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I'm thinking to have fun this summer, trying to craft my own wooden chess set. Has anyone tried doing so? How should I proceed? What materials to buy? what guides to follow?

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    Do you have access to a lathe? Are you interested in making a Staunton design set, or something more intricate? Look at wood chess sets for sale for wood choices. – newshutz Apr 15 '14 at 16:46
  • @newshutz no I don't have a lathe, but if I need it I could buy one or rent it from people I know. As for the design, yes I want to go for Staunton for now since I'm a beginner and that's the standard design – Lynob Apr 15 '14 at 17:32
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I have not tried to do exactly chess set but I have some experience (really basic) with doing things from wood. I will tell what I learned from my experience, and may be someone more experienced can refine it.

Crafting from wood is not really that hard (on amateur level). You need:

  • material (basically wood and in the beginning almost any wood is acceptable, but not the wood you can buy for setting the fire. Also do not listen to people who will suggest you to buy most expensive/cool wood, because if you are doing it for the first time, you will most probably fail a few times before you can do something. When you see that you are ok, you can buy better materiel)
  • Lathe (it quickly rotates your piece, allowing you to create axis of rotation elements)
  • chisel (to make small holes inside)
  • file (to refine your piece and to add some details)
  • hammer (everyone needs hammer. You might need it to protect your pieces from other people)
  • varnish (when you finish your thing, you have to cover it look better or not to get a thorn)

Not all of the things are needed. Also do not be intimidated when you see that this things are so big and your pieces should be really small: there are small equivalents of all the tools.

Tools like lathe are expensive, but a lot of schools and may be some repair shops can have it. So it is a good idea to go and ask them for permission to use it (you also should be careful to read how to use it, because it can damage you).

So, you have the tools. First of all try to create bigger things. From my experience, the smaller the thing you want to do - the more careful/skilled you have to be. So try to create big pawn/rook in the beginning. Like 20-40 centimeters high. Not 2-4 cm. When you feel that you are good with big things, you can go smaller.

Having a lathe it will be pretty easy, because as you noticed - all the pieces (except of the knight) are symmetrical along the Z-axis. To carve the wood, you use lathe with chisel (it is hard for me to explain how it work: all you do is to move chisel to the spinning wood and it cuts away part of it). This way you can do everything except of a knight. For knight you have to use only chisel and it is really complicated (for people like me).

Mark the wood with pen/pencil/marker to know where you have to cut it and always compare the piece you do with the same one you already done (unless you want all your bishops to be a different diameter/size).

Than you refine your pieces with file, paint them and later varnish. Do not be disappointed if you will fail at the first time and do not try to use complicated designs in the beginning.

This is some old school techniques, for a new generation - take a look at 3d printer which can carve from wood.

  • There are small lathes for making things like pens. I don't know if they are large enough for chess pieces. – newshutz Apr 17 '14 at 11:52
  • The knights will involve carving. Chisels work very well for carving. One can do a lot of detail work with a 1/4" chisel – newshutz Apr 17 '14 at 11:53

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