Introduction: Personalized Family Chess Set

About: My name is Alex Crease, and I'm an engineer, a musician, and an adventurer. I love building things and taking others apart to see how they work, because every creation is an adventure!

I created a chess set with all of my family members as the pieces as a present to my family this year. It turned out to be a huge hit at Christmas so I decided to share the process and document my work. Each piece is a 3D printed model of each of my immediate family members, including my dog, and the rook is a model of our apartment building. The entire set includes a chess board and wooden box to store all of the pieces.

Making this required a couple different tools and techniques, which I will cover in as much detail as I can within the context of the project (and provide links to good resources that can help you get up to speed). I found this project to be really satisfying because of the fusion of a few different DIY making methods. This project contained a little bit of each of the following:

  • 3D Scanning
  • 3D Modeling
  • 3D Printing
  • Woodworking (very basic, unless you want to do it differently than I did)
  • Spray Painting (also pretty basic)

This Instructable is split into two parts: making the chess pieces themselves (starting at Step 1), and making the board (starting at Step 17). If you want to expand upon any of the techniques I used or make an aspect of this more awesome (the chess board, ways to make the pieces, etc), please feel free to mention them in the comments or make your own Instructable!

Step 1: Making the Pieces

The first thing I had to do to get going on this project was to figure out how I was going to make the pieces, and which family member would be which piece. Remember, a chess set has 6 unique types of pieces (King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, Pawn), and 32 pieces total. If you have 6 immediate family members, that works out great. However, I only have 5 (including my dog), but I was able to make do by including my apartment building as the Rook. If you have more than 6 family members, you could consider having different parts of the family for each side of pieces. For my set, my mom and dad were the King and Queen, my sister and I were the Bishop and Knight, and my dog was the Pawn. It's important to figure out the pieces before you do the scans, so that you can set them up they way you imagine the pieces. In the next few steps I'll discuss how to use a 3D scanner and 3D modeling software to make their pieces. For the Rook, I made a 3D model of my building, which I'll cover later.

Step 2: 3D Scan Family Members

The first step in this process is to acquire 3D scans of all of the family members you want to be in your chess set. There are a couple of different ways to get 3D scans of people. Some 3D printing stores have 3D scanning booths that allow you to 3D scan yourself for a certain price. This may be an option, but it usually isn't. If you have access to a high-end 3D scanner , you can use that to generate great scanned models, but usually those are hard to come by as well (Here are some examples). I used two different 3D scanning methods that are relatively common:

  • Microsoft Kinect: If you have access to a Kinect and a Kinect USB-to-PC power adaptor, you can either use Skanect or Reconstruct Me to take scans and clean them up. I got all of my family members to sit down on a spinning stool and scanned them with the Kinect. More detailed instructions are available here and here, and there are a lot of resources online that will make scanning with the Kinect pretty simple. If you're making this as a gift and you need a scan of the person you are making it for, you can always use the "I'm doing this as a fun experiment/side project" excuse.
  • 123D Catch: If you don't have access to a Kinect, 123D Catch is a nice app that allows you to generate 3D models from a series of pictures on your phone or camera. While it doesn't produce as high quality results as the Kinect, it still captures all of the defining features of a model pretty nicely, and the software is free! However, it does require a bit more model touching up and editing after the scan. This tutorial on using 123D Catch and cleaning up your model in Meshmixer proved pretty useful, as well as this one. Because my dog couldn't sit still long enough in front me waving my arms around with a Kinect in my hands, I was able to capture a bunch of photos of him while he was sleeping using 123D Catch. The images above show the results.

Step 3: 3D Scanning Tips: Selecting a Pose

Because the end goal of the scan is to print out at least the bust of the person being scanned, make sure that their pose can be easily created by the 3D printer you are using. Here are some tips to selecting a good pose for 3D scanning:

  • Strike a pose you can hold: 3D Scanning with a Kinect usually takes about 1-2 minutes, and with 123D Catch it can take a pretty substantial amount of time. Make sure that when you are scanning someone, they are holding a pose they would be comfortable holding for a few minutes. Make sure your pose makes you identifiable!
  • Avoid overhangs: Once your parts are printing, the printer will likely need to use at least some support material to support hair, chins, etc. If you are using a printer with easy to remove, dissolvable supports, this isn't as much of a problem. However, if you have a single extruder printer, you may end up having to go through all of your pieces and pick off supports with a pair of tweezers. To make it easier for you, try to avoid poses with outstretched arms and other overhangs beyond what your printer can handle.
  • Avoid intricate gestures: Small hand gestures won't print well because of the size of the pieces being printed, and facial expressions won't really be visible if you are printing in a single color. Try and avoid detailed gestures: even outstretched arms may break off because they will be fragile coming off the printer.

Step 4: Clean Up 3D Files in Meshmixer

I used Meshmixer to clean up my scanned models, and add the chess piece base, and prepare them for printing. I'll go over the steps I used to clear up my models and turn them into chess pieces; some of what I cover is also discussed here and here. Using the Kinect and the Skanect software, I was able to create relatively clean models right after scanning. With 123D Catch, my model needed a bit more editing before it was ready to put on a chess piece. The following steps cover my process.

Step 5: Remove Excess Parts Using the Select Tool

First, I removed all of the excess material from the models. This was done using a combination of the select tool and the sculpt tool. Using the select tool, you can highlight sections of the model and simply delete them, which I used to get rid of bigger portions of the model that I didn't need. For example, for the scan of my dog, I had scanned both him and his bed, and I needed to remove the entire bed section carefully because I wanted the piece to just be him lying on the chess piece base. If the model is already a solid body, once you remove sections it will turn into a surface. You'll need to go to "Edit" and then "Make Solid" each time you remove portions this way, or else you won't be able to print it!

Step 6: Edit Undesirable Sections

Even after I'd deleted most of the bed, I still needed to get rid of some portions of it so that the model could just be of my dog's body. I got rid of the trickier sections using the Sculpt toolbox. The Sculpt toolbox allows you to select different types of 3D "brushes" to move material around, sort of like sculpting clay. Most of the brushes, upon first glance, are additive, in that they add more "material" to make sections of the model swell up. I wanted the exact opposite, because I wanted to remove the extra bed pieces and "push" them into the rest of the model. By holding down the Ctrl key, the brushes have the reverse effect. I mostly used the Drag, Draw, and Draw2 tools to push the bed away until all I had was a model of my dog's body.

The Sculpt tools can also be used to edit some parts of the model: make edges more defined, fix hair or sensor misreadings, etc. For some of the other models, I had to clean up some of the inconsistencies from 3D scanner and edit hand pieces to be flat, solid bodies instead of individual pieces to make it easier for the 3D printer to handle. Most of the tools necessary to clean up parts are found in the Sculpt toolbox.

Step 7: Add a Base

Next it's time to add a base to the 3D model to make it look a bit more chess-piece like. To do this, click the "Meshmix" toolbar and scroll down until you find a cylinder. You can then drag the cylinder into your model. Using the Transform tool under "Edit", you can adjust the dimensions of the cylinder base to your liking. Make sure you uncheck "Uniform Scaling" before doing this, so that you can make the height of the cylinder different from the diameter. The chess board I made (which I'll cover later), ended up having 1.5" square checkers, so I sized all of the pieces to be smaller that dimension. Depending on the 3D scanning software you used, you may need to scale up or scale down your model to fit on the base. Use the Transform tool with the scanned model selected to move, rotate and scale the piece until it fits on the base. Make sure there is some overlap between the base and the scanned model, we'll combine them in the next step. Here were the base dimensions I went with (Meshmixer uses metric units, so I did the conversions):

  • King: 30 mm diameter, 5 mm height
  • Queen: 30 mm diameter, 5 mm height
  • Bishop: 25 mm diameter, 5 mm height
  • Knight: 25 mm diameter, 5 mm height
  • Rook: 20 mm diameter, 5 mm height
  • Pawn: 25 mm diameter, 5 mm height

The king and queen I set to have larger bases to make them easier to identify, and so that their models could be a bit larger. You may choose to style yours differently, there's no need to strictly adhere to these dimensions!

Step 8: Combine Model With Base

Select both the base and the scanned model, and then go to the "Edit" toolbar. Click "Combine", and the two pieces should merge into one! Save your file as an STL, and now your done with one piece! Once you've done it once, the rest should be easy. Do this for the other scanned models and your chess set will be nearly complete! For the rook piece, you may be thinking about getting a model of your house somehow, which I'll cover shortly.

Step 9: Making the Rook Piece

To make the rook piece, you may need to get a bit creative if you want a model of your house. There are a few different methods you could use, but in any case you'll probably need to make the model yourself. It won't have to be too detailed, remember this is going on a small chess piece. All you'll need are some pictures from different views of the outside of your house. I was able to create a decent model of the building I live in with a few snapshots I took from Google Maps. If you don't have as good images, you can at least get a decent overhead shot from Google, and then possibly go around and take some photos yourself, or look at the blueprints if you have them. Again, this is more about the aesthetics than the detail, so you could just get the overall shape from a photo and use your sense for what looks right to make the rest.

Step 10: Screenshot Your House on Google Maps

To get a nice overhead shot of your building, find it on Google Maps and get a screenshot of it. Hopefully you'll get a decent overhead, but if you really can't make out your house you may need to either find blueprints of the house or just use your intuition to figure out its proportions. Crop the screenshot of whatever image you find until it is just your house or building in the view, and save the image.

Step 11: CAD the Base

First, open up the CAD program of your choice and CAD the cylindrical base of your model, based on the dimensions I gave (or you chose) earlier. If you are unfamiliar with CAD programs, please take a look at this Instructable on 3D modeling. All you need to do is draw a circle in a sketch of the specified diameter, and then extrude up the specified height.

Step 12: Put the Screenshot Into Your CAD File

Now, it's time to add the image you found into your model. Most CAD programs allow you to place images into sketches, so create a sketch on the top surface of the cylinder and place the image on that surface. In Autodesk Fusion 360, you can select "Insert" and then select "Attached Canvas" to insert and scale the selected photograph. Scale it and move it so that the entire building fits within the base you created.

Step 13: Sketch and Extrude the Building Outline

Now that your photo is in the right place, open up a sketch on the face of the base and use the sketching tools to sketch out the outline of your building. Make sure that the entire sketch is still within the limits of the bottom piece. Select the profile you have drawn and extrude it upward into 3D to get the rough height of your house. I did this by going back to Google Maps, using the 3D satellite view, and orbiting around my building to get a sense for the height. I then sort of eyeballed it. If you do know the rough proportions of your house, you can make a guess of the proportion of height to length. What's more important here is that it looks right to you.

Step 14: Adding Building Details

Both based upon the images of the house, what you see on Google Maps, and your intuition about what goes where, do some detail work on the house to polish it up. If it has a slanted roof, use the chamfer, draft, or extrude cut tools, make small extrusions or cuts for windows, terraces, chimneys, etc, and in general try to capture as much as you can about the important features of the building you are CADding without going too much into the details.

Step 15: Print All the Models

Now that you have all of the models for your file ready to go, its time to print them. You'll want to print your parts on a high quality with higher infill because of their small size and fine details. You may choose to print each "set" of pieces in a different color, or you can print them all in one color and paint each set separately. For each set of pieces (remember, there are two sets in a chess game, traditionally white and black), you'll need to print the following quantities:

  • King: x1
  • Queen: x1
  • Bishop: x2
  • Knight: x2
  • Rook: x2
  • Pawn: x8

If you aren't familiar with 3D printing, please check out this Instructable!

Step 16: Paint All the Models

I didn't have much color choice when it came to selecting printer filament, so I decided to print all of the parts in a single color and paint them afterward. I used the same paints to paint the chessboard so that I had a cohesive color scheme. 3D printed parts are porous, so you may need to give them a few coats for the paint to show strong. All of the details would have been tricky for me with a fine brush, so I decided to spraypaint my parts. If you want to add details with a fine brush, you could use a few different colors to highlight certain features (hair, skin, facial features,etc), and possibly make it so that each set has a different base or different colored outfits: the paint job is up to you! Set all the parts aside and let them dry.

Step 17: Make the Chess Board and Box

After the chess pieces were dry, I found a nice box and board from Michael's to make a nice box and complete the chess set. Below are the parts I used. You don't need to get the exact same ones if you're going for a different aesthetic--I just got what I thought would work:

  • 12" x 12" Wood Panel: I'd designed all of my chess pieces to fit within a 1.5" square, and because a chess board has 8 squares per side, a 12" square panel was the perfect size for my board.
  • 12" x 12" x 1 3/4" Wood Canvas: I measured the height of the tallest pieces and the depth of the canvas box before choosing this, to make sure all the pieces could fit into the box standing up.
  • 3/4" Wood Cubes: I needed four small wooden cubes to turn the board into a cover for the box that could fit snugly on top of the box. The cubes also act as a stand for the chess board.
  • 2 Colors of spray paint: I used the same paint I used for the chess pieces themselves to get a cohesive coloring.
  • Clear wood finish: To seal off the painted wood, I got clear gloss wood finish.

And here are the tools and other materials necessary to make the board and box:

  • Wood glue
  • 1.5" (or smaller) painter's tape
  • Clamps
  • An exacto knife
  • A pencil
  • A ruler or tri-square
  • Spray booth or well ventilated area

Step 18: Paint the Board: Base Color

First, paint the entire board a solid color, and we'll call this color 1. I used red for my board. Make sure you get the top, bottom, and sides of the board. Let it dry, and give it another coat if you need to. Make sure that you're painting in a well ventilated area, especially with spray paint.

Step 19: Paint the Board: First Grid

Once the base layer is dry, use the pencil and tri-square to draw out the checkerboard. With a 12" square board, each checker should be 1.5" square. Once you've drawn your grid, lay the painters tape along every other column and row, from one side of the board to the other, as shown in the pictures above. Once this is done, put tape around the sides of the board to ensure they don't get more paint on them. Use the exacto knife to cut off any stray pieces of tape. Get out your second color, which we'll call color 2, and paint the board. Let the second layer of paint dry, and once it's all dry, peel off the tape. You may notice the pattern it produced with the tape down is not the same as a chessboard pattern, only half the checkers will be painted color 2! But don't worry, that's coming in the next step.

Step 20: Paint the Board: Second Grid

As I mentioned in the previous step, the board doesn't quite look like a chess board yet. This step will get you there. Now, look at the pattern that the two colors formed from the tape grid in the previous step. Using the same grid tactic, lay another set of tape down, this time with each span of tape offset by one row/column from where it was before. You should be covering up the color 2 checkers both with horizontal and vertical pieces of tape this time, and the exposed parts of the board should still be color 1. Again tape up the sides so you don't get any paint on them, and then paint the board with color 2 again. Let the paint dry, and peel off the tape. Now you should have your checkered board!

Step 21: Paint the Box

Now it's time to paint the box. Because this part is more aesthetic, you don't need to worry about the patterns, so the way that you design this is up to you. I painted the outside of my box green and the inside red, to match the red and green pieces and board.

Step 22: Paint Four of the Cubes

Right now, the board should sit on top of the box nicely, but it doesn't actually stay on. This is where the small cubes come in. Paint four of the small 3/4" cubes a color of your choice and let them dry.

Step 23: Measure and Mark Cube Placement

While the cubes are drying, measure the wall thickness of the box that you have to find its inside corners. These are where the cubes will slide into when you place the board on the box. Flip the board upsidedown, and mark that distance away on each corner--effectively draw out where the inside corner of the box would be if you placed the board on top of it.

Step 24: Glue Cubes Down

Once the cubes are dry, Flip the board upside down and line them up with the marks you drew on the bottom. Glue down only the first one and clamp it down. Once it is dry, place the second one in the corner across the diagonal from the first. Flip the box upside down as well, and ensure that the box fits over the cubes. If it doesn't, shift the free cube more toward the center of the board, close the box over the board (all upside down) and tilt the entire thing toward the corner that the free cube should align with. Place the entire thing down, and slowly lift the box off the board, being careful not to disturb the free cube. Mark where the cube came to rest--if it didn't fit before, it will be slightly different than your original markings. Glue it and clamp it down in that spot. Do the same for the remaining two cubes.

Step 25: Coat Set With Finisher

Once all of the glue is dry, give the entire board and box a coating of wood finish so the paint doesn't chip away as easily. Make sure you use clear finish, or none of the paint will show up! I used clear, glossy finish to give the board a nice shine. Let this dry, and you're almost done!

Step 26: Play Chess!

Now your board and pieces are all ready--it's time to play chess with your own personalized chess set! If you don't know how to play chess...well, at least you have a chess board, so you can learn (here's a pretty helpful guide)! This was a really great build and I hope if you make one you have as much fun as I did! Have fun!

Homemade Gifts Contest 2015

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Homemade Gifts Contest 2015