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Technical - Workshop Notes
2023-06 June

2023-06  June

“Making Chess pieces on a lathe, even the Knights!”

This topic may be of interest to Woodies keen to build a Chess Set, and wonder how to make the Knights (horses), as that chess piece is not a round symmetrical item to 'turn up'.   But  that misconception arises because we all so often look at the end result of things, rather than reverse-engineer the situation.   


I've long had a pair of shoe boxes containing my Father's ("Fred's") Chess Pieces all done on a small Carba-Tek lathe that sits in the main KDWC machine room at the end of the Spyda Saw.


The idea is not his,  but one that he obviously studied and chose to have a go at,  and our fortune today, is seeing that process and how it was done, which is all in a pair of nice old shoe boxes with samples, plans and finished items.


The idea is in fact quite straight forward (once you see it, that is!)


1.  Start with gluing two nice opposing coloured timbers for the chess set pieces.
     In Fred's case, he chose dark walnut and Huon Pine.

2.  Mount the job onto a face plate and think along the lines of making an "ashtray" where all the
     cutting out is done on the exposed side (not much at all on the face plate side).


3.  Then, consider that a KNIGHT can be made from two pieces of wood in the end,  a round base,

     made separately like the base of a mini trophy,  and the tricky bit: The Horse's Head, made

     from the item explained above.

4.  Consider the shape of a Horse's head having these features:

      a)  a broad forehead, leading down a long nose getting thinner as it reaches the lips

      b)  a pair of really dainty minor sized ears

      c)   a distinguishable set of lips

      d)   and a cut away neck line,  which is the main part to shape correctly below.

5.   The outside rounded part of the 'ashtray' on the face plate side, becomes the MANE,
      with the largest circumference of the ashtray becoming the absolute top of the horse's scull.

6.  The front face  of the ashtray, becomes the long nose of the horse's head, but starts of with
     a small outer edge, that represents the horse's ears, be-they-all very small, but pointy in

7.  The extremity of the front face becomes the rounded edge of what will be the horse's TOP LIP,
     and then shape a small indentation, representing the mouth/teeth area, and back out fat again,

     forming what will be the lower LIP.

8.   The trickiest chisel cut, is the inner UNDERCUT going well inside the 'ashtray' to form what will be
      the horse's throat and start of the thin neck.

9.   Finally the inner most diameter of the 'ashtray' cutting towards the centre of the job, 

      becomes the horse's neck leading to its breast plate.   Anything below the neck, will be cut off later.

10.  When finished,  remove the 'ashtray',  and use a suitable fine/straight saw (perhaps  bandsaw) 

       to slice the 'ashtray' like you were trying to cut a round birthday cake into about 32 small wedges

       for a quick nibble.    The slices need only be about 15mm (on the outer edge) being the scull of

       the horse with its representation of a pair of ears and a bone line between.    The Bottom of the

       slice, is going to end up only about 5mm,  and cut straight in the end, for mounting on top of the

       trophy base.

Below are some views of the 'ashtray' shaped exercise.   The beaut part of this design,  is that all your Knight's all look identical, due to turning them up all at once out of the same round 'ashtray'.    And by careful sizing and placement of the two opposing colors,  you'll get a heap of light coloured and dark coloured horse heads - maybe enough to make quite a few chess sets!

All the other pieces, shown in the other pictures below are all standard spindle cutting on a lathe.  In fact making 16 pawns look all the same is by far harder to achieve, than getting over this horse making hurdle!   But that's the next challenge - if I ever get to finish Fred's legacy here.  At least he finished the Knights!  

Happy woodworking!                                                                                         .... Gary Pope 0408994799

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