1950 Dubrovnik chess set reproduction and board

I’m woefully behind in finally getting through all my build pics and glamour shots from a commissioned Christmas present for a friend, but here they are!

For those who won’t want to click on links :slight_smile:



Last fall I got the idea to try chess pieces on the Shapeoko. Obviously this is better suited to a lathe, but I was still surprised that I found so few examples of CNC chess pieces! Paving new territory is a motivator for me, so I went for it. This was by far the greatest thing I’ve ever created. It was an immense amount of work, mostly because I’d only really gotten the pawn toolpath refined when my friend asked for this and I had a mad dash to get the rest done in ~6wks or so.

I will be making more down the road and plan to try and optimize my process a bit better. For what worked well:

  • that the Shapeoko could deliver this accuracy and repeatability is a testament to capabilities, that’s for sure! I see a lot of posts around repeatability and reproducibility and… this project put any doubts I had to rest. I am perhaps ~97% confident that any issues folks are having are in the setup/software/user, not the machine. I would machine two blocks, sometimes stopping/starting the machine in between and just didn’t have anything that bad. I think I pinpointed some stepping I had in my flips to a) poor locating pin fit and b) an angular offset in my x rail.
  • I had to support the piece within the stock for the flip, so made the support at the base a 0.5in cylinder which I could chuck in my drill press for finish sanding. This worked amazingly well.
  • I used some 0.5mm dia tapered bits for the detail work an was really happy with them. I did roughing with a 0.25in, a parallel toolpath with a 0.125in ball end, and final details with the 0.5mm tapered bit.
  • I’ve seen a lot of concern over stock height for two-sided and think I cut a clever corner. My stock was flat enough not to have to face a side just for stability, so I tape/glued that down and faced the top. This becomes z=0 on side 1 (and my setup in Fusion360 uses the top face as the origin). I duplicated that setup and set the origin at the stock bottom. In this way, after I flip, I zero off the wasteboard for all side 2 operations I don’t have to know exactly what my stock height is. Maybe that’s a well known trick, but wanted to share anyway!

For some lessons learned that come to mind:

  • I was silly and worked around the wood stock I had/that was cheap to buy vs. what I should have done: design for a specific input stock and make or buy said stock. It’s so worth your time to pay for wood vs. adjusting toolpaths from e.g. 6-up to 3-up each time your stock changes
  • I’m still unsure of the best way to do multiples in Fusion360. The toolpaths are complex and take a long time to generate. I haven’t decided if I’m better off patterning toolpaths (make one model, pattern cuts) or actually modeling the e.g. 4-up pieces as they really are, generating toolpaths around all of them. Patterning toolpaths can muck with nesting as the toolpaths aren’t aware of the piece in the real world that’s right next to it. Modeling 4-up can feel redundant as you click the same geometry for things like faces to avoid n times instead of once. TBD on what I settle on.
  • I used locating pins but think I will move to machining two faces perpendicular and using an embedded square in my wasteboard. In my experience the pins had to be super tight in the wasteboard and the part to ensure things were really aligned. I don’t love having to right with wrenching pins out of a part or my wasteboard, and leaving even a little tolerance created the opportunity for a ton of slop
  • it took a lot of work and trial and error to figure out how to avoid chip out on the thin ring-like features on most pieces. I’ll still be trying some other things, along with making the pieces thicker and less sharp at the tips within the realm of artistic license while still staying true to the original look
  • I’m torn on the raw power of roughing with a 0.25in bit vs. the tool change required. For 4-ups, using 3 tools got annoying. I think the bigger I scaled, that would get less annoying as it can just chug and the percent of time fiddling with tools and re-zeroing goes down

Feel free to ask any questions and thanks for taking a look!


well done
awesome job


I am very impressed with this, congratulations you did an amazing job!


AAbsolutely beautiful. Would you consider posting some videos Tutorials of your process. Your work has inspired me. I’m to attempt to carve a chess set with my Shapeoko pro.

Wow, thanks so much! Indeed, I will consider this. I’m 50/50 on trying to maintain my “competitive advantage,” however as from my hunting CNC’d chess pieces was surprisingly rare. The magic sauce was in the CAM and finding ways to machine the delicate features and not get chip out.

Any particular aspect you’re looking for assistance with? I do plan to make ~4 sets within the next 3mos or so. I’m slowly tweaking my CAD and CAM to try and remedy some of the pitfalls of the first process which resulted in inefficiencies (mostly making pieces 1-up vs. taking the time to get them nested into a single block) and less than stellar yield and I’d have to make 2-3 of a piece to get one (mostly because every piece was my first, so I had to make a lot of tweaks along the way, which are all done now).

Anyway, let me know your inquiries and I’m happy to advise :slight_smile:


I echo the praise from others here. I also looked at your Reddit posts. You seemed to have nailed the two-sided flip that seems so contentious in other posts. I’m now tempted into having a go at milling two-sided.

Videos on your process would be very community spirited of you.:grin:

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You crack the code on the two-sided flip. I’ve tried repeatedly and failed. Honestly I’d be willing to pay for is for your time.advice.

Thanks @jepho ! Coming from the next level sophistication I see in your setup and thinking, that is quite the flattering comment! Labor of love indeed, mixed in with a surprise commission from a friend and a dose of “what, there aren’t many examples of CNC’d chess pieces??” (and any time I see an idea I have hasn’t been done, I can get a bit obsessive finding out if I can do it)!

@AndyP definitely have a run at it. I’m going to shift to the method in this post (edit: forgot to link the first time) for what it’s worth. Pins worked okay for me, though I know many have done them well. Just for pulling off and putting back on I didn’t like the razor fine line between loose enough to use repeatably and so tight I could barely get the part off (and sometimes I had to bandsaw the stock carcass to get the freaking pin out of the wood!)

@DCFYI well, that’s quite the offer as well. If I ever get into consulting, I’ll keep you posted. For now, all services are free :slight_smile: Might be a few weeks before I take a stab at my round of four more sets, but I’ll absolutely be getting to them and can do more detailed documentation.

Came out awesome. I keep planning to do a nice chess board on one of my Shapeokos and the pieces on my Nomad. I’ll come back to this for inspiration.


John, if you live in western Canada or US and are interested in helping us develop a similar project, please write to me EDIT: e-mail address elided — please contact via PM

We have an exciting project and need help getting off our feet with initial work to evaluate finished product before we get into buying equipment. We could use your help.

EDIT phone # elided — please contact via PM