Custom Chess Sets
The last post we made was about wooden chess sets, and in that post I talked a lot about how while there were some pre-made options, most were actually custom chess sets where you select a chessboard and chess pieces separately.
That can be a somewhat complicated process, so this post is dedicated more in the process of combining the right pieces and board in order to make the chess set that is perfect for you. While I will focus heavily on the Staunton design, I will also explain a little about the figurine and theme chess piece sets that can be just as difficult to create as the traditional chess designs.
The Chess Pieces or The Chess Board?
The first decision in making your own chess set is determining where to start: The pieces or the chess board. The size of the pieces – specifically the king height and the base diameter, will determine for you what size chess board you need. Likewise, the square size on a chessboard will determine the maximum and minimum sizes for a set of pieces to go on that board. Take a deep breath – we’re about to get in to some numbers.
It is not uncommon for someone to look through the wood chess sets at our store and be wow’d by the larger wood chess pieces that are 4 1/2″ or 5″ tall. The problem is that the board it would require would need at minimum 2 1/2″ squares. This means you’re looking at a 24″ or 26″ overall chessboard for those pieces – much to big for most! While these are the biggest, that is the issue you are addressing here: Where are you going to put your chess set? Is it going to accent a room, or is it going to be the focal point?
There really are two main sizes to consider. ‘Tournament Size’ generally refers to a king height of 3 3/4″ to 4 1/4″ tall. This is the size you will see in clubs and schools, and also where you will find a lot of the really heavy wooden pieces. In general, these will require a chess board with either 2″ or 2 1/4″ squares.
A chessboard with 2″ squares is likely 18″ – 21″ overall. This is generally too big to go on a coffee table or end table, and is going to be a custom chess set that is a focal point of a room as opposed to an accent.
On the other side of the coin, custom chess sets with a 3″ king are generally used on a chessboard that is 16″ – 18″. While the chess pieces may not be quite as big and heavy, they are often just as detailed, still very well weighted, and have a lot more flexibility with where you can display it.
We have a handy chart on our website in an old article about chess piece sizing guidelines. Eventually we’ll move this over to the blog, but for now you can at least see what we’re talking about:
Once you have decided on a size, my general recommendation is to go with your gut. If you’re still not sure, that’s okay. I’ve broken down some of the differences when choosing chessmen below.
Pairing with a Chessboard
So you’ve already decided on a board and you want to get the pieces. Custom chess sets are not easy – When you’re ready to make your own set, you have to wade through literally hundreds of styles of chessmen with different wood types and designs. While finding the right design is completely a personal preference and decision, I can comment briefly on wood types.
The woods used for chessmen range include ebonized (a laquered black), honey rosewood (a light brown color), cardinal rosewood (a dark brown with a strong grain), ebony (a solid black wood), and crimson rosewood (this ranges from a deep red-wine sort of color to a lighter reddish shade). The light side of the chessmen is always a wood called boxwood, which is a soft, easy to work with wood that is the standard for ‘white’ chess pieces.
The most important thing? You do not need to match the chessboard! In fact, you probably do not want to. If the pieces are too exact, you can lose sight of them – especially when you are playing a longer game. Many boards will bring various colors to help complement the pieces anyway.
Pairing with Chess Pieces
If you have decided on the pieces and you are looking for a chess board to match, the same rules apply. In addition to the woods and color, The second consideration is size. I mentioned this in the preceding section, but there is a little more detail I can offer on this. In tournaments, the pieces are quite spread out (indeed, they use 3 3/4″ pieces on a 2 1/4″ board). Custom chess sets do not need to abide by those same rules. In our chess store, I have found that many people prefer the chessmen to be slightly closer together, putting that same 3 3/4″ or 4″ tall king on a 2″ square instead. It is perhaps more aesthetically pleasing and still perfectly playable if you’re comfortable outside of the traditional tournament guidelines.
For wood types, I generally like to look at what would go best with the room the chess set will be in – furniture, colors, and so on. This is more important than matching the pieces themselves, and ensure the chess set will look great in the room it finds home.
Theme Custom Chess Sets
The process for making custom chess sets with theme or figurine pieces is fairly similar. The most important thing is to look at the size of the pieces. This can be a little more complicated because sometimes the pieces are wider than their bases – for example a knight on horseback where the horse extends a full half inch past the base.
Certainly you need to use the widest part of the piece, not the base in that circumstance. We try and give ‘recommended square sizes’ for that reason.
While some people want a thematic board, a lot of the time a standard board is a better choice for theme pieces. The reason is that there are often already a lot of color and detailing in the chessmen, so you do not need or want the chess board to distract from it. In that case, the same rules apply as above.
If you are looking for a middle ground, one option would be color boards – “Erables”. These boards might be green or blue laquer over a grained maple. They are not over the top, but can simulate ocean waves or rolling fields for your display chess pieces.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email or put a comment down below.