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Crafting Chess

DIY: How to make a wooden chess pieces

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Chess is a game of strategy and patience. Crafting chess sets is a difficult task as it can consume many hours of yours. They are made of many materials like wood, bone, plastic, marble, glass and plaster of Paris.

All chess pieces are made from different techniques. However, the wooden chess set is highly appreciated and liked by many as their aesthetics are pleasing and they can be used as a décor.

Majority of the wooden chess sets are made in India. But some of them are made in Slovenia, Philippines and some in the USA.

Now let us go in detail on how to make a wooden chess pieces on your own.

Before starting the Do it Yourself project, make sure you have the following machines & tools.

  1. Wooden Lathe machine
  2. Band saw
  3. Grinder
  4. Cutting tools
  5. Digital caliper
  6. Sand paper
  7. Stain finisher
  8. Drill Machine
  9. Wheel buffing

Let’s start the procedure of making the chess set.

Selecting the Design

You need to select the design of the chess pieces you would like to craft. Take each and every dimension of the piece, from the head, shank, collars and bottom base. If possible, draw a sketch on a piece of paper and mention the dimensions for your own convenience.

Selecting the wood

Wood chess sets are only made with the hardwoods. It cannot be made on soft woods. The examples of hardwood are Boxwood, Maple, Indian Rosewood, Ebony Wood, Walnut, Golden Rosewood, Padauk etc. You need to make the planks out of woods so that it fixed easily on the lathe machine. Band saw can be used to make the planks.

Always note that the planks must be round and should be according to the base size of the chessmen. For example, if the chess king’s base is 38mm, the wood plank should be no lesser than 45mm in diameter.

Using Lathe Machine

A lathe machine is an automatic machine used in grinding a work piece to give a desired size and shape. Generally a lathe machine is used to grind metals, but with some modifications, we can use it for woods as well.

Now fix the wooden plank to the lathe machine and start spinning it. The spinning works at the speed of 2800-3000 RPM. There are specialized tools, which are used to grind the wood to give its shape. However, you can also choose to automatically do the grinding by setting the other piece along with the machine. The below video shows the automatic grinding of the wood.

Sanding the Pieces

Sanding the turned chess pieces is the most important factor to get rid of rough edges and smudges. Sanding can be done when the pieces are on the lathe. Make sure that you don’t press extra force while sanding as it can distort the dimensions of the pieces.

Grinding the base

Everyone loves heavy chess pieces. The metal or lead is added into the base of the chessmen so as to make it more comfortable to move and keep the center of gravity of the piece in check so that the piece don’t knock off while playing, specially the blitz chess.

We need to drill the base with specialized rotary drill bits. Make sure that the size of the drill should be 1/3 of the size of the base; else the chances of splitting or cracking from the base will increase. Now add iron studs or lead and fix it with epoxy. Make sure to keep the weight nearer to the base as much possible as you can to keep the center of gravity low. If lead is not available, you can insert the spherical fishing weights that are easily available in the market. 

Crafting the knights

Crafting the knights are different than turning other pieces in the lathe. As seen in the above video, knight crafting need a lot of hard work, patience and expertise in using wood cutting chisel and knives. Crafting a knight in India is completely different then whatever we have seen till now. The Indian craftsman uses different types of machines to craft a knight. Having said that, the practice to craft a chess knight is completely hidden and secret affair in India.

Crafting the pieces

Each and every piece has it’s own specialty. Whether it’s making queens & rook turrets or crafting bishops’ mitre (cut on the bishops head), every job needs experience, patience and a eye of an artist.

Applying polish

When done with making the chessmen, applying different type of polish is important to make the pieces smooth and shiny. The Indian carvers generally apply the paste of “Lakh Dana” polish to all the pieces and rub them with the wheel buffing. This polish is being extracted from the trees and is said to be organic. To give the pieces some shine, luster wax is used against the wheel-buffing machine.

Applying the felt

Applying the felt is a satisfying job. After hours of hard work, felt is applied to the chessmen bases so that they can be moved smoothly on the surface of the board. You can apply any wood glue to apply the felts. There are many options but the popular choices are the cloth of either billiard board or leather felt.

Crafting a chess piece is surely requires a hard work, patience and artistic quality. Make sure to do under the guidance of some experienced wood carver if you’re a novice, as the tools discussed above can be dangerous if not properly used. Good luck with your project.

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