Wooden Chess Rook Piece for the Coffee Table




Introduction: Wooden Chess Rook Piece for the Coffee Table

In this instructable (my very first!), I build a 7in x 3 in (diameter) size Chess Rook piece on a wood lathe. I made this at TechShop!

I recently attended a wood lathe class at the TechShop, and was quite excited to see what I could produce. I wanted to make a nice big chess piece, and chose the rook because it is relatively easy, but also nice enough to stand out on its own (as I was not quite ready to make an entire giant chess board!)

In my first attempt, I made some mistakes - I started off with spindle turning, and then had to move to faceplate turning to hollow out the top of the rook, but it hard to center the (already turned) piece on the faceplate and have it spin without wobbling. A little more research, and with improved techniques, my second attempt was a success! With this instructable, I hope you can avoid the mistakes I made, and take it a step further!

Items required:

3.5 inch square by 12inch block of wood (I used Basswood - available at Woodcraft)
Wood Lathe and associated tools - Roughing Gouge, Skew chisel, detail gouge, parting tool
Screws - 4 #12 screws (to attach piece to faceplate)
Carpenter's pencil (or just regular pencil) to mark measurements
T-square or ruler for measurement
Rotary tool, wood carving tools, hacksaw (optional) to cut out the notches

Ok, let's get started!

Step 1: Prep Piece for Turning

Since the top part of the piece has to be hollowed out, (I learned this the hard way), prepare for that step by attaching the piece to a faceplate, as you're going to be doing face turning in addition to spindle turning. 

First step is to prep the wood block for the lathe. The wood block is 12 inches tall. The piece I'm building is about 7 inches tall (to be proportionate to the diameter of the final piece of about 3 inches), plus another 2 inches as the sacrificial piece to attach to the faceplate. That leaves a 3 inch piece extra, which can be cut off using a band saw.

The 7 inch piece is itself divided into 3 sections, the bottom and top sections 2 inches each, while the center section is 3 inches. 

Step 2: Attach to Face Plate

Carefully center the face plate over the end of the block, and attach as many screws as you can (I was able to secure 4 screws for the 3.5 inch square block). 

Make sure the block is securely attached to the face plate. 

Note**: In my first version, I had used a drive center in the headstock for the initial turning, and then tried attaching the resulting turned piece to a faceplate. The end result was that the piece was not perfectly centered and wobbled quite a bit). By starting off with a faceplate, you are doing spindle turning and faceplate turning on the same piece without the need for re-centering. You can continue to do face turning by removing the tailstock without having to remove the piece from the lathe, and it will continue to be perfectly centered. 

Note 2 **: If you are more adventurous, you can use the direct mounting technique to mount the piece directly onto the spindle. Mark the center of the piece with an automatic center punch. Drill a 1-1/4" diameter hole 3/16" deep. Using the 1-1/4" drill center, drill another hole 1-1/8" diameter 1-1/2" deep. Tap the hole using a 1-1/4"-8TPI tap. Now you can directly screw the work piece onto the spindle of the lathe. This works with the Powermatic lathe we use at TechShop. Check with your own lathe what dimension the spindle screw is. 

Step 3: Using the Roughing Gough to Make a Cylinder

Beginning with a large roughing gouge, make long sweeping cuts in a continuous motion to rough the piece down to a cylinder. Make sure to leave the top two inches near the headstock untouched, as this portion is the sacrificial portion that is going to be cut off anyway, and also, you need the extra material there as it is being held in place in the faceplate by screws. 

Follow it up using a detail gouge. 

After you have a relatively smooth cylinder, make marks at the following intervals

* 2 inches from the headstock - this represents the bottom of the chess piece
* 2 inches from the above point - this represents the base of the chess piece
* Another 3 inches from the above point - this section the center portion of the chess piece, and demarcates the last two inches
* The remaining two inches represents the top portion of the chess piece

Divide the first section (representing the base of the chess piece) into 3 - these represent the grooves and detailing on the base of the chess piece. I eyeballed this into 2 equal segments and one smaller segment. You can get inventive here with what patterns you would like to carve!

Using a parting tool, carve a notch below the first 2 inch line - this acts as a visual guide of where to stop working on the piece. 

Step 4: Finish Shaping the Piece

Using a parting tool, cut a notch below the 2 inch line near the tail stock. Widen the groove to facilitate cutting and deepen the groove to the desired thickness - the center part will taper from the bottom to the top to this thickness. 

Using a roughing gouge, shape the center portion, from the widest at the bottom, tapering to the thickness of the groove at the top. Always cut downhill, from large diameter to small diameter. 

Using the detail gouge and skew chisel, cut the decorative grooves into the bottom section as shown (or any decorative patterns of your liking!) 

Cut a second groove near the top groove - though not as deep. This will enable the top to be somewhat fluted and adds a decorative flair. Using a roughing gouge, taper from the top to the groove, as shown. 

Step 5: Hollow Out Top

Now it is time to do the faceplate work. Remove the tailstock. Since the piece was mounted on the faceplate, it does not need the tailstock for support, and you can move the tool rest to the faceplate turning position. 

Using a pencil, mark the inner diameter - the top wall of the rook will be this thick. Using a detail gouge, working from the pencil mark to the center, slowly carve out the rounded hollow on the top of the chess piece. 

Step 6: Sand Piece

Using a 220 grit sandpaper, holding it along the bottom (if the lathe is moving forward, not in reverse), gently run the sandpaper along the length of the piece, gradually sanding and smoothing it out. Fold the sandpaper in half and used the folded edge to sand the grooves. 

Repeat the process with the hollow, working from the sides to the center. Also sand the top edge. 

Once you are satisfied, you can now remove the piece from the lathe, and also remove it from the faceplate. 

Step 7: Cut Off Bottom Sacrificial Portion

Using a bandsaw, cut off the bottom portion of the piece to where the first pencil mark is. Using  a belt sander, smooth out the bottom of the piece. 

Step 8: Cut Notches

Mark the top of the piece where the notches are to be cut. I decided to have 4 notches. 

Using a hacksaw, or rotary tool, or wood carving tool, carefully remove the pieces where the notches are to be formed. 

Using a mini fille, file to smooth out the notches. 

Step 9: Sand and Stain

Using a 220 grit sandpaper, sandpaper down the entire piece, including the notches.

Now your piece is ready to stain! Use a wood conditioner first, and then 2 or 3 coats of your favorite color of wood stain. Follow that with 2 or 3 coats of polyurethane. 

Show it off on your favorite coffee table or book shelf! 

Hope you enjoyed my very first instructable! 
Sridhar Rajagopal

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    10 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 9

    Great i'ble, Sridhar! I've been looking for a simple-to-follow turning project so will definitely try this. Are you planning to do more pieces to eventually form a set?


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    Thanks, duncan! I didn't plan on it, but my wife liked it and now wants me to do 31 more pieces! :-) Eventually!

    Josef Lister
    Josef Lister

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Wow! I love chess and I want to learn to use a lathe. This is a great project :-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! :) Now my wife wants me to make 31 more pieces, not to mention a big board for a really large chess set!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    looks good, I would suggest the use of a wedge to even up the piece when you bandsaw the bottom off just to make it a bit safer


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Great suggestion!

    I held both sides down, so it was safe, but because it angled ever so slightly, the cut was a bit tapered, but easy to smooth off with a belt sander. I'll keep it mind for my next project!