Sunday, June 10, 2012

The story behind Kyle’s chess set…. It all began about eight years ago with Harry Potter, so it was fitting that the chess set I made had a connection to that story…. When Kyle was I think, about eleven years old, he spent a week with me in New Hampshire during the summer. I was trying to come up with ideas, things that a kid might enjoy doing. I had been woodturning for a couple years, and knew that Kyle was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, so I thought it might be fun to make a Harry Potter Wizard wand together. So Kyle and I turned – well, I turned, and he sanded – his wand. As we worked on the wand, here’s how the conversation went: Kyle: “Have you ever turned a chess set?” Me: “No, why, do you play chess?” Kyle: “Yes” Me: “Who do you play with?” Kyle: “My Dad” Me: “Do you beat him?” Kyle: “No, not yet.” Me: “Well, when you beat your Dad, I’ll turn you a chess set.” I didn’t know how good Kyle was, because he started beating him soon after on a regular basis. So I was on the hook. I had never turned a chess set, and it would involve turning skills that I did not yet possess, and some skills I never would – math! Multiple turned pieces had to be identical, a skill I had yet to accomplish. And following a set of directions on how to turn a chess set involved math – a skill that has always escaped me. But a promise is a promise….. Fast forward a few years during which several commitments and obligations came and went. But I got better at woodturning and started carving, too. I told Kyle that I would deliver his chess set when we came to Michigan for his high school graduation. As the date came closer (less than a year away), I looked at plans for turning a chess set, but none grabbed me. Then Dave happened into a bookstore that carried a woodturning magazine from the United Kingdom that contained the first of a three-part series on how to turn a very unusual chess set. The set was created by a woodturning Scottsman, who based it on the walrus ivory carved chess pieces found in a cave on the Isle of Lewis. These medieval chess pieces, several different sizes and none a complete set, are believed to be the oldest chess pieces in existence, dating back to the 12th century. The best part of the story is that the Lewis chess pieces were the basis for Wizard’s Chess in the Harry Potter stories. I had found the right chess set! The woods that I chose were Ash, for the light color and Wenge (pronounced Wen-gay), for the dark. Ash is a domestic wood; Wenge is a timber native to Africa. I had checked with Kyle about a chess board – I don’t do flat woodworking – way too much math – and he had one of Dziadzia’s chess boards, so we were good there. Then Dave asked me how I was going to present this chess set. A plastic grocery bag from Meijer’s?? No, that wouldn’t do, so Dave agreed to make the box, using the same woods as the chess set. This was a first for both of us- I had never made a chess set, and Dave had never made a box. This was about as far out of our comfort zone as we could get. But when you leave your comfort zone, magic happens….