Owner's Site | View Cart | Keyword Search | Item # Search | Privacy | Customer Service   

Articles and Projects

Back to Article and Project Index

Chess and Checkers

Hands On May/June 80

Click to see larger viewIt's an exciting game to play, and an elegant game to look at. Chess is played with six different pieces – king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, and pawn – each piece a tiny sculpture. Most chess sets are turned on a lathe or carved by hand; however, the set pictured here is made on a Bandsaw, each piece formed with a compound cut.

Making Compound Cuts

The technique of making compound cuts was explained in HANDS ON! No. 1, but here's a quick review:

Make your first cut or cuts.

  1. Tape the cut pieces back together.
  2. Turn the workpiece 90 degrees and cut again.
  3. When you unwrap the tape, you'll have a three-dimensional wooden shape of an animal, candle-holder, or chess piece, depending on the cuts you've made. It's a simple technique, but we suggest that for this project you modify step #2 to make it even simpler.

Instead of taping the pieces back together, leave about 1/8" of stock uncut underneath the 'head' of each chessman. This will keep the scrap attached with no need to tape it back on.

When you've made all your cuts, go back and saw the remaining 1/8" segments, knocking off the scrap. Only when making your last 1/8" cut will you need any of that scrap, and then you still don't have to tape it back on. Just set the chessman on top to make the cut square with the blade. (See Fig. 1)

Click to see larger view

Fig. 1. When cutting chessmen, leave 1/8" of stock uncut underneath the 'head', then Knock off scrap.

This modification of the compound cuts technique works well for most small workpieces, saving a great deal of time and tape.

Making the Chessmen

Select two contrasting woods to distinguish one side of the chess set from the other. We chose to make our set from walnut and maple.

Cut your wood into small blocks before starting on the compound cuts. Listed below are the number and size of blocks you’ll need:

16 Pawns 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" x 3-1/4"
4 Knights 1-3/4" x 1-3/4" x 3-1/2"
8 Rooks & Bishops 1-3/4" x 1-3/4" x 4-1/4"
2 Queens 2" x 2" x 4-3/4"
2 Kings 2" x 2" x 5-3/8"

The kings, queens, rooks, and pawns are shaped with two cuts, each exactly the same as the other. So are the bishops, but on the second cut put a kerf in the heads to make the bishop's miter. The knights are made with two different cuts to form the traditional horses' heads. You may want to round their noses slightly to make them appear more horse-like.

Checkers, Too

If you want to add checkers to your chess set, cut or glue up two blocks 1-3/4" x 1-3/4" x 12", each block made from one of your contrasting woods. Turn the blocks on your Mark V to form two cylinders 1-3/4" in diameter. Using the stop rod and the miter gauge, cut 12 checkers from each cylinder on the Bandsaw, each checker 3/4" wide.

Finishing the Pieces

The shapes of the various chessmen are fairly intricate, and this unfortunately makes them tedious to sand. However, we ran across a set of small drum sanders that speed things up considerably. The drums reach into most of the curves and crevices, and the chess pieces require only touch-up hand sanding. If you decide that you'd rather sand the chess set by hand, a small half-round rasp and a supply of emery boards will prove useful.

We also tried something new when applying a finish to the pieces hand-rubbed polyurethane. Dip your chessmen and checkers in a can of high-gloss polyurethane wood finish. Wipe off the excess with a rag and let dry on a sheet of wax paper. Dip the pieces again and wait for the finish to get tacky (about 10-15 minutes). Rub the partially dried finish into the wood with a rag. Don't worry if this rag becomes gummed up; this actually helps buff the finish. Let the pieces stand overnight toharden completely.

Rubbing the gummy polyurethane into the wood fills any mill marks and surface imperfections. The wood becomes glass smooth and takes on a soft glow. After the second coat, the polyurethane looks remarkably like a hand-rubbed oil finish with only a fraction of the hand-rubbing. It will also resist grease and grime (caused by the constant handling of the chessmen and checkers) better than oil.

Finally, glue squares and circles of felt to the underside of the chessmen and checkers to protect the board they will rest on. And that's it except for finding yourself a chess partner to help break the set in.

Click to see larger view


  Copyright © 2017 Shopsmith All rights reserved.