Wooden Poker Chip Cases – So Much Wood, So Little Time!

Whether you are looking to build or purchase a custom wooden poker chip case to house your chips, there is one thing that every woodworking project has in common…wood! With so many different types of wood available, where do you start? Here are a few helpful tips that you may want to consider before choosing the right wood for your case.

The wood of different species varies considerably in weight, strength, and appearance. Softwood is normally uniform in grain (texture) and color. Hardwood produces lumber in which the grain may run vertically or horizontally and may be coarse or smooth. Rarer decorative woods may be cut into thin layers and glued to other wood structures to form a vaneer. There are also several characteristics of wood that you will want to consider.

Grain – the stripes in the wood created by growth rings which may be tight, indicating slow growth, widely spaced, indicating quick growth, or any variation in between. Different woods have distinct grain patterns that help identify them.

Figure – the pattern in the wood that gives it a unique appearance that may be wavy, tiger striped, curly, flaming, or many other variations.

Burl – an unusual growth on a tree that may be caused by a virus or bacteria, often resulting in a highly figured piece of wood.

The type of wood that you may want to use in your case is dependent on a number of factors. When designing a poker chip case, you have to take into account the weight of the chips, which can approach 50 lbs for a 1000 poker chip case. Don’t try to save money by using a 2″ x 2″ piece of spruce from Home Depot! Cases generally need to be made out of a good piece of Hardwood, such as Maple, Cherry or Walnut.

A completely different way to look at things is to choose a wood based on aesthetics. You can choose wood based on figure, color, grain, or texture. Figure can range from Birdseye and Curly to Quilted and Burl. Different wood types have naturally different colors; from white (Holly) to black (Ebony) and red (Bloodwood) to green (Lignum Vitae.) You may want to create a case with a unique grain. Try on some Zebrawood, Rosewood, or even a nice Black Walnut. As far as texture, Leopardwood, Oak, and Wenge have large, open pores, whereas Ebony, Cocobolo, and Hard maple have a very fine texture, making the boards feel smooth to the touch.

Looking at specific wood types and their characteristics, the first type of wood to consider is maple. The sapwood has the color of cream, and is very similar to heartwood, and has a straight grain. Maple is somewhat dense and is strong. Rock Maple is one of the strongest species, and has a reddish color. Curley Maple is especially prized by woodworkers as a hard maple that is generally considered more durable, and often yields woods with exceptional figuring. The undulating pattern of wavy lines found in curley maple results from wood fibers in the tree becoming distorted as they grow. This striking pattern is known by a variety of names, such as ‘rippled’, ‘tiger-striped’, and ‘fiddle-backed’. Ambrosia Maple is a species of hard maple, and the ‘ambrosia’ in the name, refers to the ambrosia beetle. The beetle bores into maple trees that are already cut and deposits a fungus throughout the holes. The fungus reacts with the wood and creates the discoloration associated with ambrosia maple. While the ambrosia beetle penetrates other trees, the maple seems to have partnered with it uniquely to produce an enchanting result. Color can include cream, light brown, and some dark streaks. The grain patterns are artistic and are best characterized as arcing swirls.

The next type of wood which is commonly used for cases is cherry. Cherry may have a pinkish color and may become reddish brown when it is exposed to the sun. Much like maple, cherry tends to have a straight grain and smells like roses when freshly cut. It has a medium level of strength and density, and the finish is excellent. Cherry has a pale yellowish sapwood and a darker heartwood. The wood’s color deepens to its characteristic reddish brown, almost mahogany-like color when exposed to the sun. The sapwood never darkens to the same color of the heartwood. Cherry often shows a waving curly figure when finished. Heartwood can have dark spots or fine black lines that are actually gum pockets, that pose added challenges in finishing. Both maple and cherry tends to be midrange in price, and are excellent for those who want to have a nice case without spending a lot of money.

Walnut lumber is also frequently used for fine wooden cases. The wood’s color deepens to its characteristic reddish brown, almost mahogany-like color when exposed to the sun. The sapwood is creamy white and the heartwood is a rich chocolate or purplish brown in color, with a dull sheen. Black walnut is normally straight grained and is noted for its beautiful grain character, producing more figure variation than any other wood. Over the years the wood develops a lustrous patina. Walnut woods can also have a wavy grain. It has a medium level of density, but is very strong.

Another dark colored wood which is very expensive is ebony. The two types of ebony species which you will commonly see are African ebony and Indian ebony. While most ebony species will have a straight grain, they may also feature a grain which is wavy. It has a high level of density and strength, but is highly brittle as well. If it is well polished, Ebony will showcase a spectacular luster.

Oak is an inexpensive type of wood which typically comes in the form of a light colored sapwood. It has a color which ranges from tan to a yellowish brown color. While it can also be straight grained, it may be irregular as well. Despite being one of the cheapest woods, it has a high level of strength and density. It can also be stained, and although it is good for those on a budget, it is not typically used for custom cases. Much like oak, pine is an inexpensive wood which can be white or yellow in color. It does not have a high level of density, but you have to pay close attention to how you stain pine in order for it to work properly.

Mahogany is one of the most expensive woods you’ll find. It can only be found in west Africa, and it will have a reddish brown color. The grain can be straight, or it can be interlocked. Though it has a medium level of density, it doesn’t have a large amount of strength. It can easily be polished and stained.

There are many varieties of wood available to create that one of a kind poker chip case. If you have a better understanding of the types of wood available, and how they can be used, you will be better equipped to achieve the desired result of a quality finished product.