The Wood Shoppe - #2 Other factors in selecting hardwood chess pieces

Dec 27, 2010, 11:12 AM |

As previously mentioned, the baseline for proper sizing of chess pieces to the board is not height but rather the king's base diameter.  Now that we've properly sized the chess pieces to the board (or conversely), we'll take a look at other factors that come into play when selecting hardwood chess pieces.  Most people will already be thinking in terms of Staunton type chess pieces as opposed to countless other designs, and since they dominate the field, we'll also focus on the Staunton genre. 

Artistic interpretations of the Staunton design are numerous and may be found on-line stores or at regional chess and game shops.  Be careful, even if you find an artistic interpretation that you really like, not to go forward with the purchase until you consider other factors.

It's interesting to note that there are often variations in the relative scale of the pieces.  King's are the largest, followed by Queens, but Rooks Bishops and Knights are somewhat randomly sized with respect to one another.  The point is to look carefully at the relative scale of the pieces to be sure you're satisfied.

For reference, original Staunton pieces were sized as follows:  Kings, then Queens, then Bishops, then Rooks and Knights (about the same size), and finally Pawns. 

Frailty is another important factor, while there are some truly exquisite carved hardwood chess pieces out there, they become quite expensive as the level of artistic detail increases, and rightly so.  Note however that highly detailed figures (knights) can be extremely frail and subject to breakage.  One drop on the floor is all it takes.  Note also that Queens crowns can be extremely frail.

Wood type is another significant factor.  While availability is always a consideration and heavily impacts pricing, the bottom line is that the wood must turn well, carve well, and finish well.  Generally, all pieces with the exception of the knights are turned to final form (yielding to decorative top pins).  In today's market there are only a handful of wood types that are commonly used.  Boxwoods are broadly used for the light pieces and also for stained dark pieces, Rosewoods are used for dark pieces, Ebonies are used for dark pieces. 

Finish is often an option.  Waxes and polishes are commonly used to finish Boxwood (light pieces), Rosewood, and Ebony.  Boxwood (from India's boxwood tree) also accepts stains and lacquers very nicely to provide a wide variety of solid colors, imitated woods (stains), and clear finishes.  Note that black stain is often applied to Boxwood to imitate the much more expensive Ebony; often called 'ebonized boxwood'.

Beveled Bases while intended to be an added feature of refinement, do not cost any more to produce than a standard form, and reduce the stability of a piece. 

Weighting is a functional feature that adds stability to the chess pieces.  It also adds       a feel of quality.  Typically provided by coring the base of a piece on a lathe to a predetermined form, adding lead or other metallic weight, then capping the core. Weighting nomenclature is usually called out as  double or triple weighting, with triple weighting requiring a more careful thinning of the walls to receive more weight, and usually increased cost.

Felting is commonly applied to the base of each piece to provide mar resistance to the board, add a feel of quality, and cover the core area; usually provided in green or brown.  Leather is sometimes substituted.


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