The mystery of weighted chess pieces is often a subject of great interest among chess enthusiasts. There is no doubt that a triple weighted king feels fantastic in the hands. Pick up the same chess piece in an unweighted version and you instantly notice a sense of inferiority. Even the best bud rosewood chess sets can feel cheap when they are lacking the weight.
The method that was traditionally used was to drill out channels in the base of the pieces and pour in molten lead. The lead would set solid then a leather or felt disc would be glued onto the base of the chess piece to cover the dual function of covering up the unsightly lead and also giving the pieces a nice soft base.
More recently however the process has been forced to change. Some purists might disagree with the current method but there are a number of good reasons why it’s done differently now. The main one being the huge increase in the cost of lead. The price has gone up significantly making it very expensive for chess set artisans to purchase it.
The other factor is the safety. Lead is very poisonous and the governments of developed countries won’t permit the import of products that contain lead, especially products that are toys or games and likely to come into contact with children.
Therefore the chess set makers have devised a simpler method which involves drilling circular channels and inserting rods of steel inside. They then have to pour glue inside to secure the steel inside the wood. Rattling chess pieces would certainly not be acceptable. The rods will perform an effective job at weighting the chess set. However steel is not as heavy as lead, therefore more will be required meaning more wood need to be drilled out.
The end result of this is that the old lead filled chess pieces are now a thing of the past. Like the sets made from illegal and endangered woods they may well become more valuable and collectible in the years to come.