Cheap Steampunk Chess Set

Introduction: Cheap Steampunk Chess Set

This project was inspired when I saw a steampunk nuts an bolts chess set for £200 on etsy (you can't link to it anymore) and thought "Rip off, I could do that way cheaper". So I went to the local hardware shop and after over an hour of staring blankly and £16 worth of bolts and bits, I had my chess set. To achieve the rust I just used a wire brush and some malt vinegar; both from poundland. This tutorial doesn't include the chess board, I had one already.

N.B: A search on instructables brings up a few nuts and bolts chess sets already, including an amazingly detailed how to by MomentumV, but I think my bargain basement approach has something new to offer.


M8 x 35mm bolt ~ 14pcs

M8 x 28mm bolt ~ 10pcs

M8 x 55mm bolt ~ 2pcs

45mm coupling nut ~ 2pcs

Wingnut ~ 4pcs

Dome nut ~ 4pcs

Hex nut ~ 12pcs

Tee nut ~ 8pcs

1L malt vinegar

Tools required
Hack Saw

Wire Brush

Total Cost = £18

Step 1: Pawns

The pawn is the smallest and the most basic chess piece, and I wanted the bolt equivalent to represent this. So the pawns are simply the M8 x 28mm bolts standing on their heads. Maybe too simple but I like it. They feel light and easy to move, as a pawn should, as well.

Step 2: Rooks

Here the obvious choice was a castellated nut, but they are relatively expensive and I was going for cheap as chips so I went without. The rook is a M8 x 35mm bolt with 3 hex nuts screwed on. Play with the nuts until they are offset just right to look "castle-y" enough. Squeeze each nut on as tight as you can, you don't want them spinning loose during play.

Step 3: Knight

This is the piece I had by far the most trouble designing. I couldn't see anything that looked right in my local DIY shop, so much so that I went home empty handed and googled for inspiratation. I went with a simplified version of MomentumV's knight. Screw an upside down wing nut onto a 35mm bolt. If the wings lie perpendicular to the line of pieces, they give an impression of a horses head and tail. This piece is also the only piece that cannot be screwed tight. This can be vaguely annoying but I didn't want to use any glue or adhesive, the pieces had to feel "DIY".

Step 4: Bishop

Simple again. A 38mm bolt with a dome nut on top to look like the bishops mitre. Pedantically, it looks nothing like a mitre but when you ask others they always identify it as the bishop without difficulty. Again, make sure to screw it on tight as possible.

Step 5: The Queen

By far the most aggressive piece in the game and I wanted her to look it. I came across Tee nuts and was thinking of using them for crowns when I stabbed myself with one, and realised how evil the things look. The queen is a 55m bolt with 4 tee nuts, laid out as shown above. I originally had a different pattern with spikes upwards but they were hard to handle without stabbing yourself.

Step 6: The King

As convention the king had to be the biggest piece. (In fact all the pieces are in increasing height from outside to inside as with convention). But it is also the most useless (in my opinion) and the least moved. To try represent this I wanted to make the king as plain and as heavy as possible. The king is 1 28mm bolt and a 35mm bolt, screwed into each end of a coupling nut. Screw the 35mm bolt in until the two bolts meet in the centre and protrude by the same length. Another convention is that the king has a cross. I couldn't find a sufficiently large screw, as MomentumV used, so I took a hacksaw to the top bolt as shown above.

Step 7: Rusting Galvanised Steel

The bolts are shiny silver because they are galvanised, to stop them rusting. There are two types of galvanising, cold and hot-dip. This cheap method only works on cold galvanised steel, hot-dip is simply too effective. Chances are the bolts in you local hardwear shop are cold galvanised, especially if you are opting for the cheapest option. But if in doubt, cold galvanised steel is uniform and monochromatic while hot-dip shows a grain structure (like you see on lampposts and handrails) shown above.

If you are impatient and don't mind spending a bit extra, Laral has a method that works in minutes. But I was aiming for as cheap as possible. Take one set of your ready made chess pieces attack each one with the wire brush. Brush each piece as hard as you can and for as long as your sanity will let you (I spent roughly 15min on each piece, 10min on pawns and 20m on bigger pieces). The idea is to create grooves and imperfections in the steel which the vinegar can 'bite' into. When you have had enough of brushing, fill a bowl with malt vinegar and drop the pieces in. Ensure all the pieces are fully covered and then some, the vinegar is the active agent so you don't want to skimp. Now place the bowl outside and wait. Depending on how well you brushed the steel and ambient conditions, the bolts will take longer to rust. I checked on them every 24 hours but they took 3 days to look "worn" enough in my opinion. When they are ready they will have a nice brown colour, they will also stink and stain your hand to touch them. Tip out the vinegar (down a drain!) and take the pieces inside. Rinse and soak them in cold water and dry them off with disposable paper to remove the loose rust layer. My pieces still smelled a bit so I left them to stand outside to air for another night. The next day and they were odourless.

Step 8: Enjoy

Congrats you're finished! I had a cheap chess set so I used the board from it and it looks pretty good! So for just £18 you have a steampunk chess set! Sure it mightn't be as ornate as some of those on etsy but for the value for money you can't argue!

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    6 years ago

    What are the measurements in the standard system? I am in America, and thus do not use the metric system, it's a huge hassle to spend hours converting.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    The rust for coloration is a brilliant idea! A major cost driver of my set was all the pricey high grade bolts. Glad my instructable was helpful!


    7 years ago

    I love the design of your pieces. Very clever


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I love the simple design of the pieces. So many chess sets make the pieces unrecognisable, but I could identify these instantly. Bravo!

    eric squat
    eric squat

    8 years ago

    Awesome. Nice work and great explanation.


    8 years ago

    So very cool!