How to Make Chess Pieces with Lathe Turning

What You'll Need
Pen and paper
Wood stain or wood paints

Lathe turning is a traditional art that has produced some fantastic pieces of wood throughout the centuries, from very complex chairs and tables to tiny chess pieces. Making chess pieces from wood lathes is a hobby all of its own and can provide many happy hours of relaxation, creating perfectly beautiful pawns, rooks, and bishops. Some parts of the chess board are more complicated to make than others, so if you are just starting out in the lathe turning world, you may prefer to make a number of pawns before you begin on difficult pieces, such as the knights.

Step 1 - Make a Design

The first thing that you will need to do is to make a chess set design. You can either get these from books, or from places on the Internet. You may find that, rather than copying a pattering that you find, you wish to adapt it. The finished design should be a life-size model of what you want the pieces to look like, but in two dimensions, rather than three. If you want to make more than basic round pawns, then you will need to do both portrait and profile designs of your piece.

Step 2 - Start the Carving

As a novice, you might want to just concentrate on the pawns to start with. You may also want to make your pieces out of all one type of wood, such as a balsa or bass wood, while those with more experience might like to use two different types of wood, one darker than the other. Before you begin to carve, cut your wood block into a piece small enough to cut the pawns out of. You may need to cut several of each block in order to cover any mistakes that you might make.

Step 3 -  Carving

Use your design to tell you where you should make your cuts in the piece. Start out by defining the tops and bottoms, and then move down each side. Even if you are making the chess pieces using a lathe turning process you may still need to use a sharp knife for complicated details, such as the underside of the knight's head. When you are making the pawns, you may opt to use a lathe duplicator, which can make identical copies of each piece you turn.

Step 4 - Finishing

Once you have finished the turning, you should sand down all of your pieces using the sandpaper, and then either varnish or use a wood paint to define the pieces. Those who have used one single wood for all the pieces will need two wood stains, one light and one dark, to finish the pieces. Leave them to dry.