This is a birthday gift I made for someone this year. It is my first time doing any kind of wood turning, but with little practice you can get it down pretty quickly. Some of the key features on this chess set are: red oak and poplar used, built in drawer to store the chessmen and a hidden magnetic clasp for the drawer and decorative corner joinery. Let’s get stated!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
8‘ 1“x4“ oak board (side rails)
6‘ 1/4“x2“ poplar (playing tiles)
10‘ 1/4“x2“ oak (playing tiles and drawer sides)
2‘ 3/8 square poplar dowel (optional)(corner accents)
4‘ 1“ round oak dowel (chessmen)
4‘ 1“ round poplar dowel (chessmen)
4‘x4‘x1/4 sheet ply wood (bottom, top, and drawer bottom)
drawer pull and hardware
pack of 1“ ceramic magnets (optional)(I’d use rare earth magnets next time)
Stain and finish
Turning chisels (I used cheap Harbor Freight chisels and cut my own points)
Calipers and dividers (Harbor Freight)
Roll of emery cloth 1/2“ 120 and 220 grit
Table saw (cross cut sled really helps, I made my own)
Router table and bits
Sander and paper 80, 100, 120 and 220
Step 2: Turning the Chessmen
Find ones you like or come up with your own. You need 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 horsemen, 2 bishops, 1 queen and 1 king for each side. 16, 4, 4, 4, 2, 2. One set out of poplar and one oak, or whatever you want to use.
Make a drawing or a test piece the size you want and measure out the hight with the dividers and scribe that onto your 1“ dowel while it is in the lathe. Work your way down your part to mark off all the main cuts.
Move the work piece into the chuck to reduce flex and start with the head of your piece and work down to the bottom, moving the piece out of the chuck as you get to the base. Use a chisel shaped as close to the shape you are trying to cut. I use cheap Harbor Freight chisels and grind what I need. For $8 and some extra work, they are great!
When you get to the base, make a cut at the bottom to help with cutting off the part later.
Sand the part with 120 grit. Cut thinner strips to get into the narrow spaces. After 120 sanding, apply a light coat of water to raise the grain of the wood and let dry fully. When dry sand with 220 grit. Since the piece is all end grain, the water will pre lift the grain so when you do your finish coat, the grain wont lift then, messing up your finish and causing more work!
Take a hacksaw and cut the part off with very short strokes while the lath is running to make a clean straight cut.
Sand the nib off the bottom and finish how you like.
Step 3: Playing Tiles
Set the work stop on the sled to cut 1/16 off the width of the 1/4“x2“ stock. Poplar is cut a little smaller than oak from the store.
Cross cut a small piece off the end to square the end, move it to the stop and cross cut a tile off. Turn the tile 90 degrees and rip the part to a perfect square.
Repeat this process to make 64 tiles out of two different woods. 32 each.
Step 4: Side Rails
Lay out your tiles 8 wide and measure that width, then add 1.5“ (mine was 13 1/8“). This will be the length of your side rails. Use the 1“x4“ stock.
Cut them long and cut one an inch or so longer than needed. The long one will be the drawer slot and drawer face.
Step 5: Drawer
Take the long piece of 1“x4“ and rip 1/2“ off the top and bottom. Take the center piece and crosscut out a rectangle the width of the drawer face (I did 11“). You will have a frame and a drawer face.
Take the small square pieces and rip 1/2“ off of them so the drawer face overhangs the top and bottom of the hole of the frame by a 1/4“.
Take a 1/2“ off of the top and bottom rail so the drawer face overhangs the right and left of the hole of the frame by a 1/4“.
Put the parts together with some masking tape, glue the joints and clamp till dry.
Take the drawer face and rout a decorative edge on the face.
On the back, cut a rabbet, 1/4“ on the top and 1/2“ on the sides and bottom of the drawer face.
Find the center of the drawer and mark the holes for the pull. Drill a 5/32 hole for the screws all the way through. Drill a 5/16 hole part way through so the pull mounts flush with the face (optional).
Take the frame out of the clamps and insert the drawer face into the frame. Slide in some 1/4“ stock on each side. There should be some slop so the drawer slides freely. If there is no slop, rout out a little more from the rabbets on the sides of the drawer face.
Step 6: Side Rails Part 2
Rip the side rails to the width of the drawer frame.
Take the side rails and the drawer frame, your table router and a 1/4 straight cut bit.
Cut a dato on the rear of the parts, 1/4“ from the bottom of the drawer frame and a 1/4“ deep, and then run the other sides through.
Cut another dato on the back, 1/4“ from the top of the rails 1/4“ deep on all four side parts.
Measure out the final size of the side rails (width of 8 tiles plus 1.5“) and crosscut a miter at 45 degrees, the wider of the faces to the outside (opposite the datos).
(Optional accented corners) Set up the router table with a 1/2“ straight cut bit and set it to cut a rabbet in the middle of the miter, 3/8“ deep and 3/8“ high so you get a square in the center of your mitered corners. its better to be a tad small.
Step 7: Bottom and Top
Cut 3 squares of 1/4“ ply the width of 8 tiles plus 1/2“. One will be the top to mount the tiles, one the bottom and one will be cut down later to be the drawer bottom.
Step 8: Side Rail Assembly
Finish sand and stain the insides of the sides and ply pieces. Do not get any stain on the glue surfaces! I forgot to stain the inside here and could not get my hand in the drawer slot to satin.
Glue up the corners, clamp, pin nail and let dry for each corner.
Do three sides, slip in the top and bottom sheets and glue and pin the last side on.
Fill where needed and finish sand and stain the outside the outside. Mask off where to tiles will go before staining.
Step 9: Drawer
Cut 2 lengths of 1/4“x2“ the length of 8 tiles. Finish sand and stain. These are the slides.
(Optional magnetic closure)Take a 1“ forstner bit and drill a pocket for the magnets so they are flush with the surface of the wood. Put 4 magnets together and mark one side of each and put all the magnets in the same direction and glue them in, hold with tape.
Mark 2“ in from the side of the drawer opening and glue in slides, clamp and let dry. I used a lead weight to clamp the inside of the slides.
Cut 2 lengths of 1/4“x2“ the length of the drawer you want (mine is 12 1/8“) and 2 lengths the width of your drawer minus 1/2“ (mine is 9 15/16”). Rip 1/4“ off one of the shorter pieces, this will be a divider.
Plane down the tops of the parts you just made so they slip into the drawer opening with a little room to spare. Finish sand the parts.
Glue, pin and clamp the long parts to the side rabbets on the drawer face and the wider short piece the the back of the drawer. Measure and cut the last piece of 1/4“ ply to fit within the parts you just put together for a bottom. Finish sand.
(Optional magnetic closure) Mark two lines where the center of the slides are onto the bottom of the 1/4“ ply drawer bottom. Drill 2 holes for 1“ magnets so they are flush with the surface. Make sure you have the attracting side of the magnet down. Glue them in.
Glue and pin in the drawer bottom. Then glue and pin the divider into the drawer.
Step 10: Playing Surface
Remove the masking tape from the play surface and smear plenty of glue trying not to get any on the side rails.
Place the space tiles down in an alternating pattern. I turned the grain each tile to add more contrast.
Clamp the tiles with some weights until dry.
The poplar is cut a little thinner than the oak I used so there is a lot of sanding to do! A planer would be nice for this.
Mask off the side rails with rape to protect them. I did 2 layers. Start with 80 grit and sand the play surface until all the tiles are even with each other. Then progress through 100, 120 then 220 for a nice finish.
I wanted my play surface to sit a little proud of the sides.
You can stain the tiles if you like, just don’t get any stain on the glue side of them and you may want to stain the chessmen the same as the tiles. I did not stain my tiles or chessmen because I wanted contrast with the sides and the play surface.
Step 11: (Optional Accented Corners)
Cut 4 lengths of 3/8“ square dowel a few inches long.
Make a jig out of scrap wood like the one shown.
Use a belt sander to cut a pyramid shape on the end grain of each block.
Sand one side past center, roll the piece and sand to the line made by the previous cut. Repeat for all four sides.
Dip the parts in a contrasting color to the side rails (follow directions on what you use)
Square and clean up any glue from the holes made at the corners of the side rails with a chisel.
Cut the part to the depth of the hole and glue into place.
Step 12: Finish Coat
Apply your choice of finish and you’re all done!