I made a band saw chess set!

I made a band saw chess set!

Aug 11, 2016, 1:37 PM |

Hello Chess.com,


    A few months ago my sister picked up an antique card table with a chess set inlay as a gift for me. It was one of those spur of the moment "what a deal" purchases. I think she paid ten dollars for the table. Sadly it didn't come with an antique chess set to match the 18 inch board so I decided to make my own. Being that I do not own a wood lathe but do own a band saw I began to look into my options. Band saws make blockier chess sets than wood lathes but it's a pretty neat style that is still easily discernible for gameplay.

      I found this set of plans http://www.stevedgood.com/3dchess.pdf and went to work. I started by looking into how big a piece should be relative to the board and read articles like this one. http://www.chessusa.com/chess-pieces-size.html (Sorry about the competing site chess.com) Ultimately the size I picked was a 1.5 inch base on the 2.25 inch square. (Largely because that's the thickness of a 2x4 and saved me a lot of fine cutting) It turned out pretty nice, probably just a smidgen on the large size but if I had to err I suppose that's the way to go.

      I used my table saw to trim a 2x4 right in half longways, did a little math to figure out what percentage increase I needed to use to print the designs the size I wanted, taped the cut outs on the pieces and got to stenciling. phpSA0ojt.jpeg


2 Kings and 16 tedious pawns later I had the start of an army (actually 19 or 20 by the time the project was done, pawns became my test subjects for "How deep can I drill the weights?" "Can I use this much pressure on a piece with the drill press?" "Will these stand up to gunfire?" Okay that last one didn't happen but you get the idea)



I thought knights would be the toughest but the minimalist design coupled with the flat nature of one of the perspectives of the knight meant they were actually one of the easiest pieces for the band saw. 


A lot more cutting and some sanding and I had a monotone chess set on my hands.


I took these to work and used the drill press to put a hole in the bottom of every piece for the weights. After applying a dark stain (espresso by minwax) to half of the pieces and 4 coats of polyurethane to all the pieces I had a relatively finished, but very light, chess set.


From here things got tricky. I've never used molten lead before and didn't want the conversations about my awesome chess set to all start with "how did you get that disfiguring scar anyhow?" so I tried to think of other methods to weight it. First I just bought a bunch of lead sinkers and tried to drill the appropriately sized hole for the sinker. The drill just barely made it through and put a hole in the piece. (Goodbye pawn) The sinkers were too big (or too small and didn't add enough weight. BBs worked but packing spheres is terribly inefficient and I never got a good weight. My uncle suggested that a brass round was dense and you can cut them with a hack saw but by then I had money in the lead sinkers and brass isn't super cheap to begin with.

Looks like I'm melting lead. I bought a small iron pipe and a cap for one end. I got out my charcoal chimney starter (I don't have a gas grill or a gas stove), packed charcoal around the pipe, lit it up and weight. Charcoal burns crazy hot and the lead melted in no time. Wearing boots, thick pants, a leather coat (in July) and eye protection I poured the lead into a hole I drilled out of a 4x4 using the same drill bit I used for the pieces. It turned out to be good practice because I poured a little too quick at first and did cause some (terrifying) splash back. When it had cooled I cut the lead out of the wood and cut a small disc off the rod with a hack saw. To my horror the lead had burned just enough would out of the hole to be slightly too big to fit in the pieces.

.. .. ..

The rod was now slightly too big to fit back into the iron pipe as well but with kind words and patience (hammer) I was able to get it back in. I made a rig to hold the chess pieces upside down, remelted the lead and carefully poured it into each piece. As my uncle cautioned, as the lead cooled it wasn't necessarily snug in the hole anymore and I did have to wood glue about half of the weights back into place. After that everything went smooth. I wood glued strips of leather to the bottom of the pieces and used an exact-o knife (actually a scalpel from a kit I had to buy in college for a bio class) to cut them to size for each piece. Viola!