One night, as I sat down to watch Game of Thrones on HBO, I noticed the carved heraldic bands revolving around the sun thinking “those would be fun to carve on my CarveWright”. I tried to think of a project that I could incorporate these into and came up with the idea of a chess set.
I began researching online for chess sets, chess boards, and tables to get ideas and reference material. This lead me to a design plan and I began working.
- Carvewright CNC System with Rotary Jig
- Miter Saw
- Table Saw
- Drum Sander
- Band Saw
- Drill Press
- Foredom or Dremel Tool
- Router Table
- 1/2" Maple Plywood
- 3 1/2" Red Oak Square Newel Post
- 3/4" Maple
- 3/4" Cherry
- Wood Screws
- 12" Drawer Slides
- Flocking Fibers
- Acrylic paints
- Wood Glue
Step 1: Creating a Plan
So I’ve decided to make a table, and I have a theme. Now, off to Google to do some research on what chess tables look like. There are chess tables in every possible style you can think of. Being that the theme involves traditional heraldic elements, keeping with a classic style is most appropriate. That helps narrow it down a bit.
When looking at these table designs, I try to imagine making them and what will be involved with each piece. It's good to design within your known capabilities, but don't be afraid to push that into learning something new.
I also came across several chess boards that had carved squares rather than the expected alternating wood blocks. This looked like a perfect opportunity to play with some new software I had been wanting to play with.
I found a pretty decent traditional looking chess set in STL format on Thingiverse too. It has just enough flair to not look like the same plain chess sets you see everywhere. I probably should model my own chess pieces, but I can always do that later and swap them out. This one will do great for now.
Now with all these ideas, its time to draw up some plans. It is critical to work from some sort of plans when building anything. Even if it’s just rough sketches with your measurements written in. Just make sure your measurements are accurate. Sometimes, there are already woodworking plans for what you want to make. Keep that in mind when doing your searches.
I drew my plans in Adobe Illustrator, maybe not the best choice, but I know it well and was able to accomplish what I needed.
Step 2: Making the Chess Pieces
First I needed to import the STL's of the chess pieces and prepare them for carving. I used the CarveWright STL Importer software to do this and then carved them out using the CarveWright CNC with the Rotary Jig. These were all carved from 3.5" red oak square newels found at Lowe's cut down to 13" lengths.
I ganged them up to carve at least 2 at a time and then went to the lathe to do some sanding on the smooth areas and then to the drill press to use a sanding mop for the more detailed areas. Once sanded, the band saw make quick work of separating them. Once separated, the final sanding and cleaning up was mostly done with dremel tools and by hand.
The last step was stain and clear coat. For the dark pieces I used Minwax Red Mohogany to give them a nice dark, but rich color. The light colored pieces were simply clear coated in a high gloss, spray polyurethane.
Step 3: Making the Chess Board
The entire design of the table was dictated by the chess pieces themselves. They each have a 2 inch diameter base, which required the size of the chessboard squares to be slightly larger than 2 inches. I determined 2.5 inch squares looked the most pleasing, which resulted and 20 inch chessboard. I had found a chess board carved in ivory during my research that I really liked. It had a chip carved design that could be recreated beautifully with my CarveWright CNC.
I imported my drawings from Illustrator in the CarveWright Project Designer software and laid it out in two halves to be routed with a 60º V-bit.
I had picked out some 1x6 flamed maple to make the chessboard out of. First, I cut and glued up my boards to be 1x12's about 22" long and jigged them to minimize waste. Then ran them through the project on the CarveWright.
They came out great, but these still need to be ripped on a table saw to the center of the centerlines and then glued together. This is, actually, one of the most challenging part of the entire project. This chessboard has to be perfectly square in order for the rest of the table top to fit together properly. Plus, you have all these lines to match up when you glue it together! Taking your time and getting it right is totally worth it.
Step 4: Making the Legs
The legs had been designed in the style of several tables I found during my research and I planned to assemble them with the same process they used as well.
The legs are cut to shape and then glued together to achieve the desired thickness to give the legs a substantial look, and edge routed for a decorative finish. Then a carved applique is added for nice elegant flourish. I picked out some really pretty cherry 1x12's for this.
I again, imported from my scale drawing the line work for these cutouts into the CarveWright Project Designer software. Then, I modeled, using the CarveWright modeling suite, the applique that was to be added to the legs.
I also had a central spindle and finial for the center supports that tie the whole thing together in a very decorative way. These, I designed entirely within the CarveWright rotary software to the dimensions indicated in my plans
Once all these pieces came off the CarveWright machine, I set to work gluing the leg halves together. Once the pieces were glued, I sanded the edges with an oscillating spindle sander to get nice, smooth, uniform edges. Then they were edge routed on the router table with a 3/8" classic ogee. Then the appliques were glued on and the real assembly can begin.
The entire thing was assembled with wood glue and dowels. Measure carefully and drill the holes, glue and place the dowels, then fit the pieces together and clamp. Be extra careful to clean up an glue drips right away as they will interfere with the stain finish.
The final step, once it is fully assembled, is stain. I used a Minwax Red Chestnut stain that really brought out the character in the wood.
Step 5: Making the Table Panels
In my research I was able to find detailed images of the Game of Thrones panels from the intro that had inspired this whole project, and to my dismay, there are only 3 of them. These could be modeled without much difficulty in the CarveWright software, and I even began the process, but the table has 8 sides. Four long and four short for a cut corner design. Having only these 3 panels to work with poses a pretty big problem. I could invent a new panel to fit with the style of the design, but these panels are actually telling a complete story. Inserting another panel would need to fit within this story and that seemed like a bigger job than I was prepared to do. So, this is where the “inspired” design comes from.
I liked the heavy filigree clustering that formed a symmetrical framing for the scene in the center of the panel, so I started there. I found most of the patterns in the basic patterns that came with the Designer software, and added a couple more from the CarveWright Pattern Depot.
The next step is to create my own panels scenes. I wanted to make them distinctly different from each other and, since chess is called the “game of kings”, I decided on creating four different kingdoms. The Pattern Depot made this pretty easy, which also made it more fun, too. There is a great collection of heraldic designs for doing medieval style family crests which were perfect for this. Shields, lions, dragons, and everything else I could want at a click of a button. The crests were only one part of the scene, though. I wanted to kind of tell a story of these different kingdoms, so I was able to find patterns to represent different geographic locations and even hint at the economy of these kingdoms, as well. Again, everything I needed was only a search away in the Pattern Depot.
I still needed 2 more short panel designs for the cut corners. I came up with a sun and moon motif to create a fun neutral separation between the panels.
Once designed, I carved them all out and then ripped and mitered them, according to my design plans, for assembly.
Step 6: Making the Table Top
The next step is to mount the chessboard and and build out the rest of the tabletop that surrounds it. I decided to use a 1/2" plywood backer-board for the tabletop to more easily hold things together and keep it flat. I cut it out to match the inside dimension of table skirt. Then, measured and squared up the chessboard to fit exactly in the middle. Next, I cut and mitered some 1/4″ walnut strips to create a nice dark border around the chessboard.
After these were glued and tacked together, the cherry framing comes in and is mitered to fit. Once the miters were made and everything was fitting nice and tight, I secured it down with glue and screws from the bottom.
The cut corners need to be mitered next. With a 12" miter saw, these cuts were able to be made very accurately. Next, the entire outer edge is routed with 1/2" classical ogee.
Once the cut corners are made and routed, sand the entire top to smooth out any slight variations that showed up in the seams. I also used this time to paint the carved areas of the chess board. First, the entire chessboard was coated with a spray lacquer to seal any exposed end grain on the edge of the carvings. This is to help prevent the paint from seeping into those areas. Then with acrylic paints (nothing fancy), I mixed up a dark brown with a hint of red to pick up the accent of the walnut and pop with the red of the cherry. This was then painted into all the v-carved areas on the chessboard. Next, sand the entire table top, smoothing out all the seams and removing the excess paint.
The table top is finished and flipped over to build out the table skirt and drawer structure underneath.
Step 7: Making the Drawers
The drawers for this table are to hold the chess pieces when not in play. Since I have the means, I decided to carve trays to cradle the chess pieces. Again, I designed this in the CarveWright software and uploaded it to carve out on my CNC.
I wanted to give the inside of this drawer a nice finish so I experimented with a fun little process called “flocking”. Flocking is a process of gluing very fine fibers to a surface to create a soft fabric feel to that surface. I bought my supplies at craftflocking.com, and learned the process by watching their helpful videos, too. It’s a great process and really inexpensive. Below is a video of the process.
The sides of the drawers were made with 1/2" plywood and an iron on birch vaneer was applied to the exposed edges to give them a nice finished look.
Step 8: Assembling the Table Top
With the table top flipped over, the carved skirts get measured and mitered to fit around the edge of the base. Attach all the sides , except for where the drawers will go. (Make sure you put the drawers on the players sides of the chess board. When sitting at the board, remember there should be a black square on the left.)
Now, it’s time to build out some structure and create the mounting blocks for the drawer slides. The main thing here was to make sure it is solid and structurally very stable. Nobody like's a rickety table.
Next is the drawer slides. It was decided during the planning stage to mount them underneath in order to gain the widest possible drawer to fit all the chess pieces. I had found some 12" slides that looked be perfect for this at Lowe's. Then, assemble the drawers, mount them in, and fit the carved drawer fronts so it lines up with the other carvings.
Finally, it's time to stain this entire part of the assembly. The same Minwax Red Chestnut stain I used on the legs was used here. Have a lot of light around or even use a flash light to inspect the carvings to make sure the stain gets into all the little nooks and crannies. Mask off the chessboard to not get any stain on it when doing the top.
Once stained, the lacquering process begins. The legs and the table shirt were done with a spray gun, but the top needs a nice hand rubbed look to get that smooth luster you would expect from a nice table top. The lacquering process for a table top takes time and care. This has about 5 coats of lacquer, each coat thoroughly dried and then sanded with finer and finer grit of sandpaper until finally using a rottenstone to finish off the high gloss finish.
Step 9: Finished!
The last step is to bolt the top assembly onto the leg assembly and it's done.
Then all there is to do, is find someone to sit down and play a game with.