Graduation Chess Set

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Project by steviep posted 05-16-2011 06:55 AM 2928 views 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My Nephew graduated high school today and I gave him this chess set as a graduation gift. He is a state chess champion (I haven’t been able to win against him since he was 9!) and I thought he might enjoy a handmade set. I used maple, walnut for the squares and pieces with a cherry border. I used a pre-made inlay from woodcraft to set off the board.

I have always wanted to try darkening cherry with Lye and this was a good opportunity. I used a tablespoon of household drain cleaner that was 100% lye mixed in a quart of water. i brushed this on the cherry and after about 30 minuets it was the color you see in the photo. I used LJ as a great research tool but ultimately decided to use the David Marks approach to the board. I laminated 1/2 baltic Birch with shop cut walnut and maple vaneer using a poly glue. I cut those 20” strips to final dimension and glues them al together alternating colors. I then turned 90 degrees cut that board into strips and reversed every other one to make the checkerboard pattern. I used a thickness sander to get the board to final dimension. If you haven’t seen his video- google it, its worth watching. (side note: My incra fence was indispensable for repeating exact cuts to get the glueup to go so smoothly.)

Next it was time to turn the pieces. This was hardest for me as I have not turned much in my journey as a woodworker. To make matters worse I was doing this on a 1956 “greenie” shopsmith and a set of harbor freight chisels. Never the less I managed to get a set of keepers after about the third try. It was a lot of work but I defiantly made leaps and bounds on my turning skills. The only other note of this step was the carving of the knights and kings. I have been studying carving using Mary May videos and mostly doing acanthus leaves. She toutes the importance of being able to carve with either hand so you don’t move the workpiece and this advise really paid off.

I finished everything with Sherman-Williams high-bild laquer sealer and satin finish. I then used blue flocking on all the pieces and buffed them and the board to a shine.

It was a wonderful project to work on and was fun to complete. For the future I need to learn better techniques for turning. I am fairly good at roughing out my work but have found it difficult to get to a REALLY smooth finish. I have been trying to sand out lines and it doesn’t seem to work. Any advise would be welcome (beyond “get some REAL tools!” LOL)


-- StevieP ~ Micheal Tompkins - you were not here on earth long but left a giant mark on us. RIP Brother

8 comments so far

View mmh's profile


3701 posts in 5056 days

#1 posted 05-16-2011 07:00 AM

What a wonderful and appropriate gift! I’m sure he’ll cherish this for many years and many games!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View ABB's profile


24 posts in 4411 days

#2 posted 05-16-2011 07:32 AM

I have found micromesh to work the best, especially for smaller pieces. I start with regular 100 grit sandpaper and work up to 400 grit and then switch to the micromesh 1500 up to 12,000 to get a really smooth finish.

-- Allen, WA

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

27241 posts in 4439 days

#3 posted 05-16-2011 01:57 PM

What a great gift and lots of work getting there. That will be an heirloom!
thanks for sharing!..................Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View steviep's profile


233 posts in 3980 days

#4 posted 05-16-2011 03:03 PM

Wow ABB, I was stopping at 320. Thanks for the help, I will try that.

-- StevieP ~ Micheal Tompkins - you were not here on earth long but left a giant mark on us. RIP Brother

View Jack_T's profile


623 posts in 4365 days

#5 posted 05-16-2011 06:15 PM

Very nice work. I agree with Allan very appropriate.

-- Jack T, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4603 days

#6 posted 05-16-2011 07:20 PM

Beautiful and thoughtful gift. Great job!

Steve….get some real tools (had to say it)! Truthfully, the better tools hold an edge longer and are easier to sharpen. For sure though, no matter which type of tools you have, your tools must be very sharp to get a good cut and finish….dull tools will chip and catch and your turning will require a lot of sanding…it also depends on type of wood and the moisture content of what you are turning.

Another way to get smoother finish on your turning is to use a scraper….you can make your own with a piece of flat iron (or carbon cutters you can purchase from several vendors – Lee Valley…etc.)....grind a very slight bevel in it…about 2-3degrees…..I attach mine to a piece of small diameter pipe and put a beech handle on it – I’ve made several with different profiles for scraping curves etc…....or for those non DIY folks….they sell various profile scrapers from Sorby…Crown…etc…etc.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5552 days

#7 posted 05-17-2011 07:05 PM

Excellent work, Steve.

I’ve made several chess boards and tables, but haven’t worked up the gumption to attempt my own pieces.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4200 days

#8 posted 12-10-2017 01:33 PM

You did a nice job on this chess set and I’m sure that he is well pleased with it. Congratulations.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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