Laser Cut and Etch a Xiangqi Set

Introduction: Laser Cut and Etch a Xiangqi Set

The Wikipedia entry for Xiangqi  has lots of good information about the game. It's sort of like Western Chess, but different.

I spent some time in Vietnam earlier this year, saw a lot of this, and decided I had to learn how to play.

Since returning I've been wanting to teach some friends the game, so when I became a member at TechShop in Pittsburgh I decided a Xiangqi set would be my first project.

This is my second Instructable - my first, a 3D printed 2-color game piece, was my first crack at making a Xiangqi set.

One last note - I decided to use the Chinese characters for my pieces, because I think learning to recognize them is a fun part of learning the game. However, if that's not your style, you could always use icons that show what each piece is, like the ones on the Wikipedia page.

The board and piece PDF files for this project are attached below.

Step 1: Materials and Equipment

I  experimented with a few different materials for the different components of this project (see Step #5), but in the end I used...


- game pieces: 1/8th inch thick plywood (from the scrap bin at TechShop)

- game board: an old bulletin board i picked up from goodwill for a dollar - about 3/8th of an inch thick, not a real cork board and I'm not exactly sure how to describe the material... look at the pictures in Step #5 or tear apart a cheap bulletin board and have a look for yourself 
*in hindsight, I shouldn't have cut this bulletin board because I wasn't sure exactly what it was made of. Do not use the laser cutter on material unless you know exactly what it is - the fumes produced can damage the machine and, more importantly, you. If I started this project over, I'd go buy some authentic cork from a home improvement store.

- painters tape, to reduce charring on the game board  surface during etching and cutting (pretty sure it helped).


- Trotec Speedy 300 Laser Cutter/Engraver
- Software: Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Trotec Job Control

Step 2: Use the Internet to Find a Good Vector Image

Download a vector image of a Xiangqi set. This image from the Wikimedia Commons worked great.

Step 3: Seperate and Sort Piece and Board Images

I used Adobe Illustrator for this. 

I ungrouped all of the objects on the board, then cut and pasted the pieces into another file, lining them up neatly as I went.

Step 4: Prepare Images for Laser Cutting and Etching

For some reason that remains illusive to me, CorelDRAW is the graphics editor used for printing vector images to files that can be understood by Trotec's Job Control and sent to the cutter/engraver (if any experts out there want to provide an explanation in the comments, please do).

In any case, I used CorelDRAW to convert the original images to their black, white, and red forms seen here. The hairline-width RGB red lines are cut lines, and the thicker black lines are engraved.

In terms of design, I played around with the thicknesses of the Chinese characters and the rings around them until i thought they looked good. Eventually, I removed the rings from all the pieces for one of the sides as a way to differentiate the two sides without painting (this is actually not entirely necessary for Xiangqi because the two sides use different characters for each pieces, but depending on these differences would be really confusing, especially if you're just learning to play).

Step 5: (sort Of, This Happened Before, During, and After the Proceeding Steps) - Experiment With Design, Materials, and Laser Settings

I experimented a lot with engraving and cutting my materials. Instead of recounting my trials and tribulations here, i'll do so in the form of annotations on the many pictures above.

Step 6: Cut and Engrave the Board and Game Pieces

This step will change if you are using different equipment. You can see the materials settings I used in the screen shots above. 

Also, it took me a couple tries to get the size exactly right. Don't be like me - make sure you know exactly how big you want the pieces and the board to be before you cut and engrave them.

Once you have all of the settings right, all there is to do is watch (and make sure nothing catches on fire).

Step 7: Learn to Play Xiangqi / Teach Your Friends and Family to Play Xiangqi

Now all you need to do is find a worthy adversary and you're ready to play.


I made it at Techshop

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    7 years ago

    Really cool all the work that went into making this set. It's a great game, and I think it's a bit more fun than chess because of that river thing in the middle of the board, and that the Canons can "jump" across! Thanks for the great documentation of your trials and tribulations. Pictures are worth a thousand words.

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    9 years ago on Step 7



    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    not sure about the measurement of my board, but i'd guess the pieces are about a half inch in diameter and the squares on the board are a bit larger. you can make it any size you'd like.

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    fgtd nb sasdd

    9 years ago on Step 7

    can u upload the pic files for the pieces


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    The files for the pieces and board can now be found on the intro page.