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Gary Dahlstrom spent several years curing the wood, as well as designing and building the chess set he donated to the chess club at Grand Island Middle School.
Gary Dahlstrom spent several years curing the wood, as well as designing and building the chess set he donated to the chess club at Grand Island Middle School.

Woodcarver donates chess set to middle school

Sat, May 20th 2023 07:00 am

Story and Photo by Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

Gary Dahlstrom, who donated a hand-carved chess set to Veronica Connor Middle School’s chess club, was recognized for his work by the Grand Island Central School District Board of Education at a recent meeting.

John Fitzpatrick, middle school principal, said, “Mr. Dahlstrom, we so appreciate this donation to our chess club, and we thank you very much.”

Fitzpatrick then described the work that went into creating the chess set, which includes a chessboard nestled on top of a castle, as well as red and blue chess pieces.

“Gary Dahlstrom is well known for his woodworking skills in the community and across Western New York,” Fitzpatrick said. “He got his start in woodcarving on a Boy Scout weekend in 2004 after being given a knife and a piece of wood from another carver on the trip. He continues to work with the Boy Scout troop on Grand Island, teaching their Scouts wood carving.

“This chess set was created by Gary from a fallen basswood tree in Boston, New York. Basswood is a woodcarver’s favorite wood, due to its tight grain and relative softness. After this tree was removed from the woods, it was milled into boards in a sawmill in Holland, New York, and then spent two years in Gary’s garage, drying.

“After it was dry enough, the rough-cut boards were then cut into approximate-size chess pieces. After that, sharp knives were used to cut each piece. Carving each piece is a slow and meticulous process. The castle was created from the same basswood tree. The four sides are each one piece with grooves cut with a D gouge to resemble the bricks. The four corners are made using woodworking tools, include a table saw, band saw, and a router.

“The chessboard was made using maple and walnut. The wood was cut into strips and then glued together with alternating light and dark colors. They were cut into strips again perpendicular to the first cut. After realigning the strips in a checkerboard pattern, it was glued again.

“The board was then created and glued into place, outlining the squares. The carving time for the pieces, the chessboard creation and the castle creation was over one year. After it was finished, this chess set won a ribbon at the 2018 Erie County Fair’s wood carving competition. It was on display at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University in 2019 and the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda in 2021.”

Dahlstrom said, “I am thrilled that this has a home that will appreciate it. It sat in my closet, collecting dust, so I am thrilled to have a nice home for it.”

Dahlstrom is the father of three Grand Island High School graduates: Eric (2000), Jolene (2002) and Casey (2006).

Gary Dahlstrom stands with Veronica Connor Middle School Principal John Fitzpatrick, Assistant Principal Adam Buffomante, and chess club adviser Susan Szczublewski, as well as the Board of Education, and the chess set he created.

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