Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Spotlight on Jim Arnolds Chess Sets

Today we have someone who I kind of found on a happy accident. I was looking for unique wedding cake toppers and I certainly found one! Not only that but I found the most AMAZING chess sets I’ve EVER seen! All handmade by a man named Jim Arnold. I don’t need to talk these up because they speak volumes all on their own!

So without farther adieu I give you Jim Arnolds Chess Sets!

As you all know, I’m a hippie so the set on the left made my heart smile!!

This is the wedding cake bride and groom I spoke of earlier. No one will ever forget it!

When I asked Jim to be one of my featured artists I was thrilled when he said yes! And after hearing his story, I’m so very glad I asked!


My life it seems has revolved mostly around wood and boats for the past 40 years. I've built houses and tons of furniture, but what steered me in the direction of wood carving was when I started adding little accents to my boats. First it was pirate skulls and mermaids on tillers, then mermaids and dolphins on rub rails and tillers and companionway hatch doors. I had a never ending line of work from the Florida marinas I kept my boats in over the years. I was introduced to wood carving by my Dad as a kid, he carved a squirrel and I thought it was the coolest thing I ever saw him do, I immediately picked up a piece of wood and tried to carve a boat, got about half a hull done, ha!


In the mid 90's I left Florida, my boat, everything, to help care for my Mom who was ill. During the down times over the course of that year, I carved a chess set and made a table for it that kind of looked like the set my Dad taught me how to play on. I made it for myself, and never had any intentions on making another. A friend asked me how much it would cost if I sold it to him. I thought of a price in my head and then doubled it just to see his reaction...he said that price was cheap and I sold it to him. I went back and made another. After 18 months of taking care of my Mom, I was flat broke! No job, no home, and at age 42, I had no choice but to go back into construction in Florida. I noticed there was a local craft show coming to a park in my town, and I had been saving up wood from 'dumpster diving' the bins at the houses we were building. I made 5 pine sets for that show, and had to borrow my boss's van to get them there. I sold three at that show, took several more commissions, and the following Monday morning my boss asked how it went, I told him there was good news and bad news, good news..I made several hundred dollars, bad news...I said, "I quit!", as I tossed him his keys back. He smiled and ordered a set for his family for the coming holiday season.

That was over 1,000 chess boards and 32,000 pieces ago, and business continues to get better and better all the time.

(What did I tell ya? GREAT story!)

The Creative Process:

All the time, I hear from other carvers how "tedious" my work must be, 16 pawns, 4 rooks, 4 knights, 4 bishops, 2 kings, 2 queens. The same stuff over and over, but making chess sets has allowed me the freedom to expand and grow my carving abilities, and there's no end in sight. The different themes I carve are subjects that interest me, music, boats, history, and different cultures. The easiest way for an artist to be unique, regardless of the medium they choose is to choose subjects they "know". There's an endless supply of ideas and different individual themes within those categories (if you browse through my Etsy shop, JimArnoldsChessSets you can see how many of my sets fall into those categories), I always have 10 ideas stuck in my brain ready to come out, but the problem I created for myself is that I do custom commissions. People can contact me and I'll hand carve a custom theme set based on 'their' request. I'm guessing 70% of my sales are custom commissions, and there's nobody else in the world that does this, lots of big chess companies say they do and lots of individuals say they do, but I've created more unique, fun, and playable designs then all of them put together, and I'm not slowing down.
(Don’t you dare!)   =D

My favorite set:

Impossible to answer. My favorite set suggested by a customer...the DJ Chess first "what the.." set. Its been featured in several magazines and tons of internet articles. While working with my client on this set, the idea of using musical notes for pawns came to be. Since then, I've made at least a dozen themed musical sets and enough musical note pawns to write a couple Mozart pieces.

'My' favorite sets are the ones that come to me while I'm sleeping. I always keep a notepad and a pencil on the nightstand. Four times I've jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and completely sketched a set of pieces and the custom boards that went with them (then I went back to sleep). The four sets were"

The Samurai Chess Set

(Also MY favorite!)

The Scottish Wars for Independence Chess Set

The War of 1812 Chess Set

The Great Train Robbery Chess Set (aka, "Train Robbery at Straker Flats")

All four are exactly as I dreamed them, these are my current faves, but I have a flying saucer set "Aliens versus the Goths" (the board is the flying saucer), and a cast of characters that includes Alfred Hitchcock, Dick Cheney, and Queen Elizabeth, a Heaven versus Hell set (three levels, intense religious carvings and 15th, and 16th century styled Satanic pieces, and the most customized themed board I've ever done), the "First Nation's Chess Set The Sioux Tribe versus the Crow Tribe" (I'm about a third of the way done with this and it should be my masterpiece). Lots of carving on the pieces, relief carving all around the table, and a carved table post that could be a competition contender by itself...its for the 2013 Calgary Stampede Western Art Auction if I get it done on time.

(Can’t WAIT to see these!!)

Advice on growing an etsy shop Art bizz:

Do your homework first before jumping into the deep end. Etsy provides volumes of assistance for shop owners. Take the time to check it all out, it will save you months, if not years of time in the long run. The Etsy provided information is invaluable!

Join the "Its A Madcap Life Team" at Etsy, there are hundreds of different 'teams'. These teams are often stuffed with promotional ideas. I've found A'esha Miller's "Its A Madcap Life" to be one of the best at Etsy. They maintain a presence on virtually every social media site and most art sites, they promote your listings on all of these sites, their discussion pages are filled with promotional activities, and they offer help at any point in the Etsy shop process. No matter what your specific field, Its A Madcap Life will help... a lot. Some of the most successful shops at Etsy are members of Its a Madcap Life. If you carve wood then of course, you want to join the "Wood Carvers of Etsy" a worldwide collection of selling woodcarvers on Etsy.

Just spend some time at first looking around the site, its huge, and there's help available at every turn. Etsy is the place to be!!!

I definitely agree with you on that one!! Etsy is my favorite of all the sites I’m a part of! The community aspect is incredible and the people are so helpful it’s like having hundreds of guardian angels helping you along the way! Ok, that sounded cheesy, but it’s totally true! =)

Well I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did! And please check out Jim’s incredible chess sets at 

Have a wonderful day!



  1. I love Jim's work. He has so much talent and his chess sets are just amazing.

  2. They really are! My b/f is dying to have the samurai set! =)

  3. I love this game and samurai is lovely!

  4. Stunning craftsmanship, these chess sets are amazing! I found your blog through the etsy blogging team and hopped over to follow and say hello :-)


  5. Thanks so much Angela! So glad you came! Headed over to your blog to check it out. =)

  6. Wow! That about sums it up. Wow!

  7. i could definitely make a rendition of his art through my wedding pearl jewellery that i am crafting. this is one of the best chess designs ever.