Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

The Making of a Hnefatafl Game - One Year On

Compact 25-piece Hnefatafl Game set up for Papillon or Ealdfaeder taefl
Compact 25-piece Hnefatafl Game set up for Papillon or Ealdfaeder taefl

Friday, 3rd October 2014

Nearly a year ago I wrote a blog post about how I made the hnefatafl games I sold in the shop. A lot has changed since then: all the hnefatafl games have been replaced with much nicer sets, for starters. So I'm posting an update into what efforts go into making these games.

The biggest change is that I now use pre-cut birch plywood boards instead of the hand-cut Russian Redwood I used a year ago. Not only does this save me time, but it also improves the overall quality. Plywood isn't prone to warping like the Russian Redwood was.

Now there are two completely different kinds of board. The "classic" and "basic" series are much like the old games, except for their use of plywood. These are made in much the same way, with the pattern pencilled then burned, the edges sanded smooth and the protective coating applied.

The boards used by the "deluxe" and "compact" range are something else. These are based on the same birch plywood, but with a border of American Walnut veneer. And they're a pain in the neck! In the early days of making these, several boards were wasted, and the technique is still scary for me. The veneer is quite fragile before it's stuck to the plywood, and I'm always wondering if I'll end the day with the same number of boards that I started with.

First the veneer has to be marked and cut. These pieces need to fit together perfectly, so there's no room for mistakes here. Then it needs to be glued to the boards. It tends to curl when the glue is applied, so once the veneer is glued on I turn the boards upside down and weigh them down on a flat surface. They need to sit there for a number of hours. Finally, the overhanging bits of veneer are trimmed, and the edges and corners are sanded to smooth them down. At any part of this process the veneer can easily split. It's not really solid until the protective coating has been applied.

The other big change in the past year is my use of pawns, and in the case of the compact and deluxe ranges, nice boxes to keep them in. The pawns are no more trouble than the glass pieces, as I buy them ready-made (prices would soar if I needed to lathe-turn and paint each one). The same holds for the boxes too. I apply the same protective coating to the boxes as I do to the boards, so that there is no difference in the apparently quality.

The coating is still cellulose sanding sealer, which is what gives the surface of the boards that smooth glassy feel. I experimented with shellac over the past year too. But the quality of finish wasn't as good, and it took far longer to dry. It was prone to leaving visible patchy stains if it dried unevenly, and in one instance, the hot climate the game was sent to made the board tacky. So that was a short-lived experiment!

One final thing that has changed over the years is the format of the rules supplied with the games. At first, a 4-page A5 leaflet gave a bit of history and the rules of a single variant for the size of board supplied. These were taken straight from the Traditional Board Games Series of leaflets I wrote some years ago. But given that the games are meant to satisfy serious hnefatafl enthusiasts as well as casual players, I replaced them with an 8-page booklet. The extra space gives me room for two or three different variants for the board.

So I hope that this and the previous article give you some insight into what efforts go in to making the games you see in the shop. Perhaps it might inspire you into making a board yourself!


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