LED Chess Set - Simple Version




Introduction: LED Chess Set - Simple Version

Tetranitrate previously posted an excellent instructable on how to make an LED chess set here:


I found it through BoingBoing, but couldn't be bothered making one that looked so flash. I just wanted one to work, quick and easy. So all credit to Tetranitrate for the concept and what follows is a quick and easy solution to get a 'similar' result.

This Instructable shows you how to turn a glass chess set into one with glowing pieces that go out when you take them off the chess board.

It uses:

40 LEDs $7.50 Australia (I love Jaycar - electronics supplier)
a resistor or two Free from junk
some copper wire 2m maybe. Free from junk
glue - I used Crystal Clear Araldyte $17.00 or so. Have heaps left.
a glass chess set $5.00 from toy store
Unwanted phone charger Free from Junk - if you don't have one, a friend will.
Solder Free from around

If you have glue, the rest should be less than $15

Soldering Iron (can manage without)
Pliers for twisting wire
Knife for stripping wire
Something to cut wire with

Some soldering is required but if you can't, you could still get a working one by just twisting the wire.

Took me about 4 hours to assemble.

Step 1: Get Some Copper Wire

You need strands of copper wire that are twice as long as the length of your chess board plus a little for twisting the ends together.

I got mine by using a cutter knife to slice the edge off some electrical cable and then peel the plastic off to expose the wire.

I then pulled the wire out of the plastic.

Wrapped it around the chess board with about 3cm/1 inch going past the edge of the chess board. I did this to get the correct length.

Cut the wire at the desired length. Remove it from around the chess board and separate the wire into strands. You will need 16 strands of copper wire. The stuff I used had strands about the same thickness as wire in a (twistem, bread tie, freezer bag wire).

Step 2: Wrap Strands Around the Board.

I didn't, but you may want to get your wire really straight to start with. It would have been a bit better if I did.

With each of the 16 copper wire strands, fold them in half and put a kink in them. Loop the wire around the board and push the kink up to the edge.

With the wire running straight across the board twist the two ends of the wire together. Keep all of the twists at the same end of the chess board.

Use pliers to pull the wire tight and twist it up. If you twist it too tight or too much, it will break.

You want two strands of wire for each row on the chess board. Have the wire cut the square into thirds or even slightly closer.

Run the wires from one opponents side to the other. So that if you were to slide the queen from her side to the far side she would slide along two copper strands.

Step 3: Match Up the Rails

Get two lengths of cable and cut them the same length as the chess board. You want them longer than just end to end of your wires that you wrapped around the board.

Make sure your twisted ends of the wires on the board stick out straight.

Lay one of the cables along the edge of the chess board under the twisted ends. Make it match up with the edges of the chess board.

Starting with the first twisted end, make a mark on the cable for every second twisted end. Mark the right hand end of the cable a bit so that you know which way around it went.

Now lay the other cable down the same way, but this time put a mark for each twisted end that you missed on the first cable. Make the right hand end of this cable as well.

When you are done, you should have two cables with a mark for each twisted end on either of the cables but never on both.

Take the cables away from the chess board.

Step 4: Soldering

Cut some of the insulation off the cable where you have marked it just on one side of the cable. Cut the marks out with spaces between 3mm and 5mm long.

Cut some of the insulation away from the end of the cable that you marked.

Add solder to each spot that you exposed.

Add solder to every end of twisted wire, all over the whole twist. That will help it from unwinding in the future as well as make it easier to join the cable to the twists.

Find any old circuit board and steal some resistors out of it. They are the ones that are like long blobs on the wire with cute coloured lines around them. If you are not sure what they look like, look for images on the net, they have a pretty generic style. I got some brown, blue and green ones, but I don't know what the colours mean if anything.

Solder the resistors together in a row.

Step 5: Solder on the Rails

Lay the cable back where it was when you marked it and solder the twisted ends onto the blobs of solder that you put on the cable.

Try and keep the first cable hard up against the board on the under side of the twisted ends.

Lay the other cable on top of the twisted ends and hard up against the board. Solder it to the remaining twisted ends.

If the two ends of the cable match up, cut one about 15mm shorter than the other one and put some solder on the end again. oops. This is so that the two cables won't touch and short out. (Shorting out is where the electricity can travel from one cable to the other because they are touching with nothing good between them.)

Step 6: Using an Old Mobile Phone Charger

Get an old mobile phone charger that plugs into the wall and cut off the end that you plug into your phone. You will notice that the cable from the charger is made out of two wires. Split them apart for about 5cm.

Cut one end about 25mm shorter than the other. It does not matter which end. Strip some of the insulation back like about 3mm and put solder on the ends.

Solder your string of resistors to the shorter bit of the cable.

I am not sure if there is much difference between chargers but you want something that is between around 5 and 9 volts. If you look closely on the charger it will have a number followed by a V. That is the number to look for.

Step 7: Adding Power and Putting in Some LEDs

Use a peg or something to hold the end of the wire from the phone charger without resistors on it to the shorter end of the cable on the board.

Plug the mobile phone charger in. Hold onto a bit of the cable that has solder on it that is attached to the charger by a peg and then use the back of a finger to touch the other wire from the charger. It really, really should not hurt you, but just in case there is something very wrong with your charger you will find out with the back of your hand and not end up gripping it and getting hurt.

Now get one of your LEDs and bend the legs out flat.

Touch the remaining mobile phone cable, the one with the resistors on it, onto the remaining cable on the board. The one without the peg on it. If it sparks or anything you have done something wrong and there is a short. If it does not spark, that does not mean there is no short though.

While the charger is connected to the board touch the LED with the bent legs two wires that go over the same row so that only one LED leg touches each wire. Each leg of the LED must only tough its own wire.

If it lights up, good. If it doesn't turn it around so that the legs touch the other wires instead. LEDs can tell if they are the right way round or not. I don't think it hurts them if they are the wrong way, they just don't light up.

Once it lights up, you know which way around it goes. Do not leave it on the board if it glows really bright and sort of a bit yellow looking. That will mean there is too much power. We will get to that.

Lay the LED on the table so you know which way around it goes. Which legs like which wires.

Do the same for 7 more LEDS so that you have four of each colour. 4 laid out on one side of the board and 4 on the other.

Step 8: Sticking LEDs Under the Wires.

Now that you know which way around the 8 LEDs go, stick them under the wires.

They should already have their legs sticking out sideways.

Turn off the power.

Tuck a leg under each wire and then slide the LED right to the edge of the board. Make sure that each LED is in its own row. I put mine on the two ends where the castles stand and two in the middle where the king and queen go.

One colour at one end and the other colour at the other end.

Plug the power back in and they should all be glowing. If they all glow a bit Yellow, quickly turn it off again.

Step 9: Choosing a Resistor

If you connected the phone cable wire with the resistors on it, disconnect it again.

With the power on and the 8 edge LEDs in place, touch the tip of the wire from the end resistor on the free cable on the board.

If the LEDs glow a bit yellow, you have too much power and you should add some more resistors. If you are getting a string of them, try some other colours.

If the LEDs glow too faintly try touching the join between the end resistor the next one on the cable. If it is still too faint, keep going back up the chain until they are bright but not yellow. If you get down to no resistors and it still isn't bright, you might need a different phone charger.

Note, you can loop the chain of resistors back around to the wire where they come from or a join to try different combinations. Just play around till it looks good.

Once you find a combination of resistors that seems good, try and tidy it up by just using them.


I first did the board with No LEDS on the edge and when all the pieces were on it was fine. But when I got down to two or three pieces on the board, they started glowing a bit yellow which is bad.

So instead of leaving some pieces on the board all the time, I put some LEDs on the edge. The amount of power used by all 32 Pieces is not like 32 times more than the amount of power used by 1 piece. It is a bit weird. 32 Pieces glow just as bright as 8. 1 Piece on its own glows really bright and wrong looking.

Step 10: Putting LEDs in the Pieces.

Now that you have the LEDs in the edge, you can solder them in if you like. You can also leave the board on while you do all the pieces.

Get an LED and about 3mm down from the light, bend both of the legs over at right angles. Then spread the legs out so that they make a short T

Now lay the Led on the underside of the chess piece. You may have to remove the paper bottoms from the pieces if they were ever there.

Centre the LED in the chess piece and hold the legs flat to the base. Bend the legs up the sides of the chess piece.

Take the LED off the chess piece and bend the legs in a little bit more.

Now 'clip' the LED back on the chess piece and try it on the board.

If it does not light up, turn it around. If it still does not light up, try it somewhere else, and then fix the bit of the board that is not working. I had to do this where my soldering was bad.

If the piece is facing the wrong way when it lights up, turn the LED around in it.

Made sure you set the pieces up at their own ends so that they are facing the right way when lit.

Step 11: Glueing in the LEDs

I used some crystal clear araldyte.

Mix up the areldyte, just a little. Use a match to smear it onto the chess piece and the wire that goes up the outside edge.

DO NOT put any glue on the bottom of the chess pieces. If you do get some scrape it off and when it is dry scrape it again with a knife. Metal has to touch metal for it it work.

Once you have put glue on the legs on the outside of the chess pieces, place the piece on some scrap paper and push it down a little. Make sure the legs are pretty straight.

Step 12: Finished

Once the glue is all dried, you are finished.

If the pieces don't light up for some reason it is probably because you have a piece sitting across two wires on the board that it shouldn't. This makes a short and the power goes wrong.

If anyone knows an easier way of getting the right resistors, please let me know. If you can make it simple enough for me to understand and it will work with most of the phone charges, I will update these instructions.

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    8 years ago

    Not trying to troll, but it's surprising how many chessboards are not set up properly. Please google and show us the right way.


    12 years ago on Step 4

    The colours do mean stuff! it means how much resistence the resistor has. your lucky you didt blow your LED's


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    ... and learn about grammar. Plural of dog =dogs, Plural of LED = LEDs. Leave out the apostrophes and you will look both learned and literate.


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 4

    I think u got to the wrong place, it's a chess instructable, not a grammar course.. -.-"

    For grammar go to ==> www.learngrammar.com !


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 4

    I know that this is not a grammar course, BUT good grammar and good spelling help a reader to understand the instructable more easily.


    Reply 12 years ago on Step 4

    Hi Bobster580, Not sure why you bother commenting on the grammar of a commenter, but if there is a page on my instructions where I've used poor grammar (excuse the Australian spelling though) please let me know so I can fix it. You might like to know there is an instructables group called LED's (sic).


    Reply 12 years ago on Step 4

    Hi alhowell13, Yes, the little thin stripes are code for resistance values, but I was referring to the backgroud colour that covers the whole resistor. If that background colour can effect this project working, please reply with advice for makers.


    12 years ago on Step 6

    you seriously need to learn about electronics.


    Reply 12 years ago on Step 6

    alhowell13, you are so right. I built my own 2 stage bass amp from a Jaycar kit with thousands of little coloured bits. The instructions assumed that by looking at the circuit diagram I would have just known it was DC (which means direct current current). Well I plugged AC into it (which is the other one) and blew one of the boards up. I had to pull out all the bits that had turned brown and put matching ones back in. Got it working though. So yeah, if there is stuff that I have left out or if you have any suggestions to make this instructable easier to follow, please jump right in and add them via comments. Appreaciated.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Now, we need to hook a microcontroller up to the board and a couple sensors to tell which piece is where, multiplex the board and have it change the piece colour based on threat to the paticular piece :) would be a great training board then.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    Hi,here's my red and yellow version, tribute the national flag of CHINA,my motherland. I use a 3V CR2032 and no resistor, and the yellow LEDs dim when red ones being on the chess board, not good. BTW, the red king and queen are misplaced...


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Hey Goethes, Thanks for putting the photo up here. It looks really good. I can see what you mean about the yellow ones. You may find that the read ones have a lot less resistance than the yellow ones. Putting a resistor in the red ones may help. You could just do one or two red ones with resistors and see what it does. It should go like this with the ---- meaning wire:

    So that they just make a line with a bit of wire at each end just like the LED has to start with. I don't think it makes any difference which leg or what direction the resistor faces.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    really appreciate the advice, thx!


    I'm just trying to get some things straight in my head. I have a power supply that is 3V, 300 mA. If I use 32 LED's that have a forward voltage of 3V, would this be enough? The LED's I had planned on using come out of a christmas light set, so I'm not positive on their specs. At 3V, 9mA I got a nice amount of light out of one. I know a rule of thumb is 20mA per LED, but with 32 LED's at 20mA, that would be 640mA, over twice that of my power supply. Would they just be dimmer if the power supply could not supply that kind of current? Or would the power supply overheat? I'm trying hard to grasp all this, but it's giving me a headache. Any help is much appreciated.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Hi theGrimace1234, I think you have two options. You could go down the path of Frollard by seeing his comment below. This is likely to be a good learning experience and deliver a better result. Or you could do it my way, and just make up the board first. Then tuck some LEDs under the wire and switch on. If they glow really bright and a bit yellowish, turn it off quickly. If they are too dim, boost up your power. If they were too bright, you can try adding more along the edge till they look alright. As for blowing up your power supply, I think this is really unlikely to happen while your LEDs are still working. Surely the LEDs would burn out before a power supply, but I am not 100% certain. I would definitely risk it though. Once you have done it, please post a photo like goethes did, I love seeing the results.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    this is awesome! nice idea of the power grid. im aussie too, and jaycar rocks! did you watch the olympic opening ceremony?

    Shut Up Now
    Shut Up Now

    14 years ago on Introduction

    if each piece has a resistor, which limits the input voltage to what the piece needs, then wouldnt that solve the problem of overloading the leds at the end of the game? im new with electrics.. some wise person please explain!


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, SUN, you are right. If anyone is adding the resistors into the each piece, you won't need to put the 4 extra LEDs on the edges. Though you may like to still put one there because that shows you which end of the board those pieces start at.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable

    One thing it needs - each piece needs ITS OWN resistor to maintain correct power distribution.

    Since all the LEDs are in parallel, the formula is pretty simple and there are plenty of online calculators available.
    Calculator 1

    Numbers you will need: The voltage of your input adapter, likely 5 volts, might be as high as 24.
    The forward voltage of the LED, usually around 1.5-2 volts for red, 3 for green and 4.5 for white/blue. Check the spec sheet to be sure you're below the MAX, or you will have a fizzled LED.
    The forward current (amps, or milliamps in this case) is how much current the LED can turn into light. Most bright leds dont go above 20-25 mA (milliamps - thousands of an amp). Small 'indicator' leds like those on the front of a vcr rarely exceed 10mA, if not 5mA.

    Input 9 volts DC
    LED forward voltage: 2.8 volts
    Max current: 15mA
    resistor = 470 ohms, 1/4 watt

    Plug those numbers in, and you will get a resistor value in ohms (or kilo-ohms). Since you already order your leds online, grab a pile of resistors, 1/4 watt is overkill, you could get away with 1/8 watt

    If you can get an AC (Alternating Current) adapter close to your LED voltage you still need the resistors, but it means you can place the pieces either way, without worrying about polarity (+/-) Just make sure the power supply does not exceed the max REVERSE voltage. Thats another story.
    Any questions feel free to ask.