A picture of a chess set turned out of a piece of 13th Century Oak by an English turner on pages 30, 31 of Gareth Williams' Master Pieces: The Architecture of Chess really grabbed my attention. Where could I find a set like this - especially with that unique knight. It planted the thought in my mind "Why couldn't I make a chess set.myself?"
So I started to "day dream" about turning my own chess pieces. What would I need? Who could teach me? Since I don't have a garage or a shop - turning wood generates plenty of shavings - and dust, for the time being, I will just have to "day dream." But since I haven't found a site devoted to the subject of turning your own chess pieces, I thought I would put together one with information and links.
Obviously, they didn't have our fancy power equipment when English, French, and German Wood Turners were making gorgeous turned wood chess pieces from the Renaissance on. Even before the creation of the Staunton Design by Nathaniel Cook in March, 1849, naming it after a chess champion, Howard Staunton, wood turners like John Clavert and John Jaques, and Robert Carpenter developed distinctive styles of turning and carving chessmen. It was a Frenchman, Francois Philidor, who popularized chess with his 1749 book, Analyse du jeu des echecs, and the French were famous for the tall uniformity of the Regence style chessmen, and also their Dieppe styled "busts on turned bases" sets. The Germans were noted for their Selenus sets with elaborately turned shafts and bases, topped with tiers of circlets resembling crowns. Woodturning continues to be a popular craft in Great Britain, and there is a flourishing industry carving chess pieces in India and Asia.
This book is a must for anyone interested in turning their own chess sets. Following a lengthy and well illustrated history of chess pieces, Mike Darlow has substantial sections on designing and on turning chess pieces as well as patterns for the turner.
Magazine: More Woodturning
Some Online Guidence:
Duplicators are attachments to the lathe that enable you to make a duplicate of a piece already turned. This would be quite useful in either doing the opposing set of pieces, or in making multiple sets for sale.
"The best way of making wooden chess pieces is on a lathe and the best design to use is the St George design or something similar. I'd suggest that it is best to distinguish between Bishops, Kings and Queens only by using differences in heights, and between Rooks, Pawns, and Knights using differences in design as well as differences in heights. Thus, the Kings should be the tallest, then the Queens, then the Bishops, then the Knights, then the Rooks, and then the Pawns. Pawns should have rounded tops. Rooks should be given flat tops. Knights should have non-lathed heads. Bishops, Queens, and Kings should have pointed tops. Obviously, it is best to use two different kinds of wood for the black and white pieces, though you could always use different shades of wood stains or varnishes." Chyss Chess
I figure I could probably turn a King and Queen of one piece of wood; Two bishops from the next; two knights from a third; and a rook and four pawns from a fourth. That would make the pieces for one side of the board. If the pieces are to be duplicated, then they should be left joined until the other side's pieces is duplicated from them.
Adding Weight to the pieces