Initial brainstorming

What makes an object an artifact? What makes and object meaningful to me? I used these questions to begin to brainstorm objects that I could make and pass down and that was important enough to me that I could justify having one “forever fabricated”.

Initial ideas for artifacts

After thinking about it, I realized I wanted to make a chess set. It met all my criteria for the object I would craft in this project: It was classic and has survived over time, it’s somewhat functional and ask for continued interaction, it holds meaning and stories.

I was worried about the scale of the project since each set would have 32 pieces and thus 3 sets would have 96 total items to make, cut, sand, and finish. Through conversations with Mark and Josiah, I further realized how big of a task this was and tried to find ways to craft the artifact meaningfully in some “batch” method. Josiah showed me a chess set made from long extrusions that were then chopped up into several smaller pieces. They were very geometric in nature. This became my inspiration for the basis of how I was going to create these chess sets.

Bauhaus Chess Set


I started the design process though quick and rough sketches, using the meaning behind each piece to inspire the forms. Something I thought about through this project was: “If this was the last chess set to make it in the world, what would I want to show through it?”. I think one thing that came to mind was how the game was played. However, I didn’t want the artifact to feel like an instructional piece so I decided to make those formal qualities more subtle. I thought about how archaeologists dug up artifacts and analyzed them to try to put meaning and use and a story behind them and hoped that if this ever really did last the test of time and became an artifact of our civilization around 2020, that these archaeologists would be able to infer somethings from it.

Another factor that inspired my forms was how I would be able to cut these pieces out of one long blank or extrusion. I decided that this was a critical design consideration for my pawns since there would be 24 white and 24 black pawns. However, I thought of this as less important with my king and queen designs since there were only 6 of each total.

I also began thinking about materials through sketching. I liked the idea of a dark and light counter forms so that the colors of each side integrated together on the board.

KeyShot renders

I explored materials through sketching and rendering. Through my exploration and research on common wooden chess set materials, I settled on maple and walnut for my light and dark wood respectively. I felt against staining because I wanted the pieces to feel as natural as possible. I wanted to keep it as fully wooden because it simplified the materials of the object and I believed keeping it fully wooden would celebrate the grain pattern more.

From there, I finalized my design through 3D modeling in SolidWorks and a dimensional drawing. I found it very helpful to have a detailed drawing of each piece to take measurements from and it became sort of like a “white board” I carried with me throughout shop to write on and plan with.

Left: dimensional drawing iteration; Right: final dimensions and calculations
Initial ideas for fabrication process

I also drew a rough sketch of the fabrication process so that I could understand the steps I believed I needed to take and to facilitate conversations with shop monitors so that they could better advise me.


Before beginning, I decided to make a test set to go over how each piece would be manufactured. I also did this as a way to practice my shop skills as I had not been fully checked out for a lot of the tools since spring semester had been remote.

Left: Part of my wormy maple test set; Right: laser cut plywood board

Seeing the test pieces on plywood didn’t feel right to me and I struggled to find a durable contrastive material for the wood. The same way I wanted to my the pieces fully wood, I felt like the board had to me made of more nature materials too. Luckily enough, talking to Mark and Josiah again, they showed me some slate tile used to laser engrave signs in the Design building. I enjoyed the dark grey and weight of the slate as well as the unique soft textures and patterns each tile had. The light grey/white that resulted from laser engraving worked nicely. The tiles were 1 ft x 1 ft and the board I designed was 10" x 10" so I needed to trim them down on the tile saw after they were engraved.

Fabrication in progress: gluing and chopping

Unfortunately I didn’t take many photos while working in the shop but here are a few notable takeaways from the fabrication process:

  1. I wasn’t supporting a piece I was cutting enough and the chop saw smashed it/launched it up in the air. It’s the first maple piece on the left in the right image. Luckily, I had built in extra length in my “extrusions” so I was still able to get my 3 queens out of the blank.
  2. I learned how hard it was to cut sharp (non-parallel/perpendicular) angles into piece. For instance, my pawn design initially had a square resting on a point at the top of the pawn. However, I struggled to get that point to be sharp and needed to sand it down to get it to fit snuggly.
  3. The milling machine provided a nice amount of certainty and accuracy after set up but the table saw made cuts super quickly. I did one cut for my rook on the milling machine and the other using a dado blade on the table saw. I think the milling machine’s cut was cleaner but it also took a lot longer.
Fabrication in progress: before sanding, drilling, oiling

After the piece’s body was done, I set up a jig to drill holes (using the drill press) into each piece as well as some other supporting pieces so that I could weight them. The depth of the hole for the rook, bishop, and knight are the same and the depth of the hope for the queen and kind are the same. The pawn has the shallowest hole.

I finished each piece by sanding the sides so that it was completely smooth, sanding down the corners slightly, raising the grain, and sanding it with 320 grit sandpaper. I filled the holes with led shot and sealed it in with epoxy. The epoxy also stuck the “feet” of the pieces on which made the process of assembly smoother.

I chose to use linseed oil to highlight the grain patterns while keeping the materials natural. Because I oiled the pieces, I needed to also do something to the slate so that the oil didn’t soak into the board over time. Thus, I used some tile sealer to coat and protect the slate board. I also added a layer of cork as the “foot” of the board to tie it back to the pieces and to protect it as it was moved around.

Oiled pieces drying



One thing take came as a pleasant surprise was the sound that the pieces made when moved. The clicking of the wood on slate was very satisfying.