Chess Table Part 1 – Making a Plan & Chess Pieces

This project utilized almost every feature of CarveWright’s CNC systems and is a great demonstration of it’s power to create anything.  Below I’ll outline the processes we went through to design and build this project.

Planning the Table

This project started as a desire to make chess pieces with the rotary jig, but then why not make a chess board to go with it. Several ideas were bounced around and I almost settled on designing a tabletop board carved to look like a castle with drawers for the pieces.  That would be a wonderful project, but I realized it would be as large as a table.  So, why not just make a whole table?

One night I was contemplating this project and I sat down to watch Game of Thrones.  I love the intro to that show, as I think most fans do.  I was noticing the carved heraldic bands revolving around the sun thinking “those would be fun to carve”.

I was able to find the panels online and was disappointed to find there are only three.  A three sided chess table might be hard to pull off.  Oh well, I’ll figure that part out later.

Game of Thrones Panels
A little bit of tracing and a couple puffs here and there. No problem.

So I’ve decided to make a table, and I have a theme. Now, off to Google to do some research on what chess tables look like.  There are chess tables in every possible style you can think of.  Being that our theme involves traditional heraldic elements, keeping with a classic style is most appropriate.  That helps narrow it down a bit.

There is an endless variety of chess table designs.
There is an endless variety of chess table designs.

When looking at these table designs, I try to imagine how I would machine them. I settled on what seemed to be a common style of legs, that is quite elegant and perfectly suited for being made on a CarveWright CNC.

Keep in mind the machine's capabilities when looking for ideas.
Keep in mind the machine’s capabilities when looking for ideas.

I also came across several chess boards that had carved squares rather than the expected alternating wood blocks.  This looked like a perfect job for vcarve.

A really elegant way to do a chess board.
Looks like a job for Designer 3!

Now with all these ideas, its time to draw up some plans.  It is critical to work from some sort of plans when building anything.  Even if it’s just rough sketches with your measurements written in.  Just make sure your measurements are accurate. Sometimes, there are already woodworking plans for what you want to make.  Keep that in mind when doing your searches.

Chess table plans
Plan out every joint, hardware, and how much material you’ll need.

From the plans, I could determine how much material I needed and went shopping for lumber.

The Chess Pieces

Chess pieces are an obvious choice for the rotary jig. As soon as I have a rotary jig I wanted to make a chess set and set out to find some existing models online.  After some searching I found a set I liked on

Screen shot 2014-07-30 at 10.51.13 AM
No way anybody is making these pieces on a lathe.

These were more interesting then the normal plain turned pieces you see.  I didn’t want to use the jig to make something that would look like it came off of a lathe.  It needed to be carved.  I downloaded the files and imported them into Designer.


See more about the rotary jig

After several days of carving, I had a complete chess set carved in oak.

Rotary chess set
I wouldn’t do oak chess pieces again. The grain made for a long and tedious finishing process. Next time, I think a hard maple and walnut set would be ideal.

I was able to chuck the pieces into a lathe to help sand the smooth parts, but most of it was carved and irregular, which needed a 240 grit sanding mop.  Once sanded, I removed the individual pieces with a band saw.

Sanding on the lathe (top left), Sanding on sanding mop (bottom left), cutting out the pieces on a the band saw.
Sanding on the lathe (top left), Sanding with a sanding mop (bottom left), cutting out the pieces on the band saw.

Once separated, I worked with them individually. They all went through various levels of hand sanding, filling, and shaping with a dremel, until I was ready for finishing.  The dark pieces were stained with a Minwax red mahogany penetrating stain and the light pieces were just clear coated with high gloss polyurethane.

Smooth and shiny!
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