Introduction: Organic Chess Tree

"With the sure and silent touch of his clever fingers he took hold of my pieces, all the old men and young men and children and women, cheerful and sad, strong and weak, nimble and clumsy, and swiftly arranged them on his board for a game. At once they formed themselves into groups and families, games and battles, friendships and enmities, making a small world. For a while he let this lively and yet orderly world go through its evolutions before my enraptured eyes in play and strife, making treaties and fighting battles, wooing, marrying and multiplying. It was indeed a crowded stage, a moving breathless drama.

Then he passed his hand swiftly over the board and gently swept all the pieces into a heap; and, meditatively with an artist's skill, made up a new game of the same pieces with quite other groupings, relationships and entanglements. The second game had an affinity with the first, it was the same world built of the same material, but the key was different, the time changed, the motif was differently given out and the situations differently presented" (Der Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse).

When I first saw a 3D chess board in Star Trek as a kid, I thought it was 'fascinating' ;)
Sorry, corny joke, but I was honestly attracted by it's graceful shape.

So, believe it or not, this is actually a Star Trek inspired project.

My other source of inspiration for this project (and this is probably more obvious) is nature.

Not only did I try to use mainly natural materials and let the design be directed by the natural/organic shape of the wood that I selected, but I also wanted the gameplay to have a more natural flow to it as with traditional chess, which is pretty exact off course.

Since not everyone who enjoys a game of chess is a very exact thinker, why not design a board that will be more suitable for non-exact thinkers.

Although I was inspired by the Star Trek 3D chess board (not the first 3D chess board btw, google 'Kubikschach' and 'Raumschach' for instance) and initially aspired to create a 3D chess set myself, this chess tree should not be confused with 3D chess.

3D chess is played in three dimensions; instead of just moving back and forth across the board it's also possible to move up and down through the boards.

This is not the case with my project, my plan of creating a 3D chess board quickly evolved into me wanting to redesign the traditional square chess board in a way that would evoke a more organic way of playing a game of chess.

I did not want to stray to far from traditional chess, the boards of this chess tree have 64 fields, no unicorns or other extra pieces and the pieces move in the way that you're used to.

How should you interpret the term 'organic' in relation to chess you may want to ask... To start with, in 'organic chess' there are no predesignated starting positions.

Black and white both have two boards at their disposal to set up their game (black gets the two upper boards, white the two lower boards), The players can place their pieces at every field that they please within the boundaries of these two boards, the only restrictions being that the queens should be on their own color, the kings on the opposite color and a player should have one bishop standing on a black field and the other on a white field.

Being able to set up their own game provides the players with more space to prepare and work out their own strategy.

Furthermore, the organic shape of the boards and the way in which the fields are spaced change the dynamics of the game in such a way that I think will excite the players to a more inituitive way of playing as opposed to calculative.

I think this game is not very suitable for those that desire a very competitive game of chess, it's really more for a friendly match since there is a lot of room for the players own interpretation.

To illustrate this last point; although the order in which the players move their pieces from one board to the next is fixed, the field to which a piece transfers is open for discussion...

The 'rule' when you move a piece to the next board is that you step over to most logical field (that is, the nearest field of opposing color to the field the one you are currently standing on)... but of course our perception of which field this should be may differ since we all have a different point of view.

I wanted the gameplay to reflect the dynamic interplay in nature where the one organism affects the other.

Nature may start of quite exact, but no organism can strictly stick to their own 'plan' because it shares it's habitat with other lifeforms which requires it to be flexible.

In nature everything flows together in a dynamic continuum where energy is being transferred from one phenomena to the next.

Organisms become as one in a dance where competition and interdependence are but two sides of the same coin.

A game of chess can be seen as a micrososmos, a reflection of the way that the players shape their reality and how their stories intertwine, which creates a whole other dimension.

I guess from a socio-psychological point of view you could say that even a chess game that doesn't involve moving pieces up and down through the boards could be considered 3D chess, since it consists of a combination of 'my dimension' and 'your dimension', the third dimension is where the two meet; 'our dimension' ;) lol

Have fun!

I have learned a lot during the process of creating this chess tree, some of the techniques that are illustrated in this Instructable I used for the first time, I had a lot of fun during this project and I hope that in sharing this I can pass on what I've learned to others, since I like to learn from others as well, off course I welcome suggestions :)

Step 1: Materials

Materials for the chess tree:

- a branch which forks off

- a wooden disk from a thick branch or stem

- a wooden panel (I used a shelf from a cabinet)

- a thin sheet of copper

- short screws and long screws

- liquid wood filler

- wax

Materials for the pieces:

- branches (I used birch for the white pieces and what I think is oak for the black pieces)

- a thin sheet of copper

* During a lot of the activities described in the steps below it's advisable to protect yourself and wear safety glasses, a dust mask and sometimes even gloves, please don't forget!

Step 2: About the Wood

Since wood is the most important material used in this project I would like to spend some words on it.

I selected this wood because of its shape but also minded what sort of wood it was and what state it was in.

There's hard wood and soft wood, hard wood usually comes from,broad leaved trees and soft wood from conifers, I was looking for hard wood because it's generally more durable, it's structure is more dense which gives it a different look then soft wood, so it's an aesthetical choice as well.

The state which the wood is in is important when selecting wood, I was looking for branches that had only recently parted from the tree, rotting wood is starting to disintegrate which is not a good feature and even wood that has been laying on the forest floor for a while but still seems to be in a relatively good state could be invested with insects or larvae, so better just leave it for them and find a decent piece.

To find a suitable branch I visited a specific place in the woods where I knew was a pile of branches that had broken of the trees there about two months earlier and which had been cut into smaller pieces and piled up aside the path.

I selected a branch that kind of looked like what I had in mind, sawed it of and took it home.

I'm not entirely sure what kind of wood it is but I think it's oak.

Then I needed a wooden disk to use as a stand to mount the branch on, I found it when I visited a relative who has a very old plum tree growing on his land (you can see it on the picture above), he had just pruned it because some parts of the tree died, he had cut these thick branches into small pieces to put on the fire.

I found a nice piece (which I like a lot because of it's whimsical form) and told my relative that I was going to saw it into four disks by hand, then he took out his chainsaw and cut it for me, which saved me a lot of work.

The wood for the boards came from a shelf from a cabinet in our house, we got this cabinet for free on the Dutch equivalent of Craigslist a few years ago, it was in a home for the elderly.

I'm actually very pleased with it, it's a very large cabinet in a central place in the house and holds our tv, boardgames and wooden (toy) train set, only it came with to many shelves, we only use two and had two left over shelves which where kind of in the way and since it was perfect to cut the boards out off I used one for this project, this shelf is made of pine wood, a soft wood, which is convient for this purpose because it's very workable.

Step 3: Preparing the Branch

The first thing I did was scraping the bark off the branch, I used a small hunting knife for this, which is perfect to use on wood because it's very sharp, it's basically the same as a wood cutting knife only the shape is slightly different.

Then I sawed a small section off the bottom of the branch to even it out.

Step 4: Shaping the Branch

The next step was to shape the branch in such a way that the boards could rest on it.

For this I used a wood chisel and a wooden hammer, with use of the hammer I drove the chisel into the wood and cut away flakes of it until the form that I desired emerged as you can see on the pictures.

Then I used a wood rasp to smooth out the wood, the rasp I used had four sides with different grains and I used them all, starting with the course sides and ending with the finer ones, after that I used a file on the wood and after that, sandpaper with three different grit sizes (P80, P120 and P150).

By the way, this is the course of action I used on all the wood that I worked with in this project.

After this the would felt nice and smooth.

Step 5: Preparing the Stand

To prepare the stand I first took the bark off with the use of a wood chisel and when necessary a wooden hammer (to drive the chisel in between the wood and the bark), next I used a regular wood rasp and a rats tails rasp to remove more of the inner bark, I left some of it on because I liked the contrast created by it's color.

I also rounded off the edges on the topside of the disk.

To smoothen out the top of the stand I also used the rats tails rasp, this is the sort of rasp that should be equipped with a wooden handle, but I never did so.

Since it doesn't have a handle it was the perfect to to create a smooth surface, I could just swipe it over the wood while applying pressure, this worked surprisingly well!

After this I filed and sanded the whole thing.

Step 6: Cutting Out the Boards

Even before I started working on the branch, I cut a few oval forms out of cardboard and placed them on the branch to see how it would look with the boards on it.

I was satisfied with the placing of the boards and cut off a bit more of the cardboard plates to give them a more organic shape.

After this, I traced them onto the wood using a pencil and cut them out with a jigsaw.

I decided to add the fourth board later because I thought the chess tree needed a fourth board, I drew this shape on cardboard, cut it out and as with the other boards traced the shape onto the wood and cut it out with the jigsaw.

Step 7: Drilling and Sanding the Boards

After cutting the boards out I decided where the holes had to go to be able to mount them onto the branch, I drilled the holes and used my rats tails rasp to widen them.

Then I used my regular wood rasp to round off the edges and made them smoother with the use of a file and sand paper.

Step 8: Attaching the Branch to the Stand

Then it was finally time to mount the branch onto the stand.

I placed the branch on the stand in the place where I wanted to attach it and traced around it with a pencil.

Next I decided where I had to drill the holes for the screws, it was important that the holes in the bottom of the branch would sync up with the ones in the stand, I marked the right spots on both the branch and the stand, then I drilled the holes.

The holes in the stand are slightly wider then the screws, the screws have to dig into the wood of the branch, they have to pass through the stand easily, if they would grasp into the wood of the stand it would be very hard to get them into the branch all the way (I came across this problem once when I was fixing something).

I used a wider drill to make two recesses in the bottom side of the stand, this is necessary because otherwise the heads of the screws would stick out and make the stand unstable.

Then I stuck the screws through the holes and screwed them into the foot of the branch with the use of a screwdriver, almost at the end I stopped to apply woodglue to create an even stronger connection and then off course screwed the screws in all the way.

Step 9: Burning the Fields Into the Boards

Time to burn the fields into the boards, for this I used a wood burning station and a micro (butane) torch.

I decided to use pointillism technique to burn in the outlines, I wanted this project to have a natural look and thought that this would add to that look.

Since this is a soft wood I set my wood burning station to a medium temperature and filled in the lines that I had drawn before with small dots.

When I had created outlines for the fields on all of the boards decided which fields had to be black and which fields should stay white and marked them accordingly.

When this was done I burned the black to be fields with the butane torch, I was careful to stay within the lines.

All of the fields had the right colors now but I still had to sand them down, once again I used three sandpaper grits for this.

I started with sanding the black fields, to remove the charcoal, when I was done I brushed off all of the charcoal with a nailbrush and then sanded the white fields, after this I sanded the board as a whole.

After sanding I removed the last of the charcoal with a mush sponge (be careful not to wet the wood to much because if you do it may get crooked when it dries.

Let the wood dry well before you proceed.

Step 10: Attaching the Boards to the Stem

Another exiting step; attaching the boards to the branch or stem as we can now call it.

I drilled holes in the stem on the plateaus that I carved out where the boards will rest on, this is so that I could secure them into place with screws.

Before attaching the upper boards I first had to slide the lower board onto the stems, because after it wouldn't be possible to do this anymore.

Then I put some wood glue on the plateaus and mounted the boards onto the plateaus after this I secured them with screws as you can see in the picture, the screws don't go through the wood but go in between the board and the stem to clamp the boards into place.

I used little plastic balls to determine if the boards were straight since I don't have a level tool.

I had to find a way to make the board with the slant hole stay into place, I ended up sawing off a small piece of a popsicle stick and attaching it in the gap between the hole and the stem with the use of wood glue.

Step 11: Adding Filler

To create a strong connection between the boards and the stem I used liquid wood filler, at first I was a bit worried that this would not make a strong and durable connection, but now I can say that it did.

I tested the joints and they are strong, I even accidentally knocked the board over once when I was setting up stuff to photograph it, it landed right on one of the boards and it was not damaged.

Off course I can only speak for the product I used, this product is of high quality and contains (among others) real pine resin.

I applied the filler with the remaining part of the popsicle stick and made it even with a palette knife, after it dried I sanded it.

Step 12: Shaping the Copper Parts

As a finishing touch, let's add some decorative components.

I took a thin sheet of copper (usually for model making purposes) and cut a small circle out of it, the circle has the same diameter as the circle in the middle of one of the chess boards.

With the use of a punch and a (regular) hammer I punched a hole in the middle of the circle and from this point, using goldsmiths scissors, made cuts in four directions, forming a cross, then I flattened the metal with a hammer.

At this point I would like to add that I have very little experience in working with metal, so this is all just trial and error and I'm just describing what I did... I have no idea if this is' the way to do it'.

With the use of a a jewelry hammer and a wooden block containing a concave shape I hammered the metal into shape.

I started hammering on the outer ring, all around and slowly worked my way to the center, then I used a smaller wooden block with cavity and a smaller hammer to slightly bend the corners around the cross out, then I took my goldsmiths scissors again and made the cross into a star.

After this I grabbed the punch and te regular hammer and started punching dents into the metal, all over the circle.

Then I used a pair of jewelry pliers to bend the corners around the star shape all the way out, I filed down the sharp edges (make sure that you wear a dust mask when you do this!).

Next I used round nosed jewelry pliers to curl the corners up as you can see on th picture.

I think it kind of looks like a seed pod that has opened up.

Step 13: Applying Heat Patina to the Copper

Although I like the rich color of red copper, with this project I liked the idea of applying heat patina.

Heat patina is basically oxidizing the metal with the use of heat, in this process a variety of colors appears on the copper which make it (in my opinion) look amazing!

To apply heat patina,grab the metal with heat proof tweezers and start blazing it with the microtorch, not to long or the colors will go dull.

When you're satisfied with the result plunge the metal into some cold water to make it cool down.

Take it out and dry it off, you are now ready to mount it onto the chess board, if it doesn't fit right away, use some pliers to bend the corners of the metal back and forth against the wood until it does.

After this you can start cutting out the other two circles.

Step 14: More Copper Working

For the decoration at the bottom of the stem I cut a shape out of the copper that fitted right around it (I cut it out of paper first to try it out).

Then I started to shape it in such a way that it would be able to curl around the stem like a vine, I didn't know exactly how this was going to turn out but in the end it looks pretty close to what I had in mind, so I'm satisfied with the result.

Anyway, I folded and bend the metal by hand first then I hammered it into shape with a jewelry hammer using my wooden mold and my jewelry anvil,but off course, these are optional tools.

Next I started punching a whole lot of dents into the metal using the punch and hammer just like with the circular shapes and in the end I applied heat patina.

Then I mounted it on the chess tree and hammered and hand shaped it further into place.

Step 15: Waxing the Chess Tree

If you want to you can wax the tree, I did because I like the looks of it and it protects the wood.

I also applied wax to the copper because it will stop the metal from corroding even further which will diminish the colors, some of the color effects are lost in this process because they are the result of diffraction.

In the past I have made beeswax/oil mixtures for use on wood myself, this time I wanted to try out a commercial product because I thought that it didn't contain a turpentine like solvent (which is usually the case with these products), but when I opened the lid I immediatly smelled that it did... but since I've bought it, I will use it, after I will go back to making the mixture myself again.

I put on some gloves and I used an old cloth, cut out of some jeans to spread the wax out on the wood, I used a toothbrush to spread it out on the copper.

Step 16: The Pieces

I made the white pieces out of a birch branch and the black pieces out of a (presumably) oak branch, I liked the idea of using the natural color of the branch.

I used one of the pieces from my marble chess set to determine the right size, after I cut the pieces of the branch I marked them on the bottom so I would not confuse them with other pieces.

With the use of a rotary multitool equipped with a wood sanding bit, I rounded of the top of the pieces and flattened out the bottom if necessary.

Then I designed a crown for each piece, I based the design on the original chess pieces (or at least; the ones that we are all famillliar with), I did not want unrecognizable fantasy pieces... we used to own a Star Wars chess set, the pieces were these little figurines modeled after characters from the Star Wars movies, I used to get pretty annoyed while playing a game of chess using this set because I would fail to recognize which figure would portray a certain chess piece lol.

I tried to make the shapes in these crowns look organic while still clinging on to the design of regular chess pieces.

Once I had designed the crowns, I cut them out of paper, traced them onto a sheet of copper and made a small adjustment as you can see because I thought that the straight line at the bottom of the crown was a bit boring and broke the organic design.

Then I cut the crowns out of copper, washed off the marker lines and filed down sharp edges.

Next I repeated the process of punching dents into the copper which you have seen twice before in the steps above.

Then I straightened the crowns up a bit, using a regular hammer (start from the outer ends and work towards the middle) be careful because the copper will easily tear at this point.

After this I formed the crowns around a piece of branch using my hands and a hammer, you can also do this on the chess piece itself.

Then I applied heat patina to the crowns and clamped them around the pieces.

Step 17: Rules?

I have already explained some of the rules I have in mind in the intro but to be honest, I think the players should decide on the rules together before they start playing the game... in a way I think this should be part of organic chess... to create something together, to go with the flow or against the grain, like I wrote in the intro; interdependence and competition are but two sides of the same coin... this game should be about mutuality.

For those who would like some guidelines,below this are the rules as I see them:

- White starts at board 1 & 2 (the two lower boards)

- Black starts at boards 3 & 4 (the two upper boards)

- The players set up their pieces as they please within the boundaries of these two designated boards.

*The bishops should start at fields of opposing colors, so one of a players bishops starts on a white field, the other on a black field.

*The Queen starts at a field of her own color.

*The King starts at a field of the opposing color.

- Black starts playing clockwise across the boards and white counterclockwise.

- When a piece reaches the end of a board this piece can transfer to the next board (only the next board not any of the other boards).

- A piece can step over to the most logical field on the next board, this is, the nearest field of the opposite color from the field that the piece transfers from (this is starting to sound like a legal document lol), which field this is should be open for discussion since everyone has a different point of view.

- Stepping over from one board to the next ends your turn, your piece stays on the field that it stepped over to and can't go any further until the other player has made his/her move.

- When you've reached the end of your opponents first starting board you can step over to your own first starting board if you like and start a new cycle so to speak, you can't move back to the board you came from but have to start over this piece's journey (board four is white's first staring board, board 1 is blacks first starting board).

- If you want to castle you should discuss the how and whens before you start to avoid misunderstandings, to me castling is just fine, could even be quite interesting with these free starting positions.

Step 18: Ready for a Game of Chess?

I do not have the illusion that anyone will copy this project... and I'm not sure if that's even possible since I used some one of a kind natural materials, but I hope that some of you will feel inspired after reading this or just by looking at my project.

I'm very happy to be able to share this with you all.

If you do make something similar, I hope you will have a lot of fun with it :)

Keep playing chess!

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