What are weighted chessmen?
In the world of chess pieces there are many types and sizes, wooden, stone, plastic, metal and other exotic materials.
Of those, the material used will usually determine the weight of each chess piece, however most chess pieces are not considered to be weighted.
Weighted chess pieces explained.
Because the material used to make many of the common chess pieces is very light, an example would be plastic or some wooden chessmen.
A weighted chess piece is what the name implies, there is a weight installed during the manufacturing process of each chess piece.
The weighted chess sets are usually more expensive than a non weighted set that is comparable.
The actual weight of the metal used is determined by whether the chess piece will be classified as a single weighted, double weighted, triple weighted or quadruple weighted.
The metal used in the beginning of weighted pieces was lead, however due to the cost factor the metal was changed to iron, often referred to as a slug or a plug.
Here is where it can get a bit fuzzy; there is no industry standard which dictates a standard weight measurement for a particular slug or plug used in a chess piece.
In the past a single metal slug of a given weight was used for a single weighted chess piece, two slugs for a double weighted and three slugs for a triple weighted, you get the picture.
However that process has been replaced by using a single metal slug for all chess pieces, rather than having several in a chess piece to reach a desired weight. (See the image below of typical chess piece weights)
The one metal piece would be a different weight for each class, that being single, double, triple or quadruple.
Clear as mud?
Why would you want a weighted chess piece?
Okay now that we have muddied the waters about what they are, why is it a big deal to even own a set of these chessmen?
Weighted chess pieces are popular because of how they feel gliding across your chess board and the fact that they will not tip over as easily as a chess piece that is not weighted.
Having a chess piece topple over during game play can be a real pain, not to mention if you enjoy playing outdoors the wind can be a menace.
To help understand the feeling of a weighted chess piece we can borrow terms from the wood industry; softwood or hardwood, pine is from the softwood family, whereas walnut is from the hardwood family.
If you were to handle each you would immediately realize that the walnut has a heavier feel and if you were to judge the quality of each on the spot it, more than likely you would declare walnut as the better wood.
Given that a chess piece made of walnut would feel much sturdier and solid than a chess piece made of pine, however the cost would be triple or more.
This is where the metal weight can be the great equalizer, allowing a solid feel in a chess piece without using expensive wood.
Unfortunately weighted chess pieces are not going to make you a better chess player, improving your game play is entirely up to you and your desire to acquire more knowledge by playing and studying the game.
How a weighted chess piece is made:
The process described here may not be followed by every chess piece manufacturer; however it is a system used by the majority.
During the manufacturing process a chess piece is turned, after this is completed, a hole is drilled in the bottom of the piece.
The depth and diameter of each hole is determined by the chess piece, and then glue is applied in the hole followed by the weighted iron plug.
After the glue has set the remainder of the hole is filled with Plaster of Paris, after it has hardened they are sanded and in some cases covered with a felt or a leather pad.
In the past lead was used and it is heavier than iron, so a heavier weight could be achieved in a smaller chess piece.
Currently with the use of iron instead of lead (because of cost), careful consideration has to be taken when deciding the weight of a chess piece in relationship to its size.
So a smaller, cheaper chess set is more than likely going to be single weighted because the smaller chessmen will not accommodate a larger weight.
A larger chess piece will be able to accommodate a larger weight and therefore may end up being a double, triple or quadruple set.
The only complaint a chess player may have about a weighted chess piece is if the weight becomes dislodged and is rattling around inside the chess piece.
To gain some perspective here are the specifications of a typical single weighted chess set and what weight is used for each chess piece.
King/Queen chess pieces - 28 mm Diameter - 10 mm Thick - 45 Gram weight.
Bishop/Knight/Rook chess pieces - 24 mm Diameter - 10 mm Thick - 37 Gram weight.
Pawn chess pieces -22 mm Diameter - 8 mm Thick - 22 Gram weight.
Creating a hypothetical weighted chess piece standard
Given that the chess industry has no standard for a set weighting, perhaps we could create a hypothetical weighting standard.
Since the king is the larger chess piece the standard would be based on the weight of the king.
The weights could be designed something like this:
Single weighted chess piece could be 1 ounce +-
Double weighted chess piece could be 2 ounce +-
Triple weighted chess piece could be 3 ounce +-
Quadruple weighted chess piece could be 4 ounce +-
Of course those weights could go up or down, hey it is a hypothetical and we are in charge so we have poetic license.
Another idea is the weight would not have to be metal; there are other materials that could be used to add weight to a chess piece.
The heavy wooden chess piece option
There is another way to create a weighted scenario and that is to use solid wood chess pieces.
Going back to the comparisons above with the hardwoods, a chess set could be designed using heavier solid wood.
The question is whether these sets would end up costing more than a weighted set or more importantly would solid wood chessmen be preferred by chess players more than others?
What about the weighted plastic chess piece?
All the same ideas apply for the plastic chessmen as they do for the wooden chess pieces, the weights will be the same. The main difference will be that the plastic chessmen will be far less expensive.
Just because you spend less on a chess pieces doesn't mean that you are giving up on quality, the injection molding process can turn out some very high quality chess pieces.
Add some additional weight and you have the feel of any other weighted chess set.
A word about the naturally weighted chess pieces
We could not complete this information without speaking to the chess pieces that are naturally weighted because they are designed with metal, stone or other naturally heavy materials.
Alabaster chess sets, marble chess sets or larger metal chess sets are going to have that weighted feel without having to add any weights, not to mention their appearance is more than likely going to be stunning.
In addition to the chessmen these sets are often paired with a stone chess board, picture that set with a glossy alabaster board and you have a show stopper for your chess collection.
The naturally weighted chess pieces are going to be more expensive, the material used to make them is not as accessible as some of the cheap wood so the cost is going to be driven up.
Of course the trade off is an amazing chess set, however, for the chess player that may not have a big budget there is another way and that is the DIY approach.
That is assuming you already have wooden chess pieces, it goes without saying you would not want to attempt this process with expensive chess pieces unless you are skilled already.
The do it yourself way to place lead weights in a chess piece
If you have some mad DIY skills and the right size chess pieces you can create your own weighted chess set.
This unique project can be a lot of fun for the chess fan that also likes some of the hands on aspect of do it yourself projects because they will be able to use their creation.
For the DIY fan that prefers a visual there is a video featured below that demonstrates the step by step process.