Unusual Materials

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This is intended to start a discussion of alternatives to the traditional materials used for Go equipment. Maybe you have a unique aesthetic sense, maybe you can't afford a $3,000 kaya goban, or maybe you just don't want to be responsible for the deaths of all those trees and clams [1].

What about stones made from stainless steel? Or hematite? Tiger's eye? They don't have to be black and white, so long as they're easily differentiated. How about marble gobans, or metal? Discuss.

-- StFiend

alexbobp?: I have recently been making marble go boards on flooring tiles, using a laser engraver to make the lines. You can see the process at [ext] https://imgur.com/a/XZZxo.

It's not very traditional at all, and I've heard concerns about the unpleasant sounds that stone would make on stone. So far I've been playing with the cheap starch stones from Yellow Mountain. It feels strange and backwards playing such cheap stones on such nice boards, but overall it's a good experience. When the Yunzi stones I ordered arrive, I'll see how much of a problem the sound is.

Anonymous: Towel gobans are possible, with stitched lines (preferably by someone who can sew better than me, as mine are rather wonky). You need good thick thread for visibility, especially if using a sewing machine. The result is very portable (remember to roll rather than fold to avoid creases), useful on trains because the surface is less slippery than the vinyl portable boards you can buy, and also washable, but not very aesthetically pleasing. Of course, you could use an attractive cloth.

Phelan: TravelGoBoards has a section on portable cloth boards.

Anonymous: I heard that on the set of the movie Pi the cast and crew played Go using bottle caps for stones.

Hans Wiezorke: There are Jade stones in China. They also make Yunzi stones made of some kind of stone. There is a guy on ebay selling them.

I think it most important in a Go stone, that the two colours make for a good contrast. That is why black and white are great, even for people who are colour blind. That is one reason, why a lot of two-person games (Chess, Go, Abalone, Reversi, ...) use black and white.

But why do you think you need a kaya goban and shell stones? A goban from plywood or cardboard can be easily made. And a set of cheap glass stones usually works fine.

StFiend: Simple, cheap gobans, especially for those just starting out, are nothing new; in fact I'm currently in the process of making one out of laminated pine. It just seems that the general consensus is that a high quality goban must be made of the traditional materials, with strict specifications of color, grain, feel, sound. I haven't seen much dissension there. Granted, I may not have looked hard enough.

Hans Wiezorke: "Traditional" is a very relative term. :-) An article in Go World 62 mentions that the oldest known japanese Go stones are ivory and jadeite.

I sometimes wonder, whether the praise for shell and slate maybe is a clever marketing ploy on behalf of the Go stone industry. Definitely one for which I fell, having a size 36 Tsuki set and a nice Hiba goban myself :-O. Even though I really like this set, I already regret that I sold my glass stones, because they are so much more handy in everyday play.

Niklaus: I think the word you're looking for is Yunzi, which is short for "Yunnan qizi (云南棋子)", which means weiqi stones from Yunnan province.

Pashley Yes, those are the best Chinese stones. The 'black' are dark green, slightly translucent, made from sintered jade. The white are sintered quartz. Glass stones are also common in China.

TimothyCasey: I happen to like the yunzi stones too. They have a nice shape and are easy to grip thanks to the matte finish. I think you'll find that the black stones are too hard to be jade, sintered or otherwise. And the smoothness of the conchoidal fracture in these stones along with their durability confirms that they are smelted not sintered. Moreover, jade is much heavier than quartz yet both the black and white stones have the same weight and the same volume. Even with 10% zinc oxide in the quartz mixture, a stone of jade mixture would still be a good 20% heavier - more if a metal ion treatment is used to adjust colour.

amc: I guess the problem with this kind of inquiry is what *exactly* is considered "high quality". Say, plastic stones with a kind of metal filling to give them weight would be perfectly fine for use, feel rugged on the hand to prevent slipping, feel satisfyingly heavy, etc. Plus the colors would be perfectly uniform. The board or table, made of equally modern materials, combining metal, glass, wood, and different "types" of plastic, could be equally perfect.

And it would totally suck, at least according to I'd guess 80% of all Go players.

Pashley The stones you describe are Ing stones. They are very common in Taiwan and I have seen them in Canada. They come in special bowls that make them easy to count.

You should read the page on Wabi Sabi. For asian players this is a given, and most westerners that reach Go motivated by a love of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean art and culture probably instinctively feel attracted to it. There is a tradition in Go, I think, and for most people that reach Go via culture (as opposed to, say, mathematicians that came to the game out of a pure love of mental challenges) this tradition ends up catching. I would enjoy playing Go anywhere, but somehow, the feeling of playing it with natural materials, hearing the satisfying click of the stones, and feeling the "right" materials in my hand has an aestethic "peace" to it that I find pretty engaging.

I don't know, maybe I just read too much Hikaru No Go :)

TimothyCasey: While artisanship is the key to manufacturing quality, I think shibumi (渋み) is the key to quality of material selection. Even the cheap Japanese miniature sets using shiny glass and one inch thick wooden goban seem to come off well because to some degree they set superficial simplicity in counterpoint to a deeper underlying complexity. You can see this emerge in designs where complex textures are used to fill a very simple overall sketch.

Bob McGuigan: It's worth mentioning that green Go stones are widely available in Japan. They are some kind of plastic, I think, and the light colored stones are a light green color. The idea is that the sharp contrast between the white and black stones may be visually tiring or disturbing for people with some eyesight conditions. The green-black contrast is supposed to be less tiring.

I can imagine a very nice Go board made of brass or even un-dyed solid nylon.

To me, the strict adherence to a particular set of materials doesn't seem like the way to appreciate the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, incomplete and unconventional.

[1] - Blake: Just a note. Clamshell stones don't kill clams; they pick up the shells on the beach, I believe. Or else they're going to be used for food anyway. In either case, clamshell stones aren't evil. Unless you belong to PETA. In which case... well, let's not go there ;)

Baz: Though hopefully unnecessary for the lot of you, we mustn't forget to mention the dollar-store Go set. A black gel-ink pen, a sheet of foam-core (posterboard with foam in the middle for rigidity), black electrical/PVC tape (to wrap around the edge of the foam-core), little sub-tupperware-grade tubs, and those cheap translucent colored-glass "decoration gems" that look like Pente pieces. Get the blue and red/brown stones, do a good job drawing the grid, and you have a very cheap board that fits in a laptop case and still manages to look decent enough for a coffee shop full of people that don't know what a real goban looks like. I feel like a failure to capitalism for admitting I did this, but 5 U.S. dollars never bought this much entertainment elsewhere.

gtwade: Here's an idea that doesn't work: The company I work for makes the coated film for dry erase boards. My idea was to draw a 19x19 grid on the film using a Sharpie pen, and then to play by drawing the pieces on with dry erase markers. It looked great! But, when I started to use it, the solvent in the dry erase markers smeared the lines and ruined the board! What a dissapointment. mdobbins Solution: Mark the grid on one side, and play the stones on the other side.

ProtoDeuteric- When I first started playing Go, I didn't have a real board or stones, so I just traced the board onto graph paper that I had for math class. For the stones I just used pen and drew open circles for white and filled-in circles for black.

NickGeorge Oh yeah?! X's and O's, baby!

NickGeorge Anyone try the metal boards?

Baz: For a very stylish board: two sheets of clear acrylic (plexiglass), both cut in half, the area of the board's worth of (bear with me), light wood-grain vinyl tile, superglue, three little brass hinges (whose width when closed happens to be almost the width of the acrylic) , electrical tape (still good for the edge of the board), and some scrap plexiglass. Use a fine-tip marker to draw the grid on the vinyl (get it centered so the pattern is symmetrical), or on the underside of one of the acrylic sheets. The vinyl adheres to one sheet of the acrylic, another sheet is superglued on the corners, on the vinyl (Krazy Glue does wonders with these surfaces). The hinges superglue to the bottom, and a few scraps are superglued underneath in a pattern so that each half of the board doesn't have a scrap underneath where the other half does (staggered). The scraps (which can be cut all pretty-like) make up for the hinge underneath. Tape up the borders with nice black tape, and viola. It folds backwards, so the underside never shows at any time.

DON'T use glass unless you like the scraping sound.

Okay, so it sounds/feels/looks nothing like kaya. But it looks good, it's 20 dollars, and it impresses people at a coffee shop.

Imagine all the other kinds of vinyl tiles out there. Green/jade and white stones on a faux black-marble tile, for example.

... And you can use glass cleaner on it. -- Baz

Phelan: Do you have any pictures of this board you can show us? I'm curious about how it looks. :)

Roberto: I created a Go board with Go stones all done with EVA Foam. The board has two sides, 19x19 on one side and 9x9 on the other. The stones are 5 mm thick cylinders instead of the regular stone shape. A picture showing my boards can be seen at [ext] http://web.archive.org/web/20091021083614/http://geocities.com/TimesSquare/Stadium/9281/eqengl.html
The set is sold for US 5.00 plus freight
The American Go Association is importing some of these sets.
The Nihon Kiin of Brazil is also buying these sets from me.
The greatest advantage of this set is that you can throw the board against your opponent without great risk of damage. :)

Anonymous: After I had discovered rules of the wonderful game of go I had to test the game.. I shared the rules with one of my friends. Then we went to a local supermarket, bought some chalk and two different kinds of breathmints(ofcourse stone shaped:)

Then we drew a 9x9 board on the ground and played GO.. and after a capture, you could literally eat your opponent's stones ;)

Depending on your relationship with your opponent you can even give them a congratulatory kiss at the end of the game, (using breath-mints)

juhtolv: I think that white marble, especially from Carrara (Italy), would be great material for white Go-stones. Have you ever seen such Go-stones for sale?

Bob McGuigan: I think Yutopian sells marble go stones. Bob: Well, I just checked Yutopian's web site and the marble stones are no longer listed.

DimaY: go-gamestore.com sells marble stones. They are not Italian marble, but Chinese marble. Here is their description: [ext] http://go-gamestore.com/goequip/stones/stoneinfo.htm#Marble

dej2: [ext] http://www.algorithmicartisan.com/gostones/ sells some exotic go stones.

Scryer: My first goban was made of oilcloth, and after I got tired of using different colors of beans for the stones I switched to U.S. pennies: copper pennies for black and steel pennies for white -- in 1943 all but a few accidental pennies were made of zinc-coated steel to save the copper for the war effort. This set lasted me for a decade, and I still have the jar of steel pennies... but now I have a traditional go set!

Feeman: I made a Goban from solid oak in the my high school's woodworking class. It's full sized, and i just basically glued 3 pieces of oak together, planed and sanded it, got it to a table saw and cut 19x19 divets in to create the lines. As for stones, i started with pennies and dimes, those really smell. Now I have glass stones which were bought from some bookstore, they're a bit small, but it suffices.

EwoutStam: I plan to make a 9x9 or 13x13 goban using clay and marbles. It's not quite like a goban but you can play go on it. First I will make a solid square block from the clay, and I will push intentations in it using marbles. And on two opposite sides of the board I can make a long groove in which one can place the captured marbles. The most difficult part will be to find the right coloured marbles. But it should be rather easy and cheap to make. Downside is that it's not really portable (heavy) and if you drop it, it might break. And I think a 19x19 would be too big. The marbles can be kept in simple cloth bags.

dej2: if you plan to use marbles why not use the old chinese checkers design. Cut out holes in a piece of cardboard where the marble can rest without rolling around. Since a hold punch would only be effective around the edges.. I'd recommend a electric drill to make the holes in your cardboard. (much more portable than a block of clay.

PatG: If you are going to glaze and fire the board, go whole hog and make the stones out of clay as well. With a bit of patience, you could make clay stones in the traditional shape. 19x19 won't be too big if you make the overall board size smaller.

MarkJ I never heard of this until now - we did it! Full size too. Terry made the jig, a metal cylinder sliding inside another - half the mold in fibreglass (or glue?) in each tube. The stones were from red clay and white. They were lovely but - they bubbled when fired high enough and were ugly. When they kept their shape, they were dusty, and I got mocked for it, at a national Go tournament somewhere in England. Phil made the board from plywood, perhaps 3/4 inch thick, edged with rosewood that made all the difference. he drew the lines in biro, I think that could have been done better, it'd have been nice to cut lines. And Terry made containers in a trad shape from glazed pottery with upturnable lids. But that jig! I wouldn't have known where to begin.

Anton: When I teach children to play Go at our club, I suggest that they make a paper board, and then use nickels (white) and pennies (black) for stones. Sometimes I give them copies of a 9-line board, or tell them to download the pdf file from our club's website. They can also print several copies of the 9-line board, and then them tape them together to make a 19-line board.

Dart: The biggest question I have is not about the necessities, but more about holding the stones! Baz and I had played for a few months, through his brilliant boards, and we searched high and low for any type of descent GO BOWLS . . . Pier 1 to Bed Bath and Beyond, and not a single descent bowl. Making one of wood was down right out of the question. he ended up purchasing 2 plastic Korean Stone Holders, but something above tupper ware, but below purchasing. Anyone have suggestions? [Not a Crown Royal Purple Bag either ;)

AKarley : many years ago I was walking through town and noticed that a bank office was being heavily rebuilt. Outside it was a number of slabs of polished stone (what the trade would call "Norwegian Blue" - nothing to do with parrots nailed to their perches but a ultrabasic plutonic rock with large crystals of labradorite. Once seen, never mistaken.) leaning against the wall, several broken. Obvious scrap. So I lifted the biggest one. 80lbs, but a beautiful piece of rock, polished on 4 of its 6 faces. We got it to my apartment and stashed it in the communal shed. My intention was to make it into a Go board, by carving the lines with a stone cutting disc (about 1mm), then glue/ melt something like brass into it for the lines. Then a set of standard sized stones. It would have looked lovely. Totally unplayable, but lovely. A few months later I was taking my bike out of the shed - someone else had knocked the slab over and it had shattered into several pieces. < *SIGH* > I haven't come across another slab suitable for a Go board, but I've got a nice bread board/ cheese board set made from some Finnish Rapakivi granite. One day!

Gresil (31.10.2004): How about a gravestone blank? Just carve in the lines. And your name as well, so everyone will know it's yours.

Zinger: I made a cheap but playable 9x9 board. I got a clipboard ($1.00), and removed the clip so it's just a thin, flat board a little bigger than a sheet of paper. Then I made a grid in MS excel, printed it on yellowish paper, and attached it to the clipboard with spray glue. It's very functional and portable, fine for teaching beginners. I use some cheap glass stones borrowed from another set, with small plasticware bowls. Works great.

Matthew9c3 (2005-01-07): My main board is a 3/4" thick 15"x15" piece of plywood that I drew lines on 3/4" apart with a felt marker and then lacquered over so it wouldn't smudge. Sand it down and polish it enough and it's really hard to tell it's been lacquered at all except that the surface is so nice and smooth. For stones, I just got some clear and blue glass drops for about $1/100, though I have some glass stones in the mail I purchased on eBay. Tums work well on the board too now that they have some darker colors on some of their new flavors -- stomach relief with every capture.

Right now I'm working on a a miniature set with some black and white cat's eye cubed beads I picked up in 100 bead strands. The beads are about 1/8" inch on a side so my board will be standard graph-paper size at 5 lines per inch. I hope to have a tiny travel case made when I'm done with fishing line strung between the lines on the board to hold the pieces in place when it's carried. A Staedler pencil tin would work really well for the project as well as being very easy to carry around. I'm totally fascinated with tiny gadgets so this likely won't be my first miniature go board. I really wish very small travel boards were available where I could find them. It seems to me that the more into the game people get the bigger they want their pieces.

George Caplan Many years ago my parents bought me my first go set. The board is wood, but instead of lines it contains 361 dimple type depressions ala a chinese checkers set. The "stones" are blue and yellow marbles. It worked for playing other beginners, but no real go player would play me.

Andy If you're worried about making a go board from cheaper woods, but still getting the right sound, check out some luthery forums (try www.mimf.com) Being musical instrument makers you'll find loads of recommendations for woods that achieve good resonance and sound quality. Also, for keeping costs down there will be tips on things like reliable ways to laminate quality woods around slightly cheaper ones whilst retaining sound quality. Should open up loads of possibilities for creating cost-efficient gobans that sound 'right'.

Tas: On Roskilde Festival (big music festival) this year, I played a few 9x9 games of Go using full (black) and empty (white) beer bottles in four 30-bottle-crates placed next to each other.

Phelan: Somebody discussed using EdibleStones.

Gresil: So, magnets aren't really a feasible solution for a homemade travel board, and I dislike the shoddy plastic mass-manufactured travel sets. Motivated thusly, I just made a quick proof-of-concept $2 travel go board that's basically equivalent to a pin cushion. I took an inch-thick square of spongy plastic (sort of like the stuff cheap mattresses are made of - I don't know the English word for the material) and wrapped it snugly in a burlap cover on which I'd embroidered a 19x19 grid. For stones I have black and white tacks. It's not pretty but I wasn't going for looks yet anyway, and it works: it retains a nice square shape and it'll probably preserve the board position if your train falls down a ravine.

alexbobp?: Gresil, I beg to differ! I have an idea for a homemade magnetic board that would definitely work. You start by getting some cheap stones that you can drill into. I would choose the starch stones from Yellow Mountain Imports, but plastic would work too, or even real stone if you have a good drill. Then acquire some neodymium magnets, like [ext] http://www.amazon.com/Neodymium-Magnets-inch-Cylinder-N48/dp/accessories/B001KUOKPA These magnets are very strong. Using a drill press, you can make holes in your stones and then superglue the magnets into place. These will make a nice snap on your metallic board without you even trying, and will not shake off easily!

Gyom: I usually play on my home-made goban, which is simply a square piece of cloth, on which i sewed the grid (using my girlfriend's sewing machine). The stones are those cheap glass flat marbles that you find in decoration shops. (Excuse my poor english, I lack vocabulary, so feel free to rewrite this passage, you'd be welcome !)

Ryohei56:I recently made a goban from an offcut of MDF board which I picked up from my local Homebase store for free. The grid was drawn in with a fine ink pen, then the whole board was varnished with thinned clear varnish. For stones, I bought blue and green glass stones from a supermarket (Morrisons). These are flat on one side. I'd have preferred other colours, but they are ok to use.

Total cost, about 3.50.

jvloenen: We've got an open-air board over here, made of stone. It's made of square tiles of about 10x10 each. Very easy to do in your own garden! For the stones we cut some poles into slices.

Pashley Recycle one of these as a board? They are going out of fashion as offices try to go paperless, are probably available cheap somewhere. Not usually big enough for 19X19. [ext] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paper_cutter_1.jpg


AKarley: As mentioned above, there is a seller on eBay providing "Yunzi" stones. And these are indeed very nice, though 'different'. In the same buying session I also got a nice set of polished stone bowls. The stone business normally refers to such as "marble" but in fact it's a quartzofelspathic schist with some very nice ductile shear folds. Photos to follow from the recent Cupar tournament, with a more detailed write-up. Also, a number of suppliers are supplying their stones in quite sweet little woven straw bowls. The same bowls from different suppliers, suggests that there's only the one source at the Chinese end.

--- Feylias: I've got an attractive set of crystal and hematite stones from [ext] http://www.algorithmicartisan.com/gostones/goStones.html (which website has many others on hand, apparently.

Also, a friend of mine created a 19x19 lego board using (of course) lego pieces as stones. It worked very very well during road trips when even a commercial magnetic board was a bit prone to being brushed out of order. I've often thought this must be the solution to how a blind person could play go; differently shaped pieces strongly fixed to the board. --- Phelan: Pics of Lego board, please! :D As for how blind persons play, see BlindGo. That's exactly what the blind Go boards have been like, different textures on top of stones, and the stones were fixed to the board in some way. No definitive board yet. If you can find a pic of PierreAudouard playing you'll see one example.

[ext] http://photos-f.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc1/hs188.snc1/6290_102672887038_505132038_2651149_419056_n.jpg

Phelan: Not sure if this is already on this page, but since I was recently looking for it, if I add it now, it will be easier to find later - A Crystal Goban: [ext] http://www.panix.com/~afox/travel/Japan/photo/thecrystalgoban.html

--- About those starch stones that were available cheaply some years ago: I have 'em and we've used them for years and years. The problem is that they are small, leaving gaps between them on a Japanese-style goban. Sandra

Unusual Materials last edited by Sandra on September 9, 2022 - 11:05
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