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All the king’s men

What happens when a huge Wiffle Ball manufacturer teams up with a CNC cabinet shop owner? Two men in Columbia, S.C., David Jones, president of Stee-Rick 3, and Jim McGrew, owner of McGrew Woodwork, decided to build a larger-than-life size chess set.

Jim McGrew used one of his CAMaster CNC machines to build this 6'3" king for a chess set.

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"David Jones came into my office and said in Europe he had seen people playing chess in city parks," says McGrew. "He has an interest in helping our city along in the northeast corner and they were looking for new ways to draw people into the area. He said he had always wanted to have a huge chess set and, as a woodworker, I took it on as sort of a challenge to teach me how to use the Aspire software program. What I primarily do with it is make my own fluted columns, my own doors, my own cabinetry and embellished carvings."

McGrew happens to have three CAMaster CNC routers and started working on the chess pieces. So far, he has made a king, queen, bishop, knight, rook and pawn, all out of MDF. The king weighs about 250 lbs. and is 6'3" tall.

"Aspire gives you ability to take a 3-D STL file and decide where on the workpiece you want to machine. I took the chess players and cut them in half. Then you go to a function called slicing and you tell it your material is 3" thick and then you slice it into 3" segments."

Each segment is machined separately and then glued back together. A local artist, who does the faux painting, gives the pieces a marbleized look.

Jones is in negotiation with a bank to obtain a grant to finance the rest of the chess set. Once the first set is completed, a second set 24" or 36" tall will be made with a negative mold because there are so many pawns (16). He'll pour in 15-lb. foam and create molds with it.

The MDF pieces are on casters and the plan is to have a concrete chess board in a park so people can come out and play on weekends. In the interim, McGrew has been having fun rolling his chess pieces around in an empty warehouse.

With an STL file and Aspire software, McGrew sliced 3" sections of the king before gluing them together.

The chess pieces have brought McGrew some attention in a marketing sense.

"We were in 19 newspapers last week," he says. "They had an article on us in The State newspaper and I think they are owned by [McClatchy] and they ran it in most of the southeast [McClatchy] newspapers, and the phone rang off the hook the other day. The bottom line is in this economy, cabinetmakers are going to have to find new ways to do business. Small cabinetmakers are going to have to innovate in order to stay in business."

Contact: McGrew Woodworks. Tel: 803-933-9988.

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue.

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