Making a chess set part 2 – The Bishop

Feeling good about how the king had gone, I set to work on the bishops.I decided that the thing to do would be to turn 2 head-to-head in a single length of wood. This would mean I only pay the ‘cost’ of work holding once for two pieces.
As with the king, and all the pieces, this was simple between centres turning. No special chucks, I didn’t even need to engage the prongs on the 4 prong drive centre, the force of just the point and a live centre at the tailstock was sufficient to do all the primary turning. Though I did use a 4 jaw chuck to finish some pieces.

Turning head-to-head meant that whenever I set the calipers for a measurement I would be able to make it on both pieces, and save time.

Fairly quickly things looked like this


I was cautious about not making things too thin until I had to.
In particular doing the heavy wood removal to get things down to rough diameters before going too thin anywhere.

This was a balance of how close to complete I wanted to get them before I applied the finish, and how much would be left to refinish once actually split into separate pieces.


I decided to blend the heads into each other, to ensure that the top diameters would be the same

Once I finished and split the two pieces, I left them intending to finish them at home with a sander, and possibly my small chuck to help the process


first white bishops

What I realised was that the match wasn’t as close as I’d have liked, it wasn’t bad, but the thing that made it easier to get the kings matching was the ability to hold one up against the other.

I realised that I’d be better off turning different pieces in a single length. E.g. a bishop and a knight. That way I’d either be turning something for the first time, or I’d be able to compare to one already made.

So the next day when I went to turn a bishop in ebony, I actually combined it with turning a knight and a pawn. I did worry that the overall spindle might become too long, and vibrate too much. But the pawn being fairly small only added a little more.

In practice I did struggle a lot with bounce of the tool, due to the spindle flexing and vibrating under cutting. But mostly I was able to use very light cuts to diminish it, and sand away what was left.

Here we see the very early stages of setting out the pieces in a length of ebony.


You can see how I first went down the length marking and parting in to show the boundaries of the different body parts. One thing I did hit here is that you need to take your time. Once during the week I turned to take a measurement, turned back and started parting away material, only to realise too late I was one section further over than I should have been. All those sections can look very similar in the early stages. Lesson learned…take your time.

Here we can see how the bishop is exactly the same in this design to the knight, up to the head.


You can also see that the pawn was being turned on the end.

Again I worked through each piece forming the basic shape, working down to making the thinner sections. Rather than do one piece and then move to the next. Partly because I didn’t want a thin neck section already turned when I was taking heavy cuts on the next piece. Also because, being a set, they have elements which match, and so the measuring is common, at least for the base of each piece.

It was about this time that I hit a dilemma for my bishop. I made a shaping cut on the head of the black bishop. And found that I’d hit upon a shape and size which was bigger than the ones I’d already turned, which I preferred.
So I had to decide, do I carry on and turn it down to match the ones already done. Or decide to discard those two as practice and stick with the new shape.

Well since I’d not been terribly happy with how they’d gone, I decided I’d only regret it if I stuck with that shape. So I left the black bishop as the new template for the bishops.

Here we can see me turning another white bishop to match it, again I was turning a bishop head-to-head with a knight.


All the bishops I left with waste wood at the base, rather than completing them, since I knew I’d need to form the cut in the heads. And I’d probably need that waste wood to hold them firm. Not having any appropriate tools to do the job in France. I left them to finish at home.

My plan is to practice on the bishops that I turned first. To figure out what tool will work. Possibly a coping saw, making a fine cut. Or maybe a rotary tool, though I’m wary that rotary tools can easily skip away from where you want to carve.

I’ll update this page once I’ve completed the bishops to show the finished pieces. For now here are the ones I’ve done in their mostly finished state


bishops 2 black 1 white

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