Various chess set styles and themes have been designed throughout history. If you're looking to buy a chess set of good quality then there are a number of things to consider.
The first thing you probably will look at is the style or theme but you also need to decide how the set will be used. Will it be used in tournaments, decoration, or maybe just for family fun? Who will be the primary user of the set? Are they a beginning player or a collector? When you buy chess sets you need to find just the right combination of qualities including size, weight, style, craftsmanship, and material. There's a chess set out there for everyone.
Like most chess sets, the pieces steal the show and that’s normally what you’ll focus on but even the chess boards for some sets may be more themed then others. If you really like a particular board you could buy two sets of different sets of pieces to be used on that same board. You could even use different materials for the pieces such as metal and glass. The great thing about chess sets is that you can mix and match boards with pieces how ever you like.
If you're looking for a tournament set then you need to find a set that meets tournament regulations. This specifically means a particular size, weight, and sometimes style. The pieces must usually be within a particular size range and should also be in a particular proportion with one another and the board. As far as style goes, Staunton chess sets are the standard and are perfect for tournaments. Isle of Lewis and Staunton are classics.
Antique chess sets are also make great decorative sets.
Metal Chess Sets
Metal chess pieces consist of pieces that are cast using alloys of metals and can provide a chic look. This process allows for highly detailed chess pieces. Metal sets often work well as decorative chess sets and are great collector’s items.
A metal chess set usually requires less manual labor the wooden sets. Wooden pieces for example are often hand-carved but metal pieces are often created from more manufactured processes. However, many metal pieces are hand painted.
Metal chess pieces have natural weight of around 30-50 grams which would be similar to double weighted pieces. They're not as heavy as stone pieces such as marble but will be heavier then most wood pieces.
Pewter chess pieces are a popular choice for a metal chess set. Pewter is an alloy of primarily tin with a small percentage of copper. It gives off a look similar to silver and will grow darker over time if not treated. Pewter is very soft and can even be hand carved.
Sterling silver, silver plating, or even gold can be used for sets. Metals such as silver and gold are precious commodities. Getting a set that uses gold or silver obviously provides some real extra value to your set.
Metal sets are great for enthusiasts or collectors. They're not as fragile as stone sets, have a decorative look, and are still great for play.
Popular Metals for Decorative Chess Sets
- Bronze: Tin and copper alloy. Durable and does not tarnish easily.
- Brass: Copper and zinc alloy. Resistant
to tarnishing and light.
- Iron : Sturdy, heavily, and durable.
Wooden Chess Sets
Wooden chess set pieces can have different characteristics such as color, hardness, density, ease of carving, or a better finish. These characteristics allow for many different types of wooden sets at various prices. Wood is an excellent material for decorative sets.
Chess is a game with roots in antiquity, yet is still popular world-wide. Chess sets throughout history have been made from a variety of materials. The standard shapes we are familiar with today are a modern invention, and piece shapes have varied dramatically over time. One thing that has remained the same throughout history is that wood is often one of the most common, yet most expensive, materials used in making chess sets.
The earliest wooden chess pieces date from 760 AD. Wood has been used to form chess pieces from the beginnings of the game, second only to ivory. The price gap between quality wood sets and basic ivory sets has historically been so great that a well-carved wooden set was the nicest version many people could afford to own.
The earliest chess pieces did not resemble those we know today. Some of the earliest figures found were only basic shapes. Later in history, the individual figures began to take the shape of humans, frequently seated, to give the delicate pieces more stability. In the 1400s, the finest chess sets were hand-crafted from wood by French masters. The designs we know today were standardized in the early 1900s for tournament play.
Wood has been used for making chess sets for a variety of reasons. Many types of wood have beautiful designs in their grains, offering each piece a unique look. Wood is easy to carve and can be decorated with less risk of breaking the piece than ivory.
Wood provides weight to the chess piece, preventing it from tipping over. Should a wooden piece fall, it is less delicate than ivory, bone, or porcelin and less likely to break.
Wooden pieces require special care. They need to be oiled over time to keep the wood from over-drying. If not stored properly, wood can rot over time. Wooden pieces that get too dry or too wet will crack and disfigure.
Any type of hardwood can be used to make wooden chess sets. Many mass produced modern chess sets are crafted from Sheesham, a hardwood that is widely available in India. Sheesham is a light colored wood that dyes well, allowing both sides of the chess board to be crafted from it.
The light weight of teak makes it a popular wood for life-sized style sets, allowing large pieces to be moved easier. Boxwood is frequently used for common chess sets. Boxwood does not offer much variation in color and dyes easily, offering the most standardized colors throughout a set.
Getting into the higher-end models, ebony is a popular wood for use on the black portions of the set. Ebony is a heavy wood. Its density makes carving intricate designs possible. When polished, ebony darkens to a very black shine. This wood is becoming rare in even high-end sets.
Rosewood isn't as dense as ebony, but it produces a shiny finish when polished and cared for properly. Rosewood offers a pleasant brown color to pieces. Unfortunately, Rosewood is now endangered, so sets made from it are expensive. Red sandalwood is likewise difficult to find, as its export is carefully restricted. Red sandalwood is known for its deep crimson color and swirling grain pattern. Rosewood sets can be as expensive and as difficult to find as ivory sets today.
Popular Woods Used for Chess Sets