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Hand-carved chess set

Nov 25, 2023

I like wood. I haven't done much with it in the past, but I've always wanted to try working with it properly, not just polishing sticks and making kites of cane and paper. Two years ago I stumbled across a knife in a store that I thought looked pretty cool and I felt prompted to try. An invitation to carve.

With that Opinel #8 I made a bird and a toy ship, and although the result was very clumpsy, the feeling of making those objects out of a piece of wood was really satisfying. (Also, making something physical outside the computer screen is great, for a chance).

Some months ago, I got some basswood blocks and started to carve again, and making a chess pawn seemed like a quite simple but interesting shape to make. After a couple of failed attempts I got a decent piece, and then I made another, and another.. and then a bishop, a horrible knight..


For me, the good part of making little pieces like these is that:

Although I don't play it as much as I'd like nowadays, I've always loved chess, so after this point of having 6.5 pieces done (that horse was really, really bad) the idea of making the full set become so tempting that I had to give it a try. I'm the opposite of persistent, so I kept working acknowledging that I wasn't going to finish it. However, due to the three points mentioned earlier, little by little, day by day, the number of pieces was increasing over the weeks.


I quickly realized that I was going to need more tools and materials than just a well sharped knife. I needed:


The idea of carving a whole chess set was amazing to think about, one of those "naahh that's nuts!" but it's fantastic to see that it's almost done, and that it was actually much easier than I thought.

Spanish friction to try

You know, Spain is the complete opposite of the Silicon Valley mentality. With any new project, here the typical reaction is one of rejection, criticism, and opposition:

"It's not worth it, it's too difficult, why bother doing that, it won't work, it's not going to succeed..."

I had so many of those answers in my life...

Next steps

  1. Redo 3 knights and 1 queen that deserve more love
  2. Varnish pieces, half of them with dark varnish
  3. Carve holes in bottoms and stick leads in them, to give them more weight.
  4. Glue felt on the bottom
  5. Profi— wait, what about the board?

To be continued...