© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

This Kansas City woodworker is carving a chess set inspired by his hometown skyline

Hunched over the table of his scroll saw, woodworking hobbyist David Pentimone follows the lines of his paper design in his woodworking shop in the garage of his Northland home.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Hunched over the scroll saw setup in his Northland garage, woodworking hobbyist David Pentimone traces the lines of his paper design.

All the iconic buildings — from Liberty Memorial to Sky Stations and 909 Walnut — are taking shape in miniature under a scroll saw in his Northland garage.

Woodworking has been a hobby for David Pentimone since his parents bought him a used scroll saw off of Craigslist for his 12th birthday.

His first projects were simple.

“It just started with like some simple jigsaw puzzle, just like a silhouette of a penguin or a deer or something like that,” Pentimone says. “And then I started getting a little bit more adventurous."

Armed with designs he found in a book about making wooden chess sets, Pentimone began making pieces. Eventually he made a complete set. Next came a chess set inspired by Roman architecture.

These days, Pentimone has been carving custom architectural chess sets with his scroll saw — a new DeWalt, though he's had several different ones over the years — modeling them after skylines in San Francisco and New York. The hobbyist's latest set features hometown architectural icons like the Power and Light Building, Bartle Hall and Liberty Memorial.

The Art Deco lines of the Power and Light Building start to form as Pentimone guides a narrow piece of walnut on the table of his scroll saw.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Pentimone has come a long way from the penguins and deer silhouettes he used to make with his scroll saw. He's turned his hand to creating miniature Power and Light Buildings to serve as pieces in the chess sets he makes.

During the week, Pentimone works as a training manager at Amazon. But the 21-year-old will take any chance he can to disappear into the woodworking shop in the garage of his Northland home.

The chess pieces Pentimone makes are large and blocky.

“The base measures inch-and-a-half by an inch-and-a-half. And then the smaller pieces, generally the pawns, they run about 2 to 2 1/2 inches tall," Pentimone says. "The king is generally up to 7 inches tall.”

With the sky stations of Bartle Hall, vintage trolley cars, and 909 Walnut as inspiration, Pentimone is working to complete his next chess set, one that celebrates the architecture of Kansas City.
David Pentimone
David Pentimone
Pentimone is working to complete a chess set that celebrates Kansas City architecture, with the sky stations of Bartle Hall, vintage trolley cars and 909 Walnut as inspiration.

Each hand-crafted set takes around 50 hours of work.

"Scroll saws are just very controlled and, as long as you have a very good grip on the wood, ... it's just learning the tool and then you have that control," Pentimone says.

A couple years ago, Pentimone started posting his creations on social media. He soon had a commission for a custom set with a New York City theme.

When he finished that one, Pentimone knew he wanted to create a chess set based on the skyline he knows best. So he started researching different buildings around town, looking for something that seemed authentically Kansas City.

“I was kind of familiar with the different architecture of some of the more historic buildings, like the Power and Light Building, 909 Walnut downtown,” Pentimone says.

But creating a design that works takes time.

“A lot of it comes down to cutting the piece out (and then realizing), 'that looks terrible',” Pentimone says. “'Let's start again, start from scratch, remake the pattern, cut it out until it works.'”

At this point, he’s about halfway finished with his Kansas City set, and the familiar skyline is taking shape. There are the twin spires of the iconic 909 Walnut building, and the spiny Sky Stations of Bartle Hall.

Using a scroll saw limits the shapes Penitimone can make. Each building he designs has its challenges.

“I'm still actively working on Liberty Memorial, because it's such an iconic part of Kansas City,” Pentimone says. “And it's currently the king — but it's square and the real tower is circular. So I’m still kind of working on it.”

Resting on a piece of sandpaper, the miniature Power and Light Building awaits finishing touches.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Resting on a piece of sandpaper, the miniature Power and Light Building awaits finishing touches.

It’s been about an hour and Pentimone has finished with the queen, which looks like a miniature Power and Light Building. Beneath his shop lights, the piece's fresh edges look a bit raw. Now it’s time for a little light sanding before he finishes it off with a coat of Danish oil.

Despite his obvious skill in crafting these chess sets, Pentimone says his chess game could use a little work.

“I do play chess,” Pentimone says. "I’m not fantastic at it."

"I've been playing with some friends, playing online. And then it's also like very enjoyable to take a set that I've made, and get to play on it with a friend, with my brother or something like that," he says. "So I do play and (am) trying to get better at it.”

With another six months of work left to finish the Kansas City set, Pentimone has plenty of time to practice.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.