How to Turn Wood Chess Set Pieces on a Wood Lathe

A wood chess set.
What You'll Need
Pencil and scratch paper
Wood lathe
Lathe duplicator (optional)
Detail knife (optional)
Pieces of wood of various sizes (at least 30)
Sandpaper of different grits
Stain or lacquer

A wood lathe can be used to make a wide variety of items and tools, and even collectible wooden pieces like a wood chess set. Lathes are useful for a home studio, a garage, or tool shed as they are highly versatile. However, you'll need to have proper attachments and an understanding of how the lathe works in order to best make use of the wood that you have. Read on for a brief guide to turning a wooden chess piece on a lathe.

Step 1 - Design the Pieces

Chess set designs are available online and in various books on chess or woodworking. You can come up with your own design for your pieces as well. If you aren't highly experienced at making small wooden pieces on a lathe, it may be better to begin with a simple design first. The design should be life-size, and exactly the same shape that each piece would be, though in two dimensional, as if you traced the piece while it was laying down on the paper.

Step 2 - Begin to Carve the Wood

Decide which type of wood you'd like to use. It's common to use two different types of wood, with one being darker than the other. That way, you can create two opposing sides for the chessboard. However, if you're inexperienced, you may benefit from working with just one type of wood to start. You can stain the pieces in different colors.

Begin by taking the first block of wood and carving it down to size. Mount it on the lathe. Turn on the lathe, and press the cutting tool up to the turning piece of wood to begin carving it. You're not aiming to shape the wood perfectly at this point, but you should try to get rid of any excessive wood chunks that will get in the way of detailed work.

Step 3 - Do the Fine Carving

The part of the process that takes the most practice is the fine carving. When you have the wood carved down to size, begin by addressing the tops and bottoms of the piece. Use your design as a model to guide you in your cuts. For pawns and other pieces that need to be duplicated, consider using a lathe duplicator to make exact replicas of each. More specific fine carving tools can be used for this, though many people prefer to remove the unfinished pieces from the lathe and complete small details using a detail knife instead.

Step 4 - Sand and Treat the Pieces

Sand down the pieces when you're finished in order to ensure a smooth and even surface over each piece. Then, treat or stain the wood in order to help preserve it. Dip the pieces in stain, or use a fine brush to paint a thin layer of the treatment solution over them. Allow them to dry completely before using them.