Introduction: 3D Printed NASA Chess Piece

These instructions will help you make your very own NASA themed 3D printed chess piece! This is a fun project for kids, NASA enthusiasts, or chess players.

There are a couple of approaches to this. You could:

  • Model your own piece in a 3D program entirely from scratch, print it out.
  • Find a 3D asset online, import it into your program, add a chess piece base in a 3D program, print it out.

For purposes of this Instructables exercise we’re going to find an model online, create a base for it to sit on, and then print the base and piece out separately. Once they’re finished printing, we’ll glue them together to finish the piece.

Materials and Hardware Needed:

  • 3D Modeling Software
    • Cinema4D (Costs Money)
    • Sketchup (Free!)
    • Blender (Free!)
  • An internet connection to find some NASA assets
  • Access to a 3D Printer
    • Your local library or Makerspace would be perfect for this and hopefully Free!
  • A little bit of modeling glue

Step 1: Decide What Spaceship You’re Going to Make, and Find That Asset.

  • I’m going to pull a Mercury capsule 3D model from NASA’s free model database. There are all sorts of great spaceships here for other pieces you could attempt later.
  • Let’s go with this model of the first Mercury flight to orbit the Earth, John Glenn’s Friendship

Step 2: Import Your Asset Into the 3D Program

I’m going to use Cinema 4D as my 3D program. Both Blender and SketchUp will also import files in from our stock website.

  • Go to File-> Open

Step 3: ​Select Your Model’s .3ds File

Select your model’s .3ds file

  • It appears in our canvas, great!

Using the rotate tool which is in the upper right corner of every viewing window, feel free to rotate it around and check it out from all angles.

Step 4: Draw a Chess Piece Shaped Spline and Use the Lathe Tool to Create the Piece’s Base

Using the program’s “Right” view in the lower quadrant we’re going to draw ourselves a chess piece base.

We’re only going to draw half of it and then use the “Lathe” tool to make it a full 3d model.

  • So on the tool window under “Splines” select “Bezier Spline”

Step 5: Draw the Points

Then go down to the ‘Right’ window and draw the points necessary. Note that to create the bezier curves (for Mac) you’ll need to hold down the ‘Shift’ key and drag them out

Step 6: Lathe the "Nurbs"

Once half of the base is created stop there

Now, go up to the toolbar again and we’re going to choose “Lathe Nurbs”

Step 7: Notice This Places a “Lathe” Object

Notice this places a “Lathe” object on the right in the layers palette

Step 8: Drag the Spline Layer We Created Under the Lathe Object

Drag the Spline layer we created under the Lathe object in this palette window and viola! Your spline should now be a 3d model.

If this isn’t perfect, undo adding the spline to the Boole and keep refining the spline.

Step 9: Scale the Base Model and Piece Model Into the Appropriate Sizes

This will be an easy step, simply use the “Scale” tools to make the base about the size it should be relative to the spacecraft.

Step 10: Duplicate the Base, Create a “Boole” Object and Cut Out a Base Sized Hole in the Spacecraft

  • The idea here is to create this special “Boole” object, and combine it with the Spacecraft model and a duplicate of the base model. If done correctly, we should be able to make a hole automatically in the Spacecraft that when you print everything out later your base can then be glued onto the spacecraft to complete the finished piece.
    • Note, you may wonder why you just can’t print the base and spacecraft as the same model. You could, but because of the irregular shape of the capsule and how far it would hang over the base the likelihood of a successful print is low.

First, lets highlight our base and hit Ctrl-D to duplicate it. Then, move it off to the side.

Step 11: Use the Rotation and Position Tools to Make the Duplicate Base Sort of Stick Out of the Spacecraft Model.

Next, we can use the rotation and position tools to make the duplicate base sort of stick out of the spacecraft model.

I’m putting things at an angle as if the module is majestically soaring upward through the stars.

Step 12: Add the Boole

Now, add the ‘Boole’ object from the toolbar and drag our spacecraft model into the Boole in the layer palette

Step 13: Drag the Spaceship Model Into the Boole and the Duplicate Base That’s Sticking Out the Side of the Spacecraft Under It

Drag the Spaceship model into the Boole and the duplicate base that’s sticking out the side of the spacecraft under it.

Step 14: Did It Work?

If this works, we should see a hole in the spacecraft model where before the base was:

Step 15: That’s It!

Simply “Save as” this project as a .STL file from Cinema4D and you can take these two models to go get printed at your local Makerspace.

Once they’re finished, clean off excess plastic and glue them together.

Step 16: Final Thoughts:

You have one good chess piece finished, can you make models for the other five? Remember there are SIX different chess pieces and each side has:

  • 8 Pawns
  • 2 Rooks
  • 2 Knights
  • 2 Bishops
  • 1 King
  • 1 Queen

I think our piece, printed out seven more times in white and eight more times in black, would make a great pawn. What other spaceships will you do for the rest of your board?

For more information on the NASA themed chess set I’m making check out my maker blog at: