Introduction: Mid Century Modern Chess Pieces

About: Hey, I'm Adam. A web developer by day, I make things out of salvaged wood, steel, and other goodness whenever I can!

My son loves to play chess and I have no idea how to play. So I decided to build a chess set!

I originally thought of turning these on the lathe but quickly gave up on that plan, as I lack the skills to do so. But I am a huge fan of modern art and minimalist objects. And started to do some research and eventually came across a set created by Lanier Graham in 1966 and fell in love with its simplicity and really enjoyed how all of the pieces fit in a tiny little box. This build is Part 1 of 2 and may likely contain an optional Part 3 which would be a box to hold the chess pieces. What I really like about this set is that the dimensions are not terribly specific. In my case, I chose to go with chess pieces that were 20mm by 20mm, so a Pawn would end up being 20mm cubed. I will give the dimensions of each piece in terms of blocks, allowing you to adjust the size of the pieces if you wish.


  • Thickness Planer - Optional
  • Band Saw - Optional
  • Table Saw
  • Cross Cut Sled
  • Ripping Blade
  • 80 Tooth crosscut blade
  • Sand Paper
  • Tung oil
  • rOtring 800 Pen -
  • rOtring 800 Pencil -
  • Square
  • Ruler

Step 1: Sizing and Dimensions

Because I started with the chess pieces I wasn't concerned too much about the size of the pieces, but make sure to check and confirm the official rules of Chess. I think your pieces are supposed to be about 25% smaller than the squares they go on. 1” square would be a ¾” piece.

Pawn - 1x1 block Rook - 1x2 block Knight - 1x2 block Bishop - 1x2 block Queen & King - 1x6 block, plus the kerf of your bandsaw or hand saw blade.

Start by choosing two contrasting woods, I chose maple and walnut.

Next cut them into strips of equal width and height, optionally you can run them through a thickness planer.

Step 2: The Plans

Step 3: Now We Will Need to Do Some Layout

The Pawns are simple, create a cube

The Rook is also super simple, create a block 1x2

For the Knight, I made a mark in the middle and divided the width essentially creating a lap joint.

The Bishop is a 45-degree angle starting at one end and should end in the middle of the piece.

The King and Queen are a bit different, find the middle and draw a 45-degree line on both sides of the half so that you have a V.

Step 4: Final Steps

Once everything has been cut out and obviously for each color of the wood ( I chose maple and walnut, but you could use any contrasting woods ) it was time for a lot of sanding. Because this chess set is “Modern” we want to maintain the sharp edges so break the edges but do not round them.

I applied a few coats of Tung oil, it was rather daunting applying then cleaning off the excess oil but it turned out amazing!

Step 5: Done!

Checkout how you can store the pieces. They all fit nicely together, and would look amazing in a nice little box!

Step 6: What Next?

If you enjoyed making the chess pieces, why not have a look at how to make the chessboard next?

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