the decision is personal.

If you want something simple and utilitarian, we recommend a composite board.

If you want something more traditional, and you’re prepared to make some minimal effort to look after it, then you may prefer a single piece wooden board.

The most important points are:

  1. Know what kind of board you have and whether it might require special care (contact the vendor if in doubt).
  2. Try not to store things on top of your Go board.
  3. Try to keep your Go board clean.
  4. Have fun! If having nice equipment increases your enjoyment of Go, that’s great. Basic equipment works too, so don’t stress, just play. :)
Everyone can play Go. You don't need fancy equipment to have fun. I hope this Go board is fire proof.

Everyone can play Go. You don’t need fancy equipment to have fun. I hope this Go board is fire proof.

What are your tips for Go board care?

Some members of the Go community are very knowledgeable about Go equipment and I’m sure some of you have great tips to share which I haven’t included above.

Write a comment below if you’d like to share your knowledge and improve this guide to Go board care.

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