Introduction: Tabletop-to-vertical Convertible Chessboard

About: I'm an engineer and biologist in LA. I'm pretty chill.

The inspiration for this project was the desire to build a chessboard that could operate both vertically and on a tabletop. My brother enjoys playing correspondence chess, so I thought he'd like a vertical, wall-mounted chessboard so he could play slow games like correspondence chess with me, his roommates, or visitors to his house. Often, though, if we have a game going on when we meet up, he suggests setting up our current layout on a conventional board and playing through. This inspired me to make a vertical board that could easily be converted for tabletop play mid-game.

To accomplish this, the board is simply lifted off a wall and laid flat. The pieces fall over, but remain on their spaces. The shelf assembly is removed and placed underneath the board to get it out of the way and give the board a bit of height off the table. Pieces need to be set upright, but other than that, they are in the same places as before and the game can proceed on a table.

Although I'm pleased with the outcome, I have plenty of suggestions for things I'd do differently, which I'll mention as they come up.

This took me ~ 30 hours of hands-on work because I didn't know what I was doing. It could probably be done in 20 or less if I were following this guide. I'd rate it as moderate difficulty because pieces need to fit together and it requires some precision for drilling and staining. It cost roughly $120 total: $45 for the stains, paint, brushes, cups, tape, hanging fixtures, and screws: $40 for the wood; and.$35 to print and coat the pieces.


24" x 24" x 1/2" thick wood board

18" x 1 1/2" x 1/4" thick wooden slats, x 18

~or~ 18" wide, 3/16" thick board, sufficent to cut out 18 slats 1 1/2" wide

Two different stains, a dark and a light

Urethane finish

Chalkboard paint (optional)

Sawtooth picture hangers

Round-head wood screws


Laser cutter (preferred)

Jigsaw and wood chisel (what I used, second choice)


Dremel rotary tool

Brushes and cleaning cups

Masking tape



Sliding clamps, 18" or more

A ruler (18" preferred)

Sand paper, various grit

Step 1: Stain Your Board

On a proper chessboard, the bottom right square is black. I messed this up. I doesn't matter if you don't mind the black boarders being at the top and bottom, but I meant for them to be on the sides. Oh well.

My board had 2" squares. I measured with my ruler, marked the wood, and laid the grid out with tape. I applied dark stain and let it absorb, then wiped off the excess with a rag and repeated several times. Once dry, I peeled off the tape and repeated for the squares which were covered by the tape. Once I had my dark squares, I applied a light stain so that the light squares wouldn't look like raw unfinished wood.

I was surprised by how light the dark stain was. Ultimately, it didn't matter too much. I think it looks alright. Still, this was a lesson in the complexities of staining. The final color depends heavily on how absorbent the wood is and what kind of stains are used. You can apply it heavier, but it will bleed under the tape. You may want to find a different guide for making a great chessboard if you're looking for a professional look. Look up tips, consult or use test pieces if you want to get a better result than mine.

Once both stains were applied, I covered the whole board -- besides the borders I was going to paint -- in several coats of urethane finish. There are many alternative finishes that will give a glossier finish. Again, google, consult /r/finishing. It's not as glossy as I expected, but it's definitely smooth and glossy enough.

Step 2: Build the Shelf Assembly

In this step, I cut out notches in the slats, then fit the slats together to make the shelf assembly that will attach to and detach from the board. This was somewhat time consuming and a bit stressful, but whatever wood I grabbed was a good choice, because it was soft enough to forgive mistakes.

I cut my slats by measuring, cutting with a jigsaw, and then removing the cut wood with a chisel. Looking back, this could probably be done faster, easier, and with more precision with a laser cutter. It might require thinner wood, but this would be a benefit anyway. I think it'd look better with thinner wood slats

The slats were laid flat on a table. Any slats which were not sitting level were removed and sanded until all the slats could be evenly fitted and sit flat on the table. Some slats required a bit of gentle hammering with the heal of my hand. Once in place, the slats were glued together using a cotton swab and wood glue.

After being fit together, the slats must be bound on all four sides. The corners need to meet at square dowels. This is because the shelf assembly is attached to the board using screws at each corner, and the slats are not wide enough to receive the screws. The dowels at the corners provide thicker material for the screws to screw into.

The outside slats were attached to the latice with glue and small nails, and the corner dowels were glued to the ends of the outer slats.

Step 3: Optional -- Paint the Border

I masked and painted a border on each side in black chalkboard paint. The intention was to make little chalkboards where players could write each move. This is important because, at least for me and my brother, it's hard to remember how the game got to its current state, and it's hard to play effectively without knowing what moves brought the game to its current layout.

Chalk is too crude, though. Just hang a nice pad of paper or a whiteboard next to the board. Skip the paint. It also didn't bond well, so some of it peeled off. After I noticed this, I laid my ruler over the paint so that I could peel off the masking tape without pulling up the paint, but the best solution is to just not paint the borders.

Step 4: Drill the Holes to Mount the Shelf Assembly

Next, the shelf assembly was laid on the board in its desired final position. Masking tape was used to mark the edges of the dowels. When the shelf assembly was lifted, the center points for each corner were marked and drilled. These holes were sized to be large enough that the shaft of the screw could fit through the hole, but not the head.

The shelf assembly is attached and detached by passing the screw heads through holes large enough to accommodate them, then sliding the shelf assembly laterally. To accomplish this, a second set of larger holes sized to the screw heads were drilled 3/4" offset from the four holes just drilled.

Before connecting the large holes and their corresponding small holes, I screwed the screws into each of the four corners of the shelf assembly. The wood screws were screwed into the dowels, leaving enough screw sitting out so as to pass through the wood board (in this case, a half inch). This allowed me to confirm that the corner screws were aligned to my pass-through holes. Once this was confirmed, I drilled another set of holes between the two holes and then milled out the wood between the holes so that the whole shelf assembly could slide without too much effort.

Step 5: Attach Hanging Brackets

I wanted hanging brackets that had a low profile, so I used saw-toothed picture hanging brackets. I placed two of them at opposite ends of the top edge. I placed two at the opposite edge so that the board would lay flat against the wall. I also positioned a set so that my brother could hang the board in two configurations at 90 degrees to one another. Make sure that when your board is hung, gravity is pulling the shelf assembly away from the pass-through holes.

Step 6: Make Peices

Chess pieces are typically much taller than they are wide. I could've bought conventional chess pieces to fit within this height, but they'd be quite small. Visually, this disrupts the aesthetics a lot, and when you use the same pieces with the board laid flat, they are so small relative to the board that it's a distraction.

The solution is to use low profile chess pieces. I found a set of that I liked: "Low profile Thingiversal Chess Set - Primordial" by Trezhunter. I really like these because the pieces are all easy to identify. The queen is a bust of a woman and the king is a miniature of Ned Stark sitting in the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones. You might also want to check out Bauhaus chess sets, which are angular and minimalist. I considered making the pieces symmetrical cubes so that I didn't need to right them after tipping the board, but preferred to go with something more traditional. I had this set printed through with a 50 micron step size and an XTC print coating. The cost was $35 for the set. Don't forget to order an extra queen for each side.

With the pieces done, just hammer nails into a sturdy wall and hang the board. I suggest hanging a pad of paper with a pen or a whiteboard with a marker next to it to keep track of moves. Enjoy!

Woodworking Contest 2017

Participated in the
Woodworking Contest 2017