How to carve chess pieces out of wood

Carving chess pieces from wood may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little skill and the right tools you can easily craft your own. If you don't have use of a woodworking lathe (these tend to run on the more costly end), you can pick up an affordable wood carving set from your local hobby shop, craft or hardware store.

Print patterns for each type of chess piece including kings, queens, bishops, rooks and pawns (you can find free patterns on several woodcraft and wood-turning websites). Make sure that your patterns are at 100 per cent of their intended size. If you'd like to make smaller or larger pieces, reduce or enlarge the pattern accordingly.

Transfer your pattern onto the wood using graphite or carbon paper. Keep in mind that patterns transferred from graphite paper are easier to erase and leave fewer marks than carbon paper.

Turn each piece of wood as indicated on your patterns using a wood carving knife or a woodworking lathe. You can use any type of carving wood, however, boxwood is preferred for chess pieces, as it is easier to turn and carve.

Use different heights to distinguish between pieces. For example, make your kings the tallest, followed by the queens, the bishops, the knights, the rooks and finally, the pawns. Indicate pawn pieces by rounding off the tops; rooks with flat tops; bishops, queens and kings with pointed tops; and knights with non-lathed heads.

Hand saw and carve your pieces to flesh out the king's cross, the queen's crown, the bishop's mitre and the rook's parapet.

Drill a small hole into the base of each finished piece. Insert lead (you can pick some up from your local sporting goods store or gun shop) into each hole to create a more solid feel. Seal the holes by gluing small plugs over them.

Weight your pieces with heavy coins if you don't have access to lead. Simply choose a handful of coins (foreign coins add an interesting touch) and glue one to each base. Depending on what type of chess board you'll be using, you may want to glue small felt circles beneath your finished bases.

Apply a hard cover coat, such as polyurethane or varnish, to protect your chess pieces from heavy handling.


If you're planning to sell your handmade chess pieces, research the market first. Prices will vary depending on whether you choose a less expensive venue, such as a flea market, or a more upscale locale like a craft boutique or an arts and crafts show.


Always wear cut-resistant gloves and protective eye gear when working with sharp tools.

Things You'll Need

  • Chess piece patterns
  • Wood
  • Lathe or wood carving knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Lead or heavy coins
  • Glue
  • Felt (optional)
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About the Author

Based in Austin, Texas, Candy Waters has been a freelance editor and writer since 2006. Waters has contributed to several metropolitan publications including the "Chicago Sun-Times," and BizBash Media, among others. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from Grand Valley State University.