Woodturning is something I have wanted to get into for a while now.  But at the time of this article I don’t own a lathe.  It seems like there are smaller segments within woodworking that seem to have people hooked.  Scroll sawing and lathe turning being two popular ones.  I had the idea to turn my drill press into a lathe a while back but didn’t make much more than cylinders and dowels.  When a group of online woodworkers had gotten together to make a chess set for another online woodworker (Steve Ramsey) I wanted to try my hand at making one too.  We all picked our pieces and started turning.  Looking back on it, I don’t know why I didn’t pick the knights as they could have been done without a lathe.  Either way, I had picked the dark bishops.  I planned on using walnut but I have never done anything of detail before this on my drill press.  I figured I would dive right in and hope for the best out of the only one wood chisel I owned at the time.


If you haven’t seen the video I did on how to use your drill press as a lathe, including all the components you’ll need, I listed that video below as well.


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I began with my pieces of walnut chucked into my drill press.  I cut the corners off of each piece at the bandsaw to cut down on the work I had to do while turning.

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According to the manufacturer of my chisel, it has a Rockwell hardness of 61.  This is close enough to high speed steel for me.  I also made sure to sharpen the chisel before beginning.

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The first piece I did by eye and it didn’t come out too bad.  I then used a pencil to transfer some reference lines on to the second piece.

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The progress seemed slow but I wasn’t in any hurry. It probably took me 15-30 minutes to get to this point.  I only took small cuts each time and made sure to have a firm grip on the chisel.  I believe my lathe speed (drill press) was at around 1500 rpm.

drill press turned chess piece 07 drill press turned chess piece 08

Sanding seemed it bit more difficult than sanding a cylinder but that was to be expected.

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I finished the sanding up to 600 grit.  Most likely overkill, but I was in a sanding zone and super smooth was my destination.

drill press turned chess piece 10


A quick couple slice cuts on the bandsaw for the slit detail and a few shots of spray lacquer and this is what I was left with.  Perfect?  Absolutely not.  But for one chisel and a drill press I was fairly happy.

Do only 2 bishops make up a chess set?  Nope.  The list below are links to each persons channel that made pieces to complete the set.  Have a look, everyone did a great job!

MF Woodshop
Steve Carmichael
Patrick’s Workshop
Carl Jacobson
Mark Christopher
Jason McGinn
Matt Brander

Select list(s):

Let me know your thoughts