This is the fifth book in Mike’s woodturning series. There is an identical American edition is called Woodturning Chessmen. Its 168 pages have 40 diagrams and 280 photographs and historical engravings. Its chapters are as follows:

1. A history of chessmen, 56 pages. Details the history of chess and chessmen from the invention of chess in India in about AD 550 to the present.

2. Gallery, 12 pages. Sets by six of today’s makers.

3. Piece symbols, 16 pages. Discusses the origin, history and designs of the piece symbols used to signify the six chess pieces. Examples of piece signatures are the bishop’s mitre and the rook’s castle tower.

4. Designing chess sets, 30 pages. After analysing the designs of some extant sets, this chapter discusses how the design of each man in a set can clearly communicate that it belongs to that set, belongs to the black or the white side, and is a particular piece.

5. Drawings for chess sets, 10 pages. Provides fully detailed drawings for ten sets which turners can copy or modify to make their own sets.

6. Making chess sets, 36 pages. Details all the techniques used to make turned chess sets, and explains the processes through sequences of photographs and diagrams.

Bibliographies, 2 pages.

Index, 5 pages.

Front cover

Figure 4.2 showing piece signatures in magenta.

Figure 6.46   Turning a queen.

Figure 3.34   Six different rooks.


Published on, December 2014

I am very happy with this book. It is exactly what I was looking for. In contrast to some of the other reviewers I found the history of chess sets very helpful. I really think that to understand the aspects of chess piece design we need to look at what has proceeded us. Besides all that it is just fun to see the evolution of design with a lot of photos of historic chess sets.
For myself there was plenty of practical information on the actual construction process. There are also a number of templates for making specific sets. All and all a thoroughly enjoyable read even if I wasn’t interested in the actual construction process.

Ron Lacey published on, December 2009

I’ve had my copy of this book about a week and I’ll be spending a long time absorbing all the material in the text. My initial impressions are that the author has written very thorough treatise incorporating a short history of chess, the evolution of the design of chessmen, fundamentals of the design process, scaled drawings of several historical reproductions of chessmen, and tips on turning your own sets. This is not a beginners book in the sense that the author doesn’t lay out one specific design and takes you through each step in copying that design. Rather, he gives you the tools to create your own designs, examples to copy if you choose, and an appreciation of the history of the game pieces. Plus there are little snippets of info scattered through the text that add to the background information but are clearly not directly needed to make a chess set. The book is a fun read even if you never actually make a chessman.

Three sets designed especially for the book.

Figure 1.26   Indian Muslim chessmen pictured in 1694 in Thomas Hyde’s book De Ludis Orientalibus

Figure 1.33   Early 17th-century English chessmen and chess table in the Pinto Collection, Birmingham Museum & Art Galleries

Figure 4.8   An outdoor chess set designed and turned by Jamie Wallwin

Figure 5.3   Pieces based on woodcuts in William Caxton’s book The Game and playe of the Chesse published in 1480.

This and the two images to the right show three of the ten sets for which pencil gauges are provided so that you can produce your own sets

Figure 5.4   An 18th-century English set pictured in Michael Mark’s 1996 book British Chess Sets

Figure 5.10   The pieces of a Russian set of about 1800 pictured in Master Pieces by Gareth Williams