Turning Chess Pieces #3: Knights

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Blog entry by Chessnut posted 02-10-2008 07:23 PM 9793 reads 1 time favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Rooks Part 3 of Turning Chess Pieces series Part 4: Bishops »

Welcome back to another installment of the chess corner! Today’s topic are turning knights for a chess set.
I would say the knights are the most difficult piece to create as you have to turn it, then carve it out of whatever wood you are using for the set which may end up being tricky. There is two ways to so this, turn the base on the lathe then carve out the head with chisels and rifler files or carve the head separately then glue it onto a ready made base. I personally opt for the first just because then the grain of the wood would be more consistent right thru the piece. This is my first and only knight and I have never carved before. It looks a bit like a duck but the wood I selected for practice was actually quite punky just under the back of the head and I had to stop. The wood turned was from box elder with no finish. Knights are typically 2” – 2 1/2 ” tall with a 1 1/2” diameter base which suits about a 2 1/4” square chessboard +-1/4” Thanks for joining me again for another installment of the chess corner, until next time happy turning! I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

-- Mike, Airdrie Alberta

3 comments so far

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 3267 days

#1 posted 02-10-2008 07:58 PM

Hello Mike, Is there a rule or standard regarding the scale or size of the pieces in regards to the board squares? I like the direction your headed with the knight. apx what is the size of the stock you are beginning with?

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View Chessnut's profile


24 posts in 3184 days

#2 posted 02-10-2008 10:57 PM

The turning stock I start with can vary from piece to piece but you want to make sure you start at least about 1/4” larger than your finished diameter. So for pawns say they are 1.25” finished you could go 1.5” to start because after turning and sanding your base will be very close to whichever specs you have set.
Yes there are somewhat specific guidelines as to what the board squares should be in relation to piece base diameters,let me dig it out for you here, lets see…

Preferred Size for Tournaments and for Classrooms. As to size, most tournament sets have a King somewhere between 3 3/8” (8.65 cm) and 4 1/2” (about 11.5 cm)—this is a nice, comfortable size.
Many “clubhouse” and schoolroom sets are a bit smaller, with a King at about 3 inches—these are also fine for casual play, as long as they’re still Staunton and still proportional. In fact, they may be easier for children.
The pieces should also be nicely weighted, so that they don’t tip over or fall easily. The base should be about 50% of the King’s height.
Squares of the chess board should be large enough so that a small rim of color shows all the way around the base of the piece that is sitting on the square; this lets the players more easily follow diagonals, etc. In practice, this means a square of around 2 1/4” on one side (around 5.5 cm).

Colors and Materials of the Set
The pieces can be any neutral contrasting colors, but most people prefer either a dark wood/light wood color, or black and white. The squares of the board should CONTRAST with the set: that’s one reason that many tournament players use black and white pieces on a green and white board. This keeps the black pawns from being “overlooked” on a dark square.

US Chess Federation Official Rules for Tournament Sets
In the US Chess Federation’s OFFICIAL RULES OF CHESS, they state as follows:
40B SIZE. The King’s height should be 3 3/8 – 4 1/2 inches. The diameter of the King’s base should be approximately 40-50% of the height. The other pieces should be proportionate in height and form…All pieces should be well balanced for stability…
40C FORM. The conventional Staunton pattern is the standard….
41C PROPORTIONS. The pieces should fit comfortably on the board, being neither too crowded nor too isolated on the squares. The King and Queen, for example, should be subject to easy placement on a square without touching any of the edges. Boards for standard sets should have squares of approximately 2 – 2 1/2 inches….
If you look at our descriptions of chess pieces you will notice that we always include the height and base diameter of each King. That’s because we have found this ratio to be an effective method of choosing a board for a given set of chess pieces. The proper square size for a set of good Staunton chess pieces is such that the width of the base of the King should be 78% of the width of a square. So, divide the King’s base diameter by 0.78 and you get the proper square size. You can increase the square size by 1/8”, but the square size should not be any smaller. For example, a Staunton King with a base diameter of 1.75” would require a square size of 2.25” x 0.78 = 1.75”. Hence, you should use a chessboard with squares of either 2.25” or 2.375” (+1/8”).
We have made it easy for you to select the the perfect chess board by placing a chart with each set to help with chess board square sizing. If you need further assistance, do not hesitate to email us at: <mailto:email>
Matching the pieces and chessboard together for an aesthetically pleasing look is relatively simple. Think about the coloring and wood type of the dark pieces in your chess set and the dark playing squares of your chess board, then match them accordingly.
The white squares of most good chess boards, made from wood, are carved from Bird’s Eye Maple (BEM). The dark squares are varied in material left to your personal taste. Consider where you plan to place the board. Will the chess board rest on a Rosewood table? Then you may wish to choose that wood for your chess board’s dark squares. Or you may wish to contrast, such as a deeper-colored dark square like Striped Ebony to add grace and elegance.

-- Mike, Airdrie Alberta

View USCJeff's profile


1062 posts in 3487 days

#3 posted 08-01-2011 10:01 PM

Very Nice. I’ve been using some diagrams from PSI when turning. I don’t have the duplicator, but the images in the instructions showed enough dimensions to try it by hand. The Knight being the hardest, I have looked for more info after some bad results at carving the details. This one’s nice. It doesn’t match the style of the one’s I’m going for, but having butchered several, I recognize the skill. My answer as far as size would be similar your’s. I went for a 1.3 ratio in regards to the base of piece and size of square. I wanted to use a bird eye veneer for the lighter squares but was short on it and too impatient to wait until the next trip to the store. I used maple, not much figure to it, but it worked. I went with Walnut (I like Rosewood as well). I used Ebony to for a thin border followed by a larger walnut frame. Again, Great knight. Was it tough to duplicate 4 times?

-- Jeff, South Carolina

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