Chess Men

Having made a chess board I needed to make the chess men…all 32 of them! What had I taken on?

I considered a number of different materials to use as the black and white elements of the design eg brass vs aluminium.

I experimented with different surface finishes, the images to the left show the results of some experiments with electrolysis: the piece in the centre was made from aluminium, corroded by electrolysis and then partially plated with copper. The two outer parts are from mild steel and partially plated in copper.

My final idea was to make both sides of the chess set in mild steel and then use some form of surface treatment to create the “black and white” sides.

The next problem is “how to make 32 pieces and how to make them as a set?”.

I started with the pawns, the most difficult of the repetition problems as I need 16 of them in total.

3/8″ round mild steel stock, machined down by 2mm in diameter for a distance of 20mm. I then created the rounded end using a shaped HSS tool.

Machining with a shaped lathe tool is not easy as by design there is a longer than normal cutting edge and this soon starts to chatter.

This long edge also creates a lot of fine needle like shavings of steel.

I cut the taper (6°) starting at the base with a known position and depth for a distance of 12mm

The pawns are all slightly different, a lot of this is down to the fact that I changed tools and toolpost angles for each of the operations.

However, the fact that they are nearly all the same gives them a certain charm.

There is a real satisfaction gained from machining so many parts and you get into a rhythm in the workshop.

For all of the cylindrical pieces I machined a recess in the bottom of the part so that even after surface treatment they would sit securely on the board.

The pair of kings are the stockiest parts on the board. Slightly bigger diameter (13.5mm at base), slightly taller and less of a taper.

The surface treatment is shown very clearly here and the contrast is rather pleasing.

However, these cylindrical pieces are all rather easy to design and machine, how do I make a knight? It needs to resemble a horse in some form?

All of the different pieces that I’ve made can be seen below, ranging in height from the King at 34mm to the pawn at 22mm. The height and size of the pieces is important in the overall characters, but as you can see this is a small chess set.

Queen, King, Bishop, Knight, Castle and Pawn

Brown / Copper Surface – heat the part with a blow torch to around 500°C and then quench in a solution of copper sulphate, you will get some areas of copper forming on the surface. Then re-heat the parts to around 500°C and allow to cool. I then just cleaned them with detergent and water before buffing with a small amount of beeswax and a cloth.

Brown surface finish achieved by quenching mild steel in copper sulphate

One set of pieces all treated, slight differences in the surface finish are clearly visible, but the overall quality of the finish is very rewarding.

The pieces in one hand goes to show the diminutive size.

Some images of the final chess men and chess board:

About Nigel 228 Articles
Have been making models since I was around 7 years old and using a lathe from the age of 11, a self taught engineer with a passion for making model engines.

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