A while back (I think it would have been in 2001 or 2002) I made six chess sets as Christmas presents (for my father, brother, father-in-law, step-father-in-law, and two brothers-in-law).

Not all of them are chess players (and really I’m a terrible chess player, probably the worst of the lot), but all appreciated getting something hand-crafted.  Each set was a little different, in how the board itself and the pieces were painted, but all the pieces were made from a set of molds by Prince August and the boards were made from 18″ wide shelf lumber.  After my father-in-law passed away and his effects were divided among  his kids, I took his chess board (we’d played several memorable games on that set; he was a lot better than me but my unpredictable play made it a bit of a challenge for him because he could never tell if I was really making that dumb a move).  I plan to find a permanent home for it, as it is actually in better shape than the other sets I made (everyone else has kids/grandkids, cats, or both, and from what I’ve seen their pieces are pretty battered, but my father-in-law kept his set stored safely in a box.  I should add that I don’t mind seeing the other sets a little battered, as it shows they have had use!)

Here is board (which is just stained and painted, then sealed with polyurethane; a few upholstery tacks serve as the shield bosses):

And here is the underside of the board, with a short historical note on Saladin and Richard the Lionheart (depicted as the kings).  I also put four furniture ‘gliders’ on it to keep it the board stable (I was afraid they’d warp over time) and protect the table-top.

Click to embiggen, if you want to read it.

And now some details of the pieces.  All were cast in a lead/tin alloy I bought from the Dunken Company, the American distributor of Prince August and other molds.  I think I went with the “Chess metal,” which was a little cheaper thna the “Model metal” but still very good.

The Richard (white) side and Saladin's side (black)



The Richard (white?) side

Saladin's side (black?)


I might cast some more of some of these pieces:

Rooks. They're neat little towers to use in some other game...

The knights -- about 28 or 30 mm scale!

Published in: on October 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow! Very nice work. How long would you say it took to make each complete set? How long does it take to cast one piece?

    • Thanks!
      It’d be hard to say how long it took; doing six at once certainly made it easier in some ways, since I could do things as an “assemply line”.

      Casting the pieces went over the course of a few weeks. The worst of it was all the pawns; the molds had a cavity for each type of piece, so I only had to get six decent kings of each side and 12 bishops etc. but … 48 pawns!

      Melting metal in pot: 5 min or so. Pouring and cooling in molds … another 5 -10 minutes. Then trimming off sprue, filing, etc, another couple minutes per piece. Plus you get a lot of rejects that you melt down again. I think I began in October and was done in early December. But I was “only” putting in a hour or two a night. If I’d had known how long it would take, I wouldn’t have done it, but of course I’m glad I did, in the end. I think I spent about $60 each on materials including all the paint, molds, metal, wood, etc. I already had some casting supplies (clamps, ladel, old pot to melt in, etc.)

      My one brother in law was so happy with his set that he asked me to make two more for his business partners the next year! I think I charged him around $100 each for them, as that seemed like what you’d pay for a pewter set at a store, but in hindsight I really sold myself short when I think about the time it took.

      I did it, but can’t stomach the thought of making one for myself now. I had originally planned to do one that I’d paint up as if they were miniatures. But now I can’t face the grueling casting time.

  2. Wow, those are very cool chess sets, Mike. I love chess and hardly ever get a chance to play. I have several specialty chess sets already–including a conquistadors vs. Incas set with hand-painte wooden pieces. When I was a teenager I made my own jetan set–long since vanished, and a set with plastic figures I bought in Kresge’s of Vikings vs. Normans. I hope you find a good home for that set.

    • Thanks, Ken!
      I’m hoping that my employer will take it. We have an extensive collection of chess sets (and the world’s largest chess collection in terms of books, tournament reocrds, etc.). Well, there, I probably just jinxed it.

  3. Really really nice, I especially like the rooks.

    A small point though, where did you get the date of 1204 for the end of the crusades? Louis IX died in Tunisia as part of a crusade in 1270. Or

    • Thanks!
      Well, after 1204, you have the Albigensian crusades, the Childrens’ crusade, and a few more haphazard looting expeditions, but the fourth crusade was the last one that was clearly (to me) about Jerusalem. I guess the later crusades, including Louis’, did aim for the Holy Land but they seemed to be disorganized messes and almost entirely failures. So the key term here is ‘effectively’ — I guess I meant that the crusades that fit the somewhat chivalric image of them as waged by Richard and Saladin, were over by 1204 (the 4th). But you’re right — there were crusades all the way up to the 1270s (later if you count even more minor efforts).

      • Gotcha-I’m new to crusades history but finding it pretty damned interesting so far. I figured that was probably what you meant. I find it fascinating the way the concept evolved from being strictly about reclaiming the Holy Land to being shaped into a catch all device for quashing heretics closer to home.

  4. That’s incredible work. Very, very nice.

    That you molded the pieces is really cool. Aside from the cash for supplies and the time, how much actual space was necessary?

    We have a tiny, tiny kitchenette – did you need a lot of space for cooling, etc.?

    • I was in a small apartment. I did the casting at the stove, and set up my molds on the counter next to it. I really didn’t take up too much space — a card table sized area would be plenty. I can fit all the equipment in a tool box. You need to be careful about spilling hot lead though and you want good ventilation when melting it. My range had a good exhaust fan and I kept the window open.

      Check out the videos at — there is one in the ’54mm knights’ page.

      • Many thanks!

  5. […] original here: Chess « Swords & Dorkery Filed Under: Chess, General Tagged With: board, board-itself, chess, getting-something, […]

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