The size of your game pieces, relative to your game boards, can be determined by your personal taste. However, for chess pieces, the equipment standards outlined by the US Chess Federation call for “a King that measures 3 3/8” to 4 1/2” with a base diameter or 40-50% of the height”. In general, the square formed by the bases of four pawns standing together should just about equal the size of a square on the board. Your King’s base should occupy approximately 75% of the square.
For standard measurements between grooves and a good pattern outline, visit http://chessready.com/woodworking-chess-piece-patterns-regulation-and-standard-dimensions.html. Adjust measurements by percentage based on the size of your board. This will ensure that your pieces have proper spacing and the beauty and detail of each piece can be fully appreciated.
Now for the fun part. Select wooden dowels in contrasting colors of wood to create your pieces. Hardwood dowels are great for heirloom style pieces. Tight wood grain that is clearly defined will help each piece to resist splitting and withstand the amount of work that you are going to put into each piece. Mahogany, maple, and ebony are popular choices.
Start with your selected wood dowel and cut pieces within .25” of desired height. Mark dimensions for spacing of grooves with a pencil. Turn each piece on a lathe. Measure the depth of each groove as you go with a caliper.
You can use blocks of wood if you prefer, and making a chess set is a great way to use scrap wood, but if you want to ensure exact dimensions and cut down on the amount of labor, start with wooden dowels. Most people making standard chess pieces start with 1.25” diameter dowels and turn them down to 1” bases.
After turning on the lathe, use small turning chisels, files, a disc sander and knives to hand carve and finish the King, Queen and Knights. The Castle battlements can be finished with hand files. The cross atop the King can be sculpted with a disc sander. The crown of the Queen can be grooved with a carving gauge.
If you like, you can weight the bottom of each piece with poured lead. Finish out the bases with the desired color of simple felt and you’re done. Weighted bottoms make pieces less likely to tip over during play and give your set a good, solid feel.
About the Author: Dave Murphy is the founder and president of Good Wood, Inc., which makes a high quality wood dowel and the best hardwood dowel on the market. They also create wooden balls, wood knobs, wooden toy parts, custom wood parts, and more. They offer safe wood finishing, wood turning and can import from off-shore when necessary. Visit http://www.goodwoodinc.com for all of your wood product needs.