Introduction: Pencil Chess Carving

Ive been on instructables for 9 years and after seeing the first time author contest i thought i would give it a go,

ive been a fan of pencil carving since seeing the awesome carvings of dalton ghetty, having tried it a few times in the past realised it is a very difficult hobby!! ive recently made a tiny chess piece and although i dont have an entire finished set here hopefully one day i will finish the entire set,

the piece i have made for this instructable is a simple pawn, ive also added some hand drawn pictures of what im trying to portray in the actual piece, as the pictures of such a tiny piece are fair difficult to document,

I highly recommend this hobby for anyone suffering any anxiety or overthinking as once i get into it (i also love carving plaster items) i can spend ages on it and the concentration needed just stops the brain thinking of other stuff,

it also helps with carving a pencil if you have spent any time carving other (maybe slightly larger) items, my favourite been plaster carving, a small cylinder of plaster carved into a chess piece really helps to get the techniques right for moving on to a pencil,

Step 1: Materials Needed


Technically any pencil will do, but you want one with as wide a lead as possible, the ones i used for this project are general carpenters pencils, I think i picked up a pack of 5 or so for a couple of pounds from homebase or B+Q (it was a while back when i actually bought these) and because they're so cheap they're great for practicing with. I have seen online and in art shops "artists" pencils, a lot of these will actually have wider leads and be round in shape and can come in different colours but the downside is they are a lot more expensive.

Carving tools:

I have picked up many tools over the years the smaller tipped the better, for this project i only used two of the tools pictured (one of the tiny tipped ones and the brass handled scalpel)

The scalpel handles and blades were purchased here although they have stopped making the brass handled one but offer a replacement thats very similar.

Camera lens:

This for me is essential to create such a tiny piece (and to help with the photography) you can pick an old slr camera or lens in a charity shop, i stuck one of my stripped down ones onto a bit of an material from a rucksack and wear it mad eye moody style, or failing that you can buy a large magnifying glass or a watchmakers loupe with headband.

Step 2: Getting Started: Exposing the Lead

Start off by shaving off the wood of the pencil, once you start to see the inner lead you want to try not to actually touch the lead with the blade as you want as clean and undamaged canvas to work with, i find a slight curved motion helps with taking off the wood without damaging the lead too much

Step 3: Getting the Lead to Basic Shape

First make a small line across where you want the base of the chess piece to be, the thinness of the scalpel blades are good for this but be carefull as the graphite can be quite slippy and barely any pressure needs to be applied, once you have this line going all the way round you can then start to take out the two sides to create a cylinder shape with gentle scaping with the blade from the top towards the base line.

Step 4: Carving the Chess Piece

This is the fun part as you start to see your chess piece taking shape, it helps to have a picture of a real chess piece at hand for reference.

"first line (in drawn pics) - make a thin line all the way round just under where the bottom of the ball would be, using the blade at an angle push towards the line gently taking a very small amount off each time slowly turning the pencil as you go to get an even groove all the way round as this becomes more defined you can do the same just below the line but with an upward angle towards the line so you end up with a kind of shallow groove, once you have the whole shape roughly done you can go back to this part to define them even more until you are happy.

"second line" (in drawn pics) - now to make another line just under the "hood" of the pawn, once you have a defined line, start with an upward angled take out similar to the first groove you did but try to keep it as flat as you can under the "hood" continue to take out as much as you think you dare untill you get the right shape, keep looking at your reference point. if you look carefully you can just see a small section at the bottom that is untouched by creating the second groove, this is left to create a base for the piece.

Top of the ball - with the dome of the ball you have to use the blade in an almost scraping motion from the edge of the ball towards the centre of the top of the ball continuing to turn the pencil as you go to keep the shape even, very gentle and light scraping movement is best here (as with the whole thing really)

The curved ball dome is probably the trickiest part to get looking correct, but as the graphite holds detail very well just keep taking off tiny amounts.

Step 5: Finished Piece

Once you think the finished shape looks right......STOP! dont be tempted to keep going, if it looks right then it is right,

I have taken a couple of pics next to a ruler for scale, as you can see the pawn is slightly over a mere 3 milimetres long with the queen 6 millimetres.

I haven't really thought about what you would use to create the other colour, but if you've made the effort to make 16 pieces of one side, i'm sure you could go down the coloured pencils route i mentioned earlier,

so with the pawn now finished, step back and admire your handy work (but not too far as you wont be able to see them) and think about creating the other 31 pieces to complete the full chess set!!

if anyone does have a go at a pencil carving please post a pic, i would love to see anything this post has inspired anyone to make.

happy carving

and remember the joy of carving can just be the joy of carving, not the final piece!

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