Cybergeek's DIY Chess Set




The how-to of the chess set I made.

Step 1: The Initial Plotting

So, back in 2007, I decided I'd make a friend of mine a chess set for Christmas. This, however, would be no ordinary chess set. No, this chess set would rock her socks right off, given half a chance.

The first thing I needed to do was decide how big I wanted to make the board, so I could plot out how big to make the pieces and such. I was trying to decide between having each square be 1.5" and 1.25" to a side - the red outline in the picture would, of course, be for the 1.5" squares. I'm pretty proud of how I did this (graph paper is your friend, folks!), especially with the overlapping and such.

Step 2: Piece-planning

Having decided that I'd go for a square-size of 1.25" per side, I now had to decide how I'd build up my pieces. I've made one of these sets before, so all the really difficult thought processes were handled - all I really needed to do was to map it out for myself.

And so I did.

(I may have adjusted some of these heights later on. I can't quite remember. Damn you, lousy medium-term-memory!)

I realize that it's silly to draw out a box for each and every piece since, in theory at least, all of a given group (i.e. pawns) will end up being the same size. I did it anyway to help myself keep track of what I'd done, and where, and such.

Step 3: Supplies!

I went and got stuff - and a LOT of it.

I purchased:
1x 12"x12" (OR SO THEY CLAIMED! (more on that later) ) x0.5" wooden board
16x Acorn nut
1x box of like 70 hex nuts
32x washers
32x flange nuts
4x slotted nuts
4x wing nuts
4x drywall anchors
4x finials (again, more on that later)
5x 4"x10"x0.008" sheets of, tin I think.
4x large flat angle brackets
4x smaller vertical angle brackets
1x 24"x12" piece of plexiglass
2x threaded rods @ 3' long x 0.25" diameter, 20-thread
1x bottle of superglue
2x Piece that I can never remember the name of - I'll highlight one in a future step
2x whiz nuts
1x can of metallic-fleck blue spray paint
4x flat metal pieces with holes pre-punched in 'em
24x flat-headed screws (not talking about slotted vs phillips here, I mean the actual head of the screw is flat. Not rounded, or hex-y, or whatnot.)
32x hex-headed slotted screws

I already had on hand:

a vise
a hacksaw
sharpies in red and black
1x can of sterling silver spray paint
4' of metal edging
a power drill with assorted bits
a centering punch
an industrial strength (not even kidding) paper cutter. Seriously, this thing could cut your leg off without a lot of effort. Plus it's like 2 feet square, weighs like a ton. Trust me, you'd know if you had one.

Step 4: Construction Begins!

Okay! We has the stuff, we now can begin the FUN part! Wheee!

First thing I did was sketch out on the board whereabouts my actual tiles would be going. I honestly kinda dig how that turned out, in and of itself. Very minimalist, kinda modernish (I think; I'm not an art major). Note that there is, in fact, a border around the edge of the board. Those of you with fast memories will recall that I decided to go with 1.25" squares, and have a board that claims to be 12"x12". Those of you with fast math skills have already realized that 1.25 * 8 = 10, not 12. Thus, I've got about an inch all around the outside of my board.

Funny story (well, not really, but it's important): Ace Hardware sells me this board, says it's a foot to a side. Being the trusting, naive guy that I can be, I take them at their word. Turns out, the board's actually something like 11-and-13/16 inches by 11-and-15/16 inches. It doesn't SOUND like a whole lot of difference, but it's enough to possibly throw a monkey wrench into our plots. Long story short: MEASURE THE STUFF YOU'RE BUYING!

The more you know.

Step 5: The Saga Continues...

Next thing to do is make the bases for the pieces. Each piece (except the queens) has an identical base - namely, a flange nut superglued to a washer.

To ensure that the washers and nuts were minimally offset from each other, I devised a spiffy solution: I put all the washers onto a long 1/4" 20-thread bolt I found laying around the workshop, with one of the wingnuts underneath them. Then I would thread a flange nut down onto the bolt, apply the superglue, stick 'em together, and - and this is important - move the STACK away from the new base-piece.

It's important to clarify that because of two things: 1) Superglue and torque don't get along well, especially when the superglue is still bonding (even if it HAS, in fact, been at least 10 seconds, I found out, superglue can take a while to solidify), and 2) Superglue and your fingers *do* get along well. Very well. Painfully well, if you catch my meaning.

By moving the stack away from the base piece, we can ensure that no undue torque is inflicted upon the still-drying superglue, and we can also ensure that our fingers don't get bonded to the damn thing.

Step 6: The Armies Begin to Take Shape!

Here's where the fun really starts.

I took the threaded rods I purchased and lined 'em up on the graph paper that I had the piece-length outlines on. Using a sharpie, I marked off which threads to cut between (note: if you're not planning on painting your pieces after they're finished, y'might wanna use something not so...permanent. Just a thought. :D ). Many scorched fingertips (metal gets REALLY hot when you saw through it. Go figure.) and sore arm muscles later , I had the cut rods for my pieces. The image below is a mock-up of how I was planning to make 'em look. They are, from left to right, Rook, Knight, Bishop, King v1, King v2, and pawn.

At this point, I wasn't sure how I wanted to do the kings - I ended up going with the v1 style. I also changed the rook design a bit. It's hard to see in the picture, but the original idea was to have the hex-nut-stack that the rook is composed of alternate so that one layer's side would be below the next layer's corner, etc. I ended up just making them all align the same, as it was much easier and cleaner-looking.

That piece I'm using for the bishop's head there is actually a brass piece from a lamp we used to have. I ended up not being able to find that exact thing anywhere, and went with finials instead. They look almost identical, but finials can be found, whereas the brass whats-its are not quite so findable.

Step 7: Avengers, Assemble!

After much manufacturing and painting, here's how the pieces look together. I put them on the flat sheets of metal that I'd previously spray-painted one side of with Krylon's Sterling Silver paint (we ran out and need to get more. Gah.), with a couplea squares of metal with the blue paint on 'em for an idea of how the board will look when it's more completed-er.

In order, the Kings, Queens, Bishops, Knights, Rooks, and Pawns:

Step 8: I'm Board....

Heh. Board.

Anyhoo. Now that the pieces are good to go, we can set our sights on the board. My plan is to have the main board be four (maybe five, depending on how you count) layers deep - the wood plank on the bottom, then have that entirely covered by 4 sheets of silver-painted metal (they come in 4"x10" sheets, I've got 12"x12" to cover, you do the math) and the individual blue-painted squares on top of that, then the plexiglass cover, and the large/flat angle brackets on top of THAT.

Then, since that is clearly not enough, around the outside of the board is going to be a thin metal frame, with L-brackets ("corner braces", I think is what the store called 'em) on the corners, and, flattened corner braces(?) in the middle.

Here's how the board looks now, without being done at all (cos it's not) - note that the red sharpie lines are on the plastic COVERING the plexiglass; they will not stay on the plexiglass once that has been taken off:

I later ditched the "four sheets cut into pieces" idea in favor of a "one biiiiiiiig sheet" for the layer immediately on top of the board.  More on that later.

Step 9: More Board

First thing to do is futz with the frame. Why? Because I'm writing this, and that's how I decided to do it.

The edging that I used does not, of course, come pre-bent. It comes, in fact, in a rather decidedly *un-bent* shape. So, what we do is, put the board in the edging, rotate the board three - NOT four - times (four rotations would give five sides, you see), and cut at the far end. Then, carefully indicate where your corners are going to be, and cut the frame so that you have a 90-degree angle positioned 45 degrees away from both edges (looks kinda like this:  _\ /_ ). In other words, you want to be able to bend your frame 90 degrees and have the corners look natural.

After cutting and bending, here's what we've got:

Step 10: I've Been Framed!

Next step is to mark on the frame where you're going to drill holes to hold the brackets and braces and what-have-you. My solution: put the corner brace on the frame (like, hold it there), and trace the circle or make an "x" in it or something. Remember, we're gonna be painting over all of this later, and even if you decide not to, you're going to end up DRILLING OUT that X or circle, so don't worry about it affecting the end product too much.

After you've got your holes marked, get a centering punch (makes little dents in otherwise smooth finishes that drill bits can center themselves in), and punch in the center of the marks. I found that I got much better results if I did this while the brace or bracket or whatever was still in place, since they don't like holding on too well. (The braces have rounded corners, whereas the frame's got more squared-off corners).

Then, get a couplea high-grip clamps, and a piece of scrap wood that is AT LEAST A LITTLE THICKER THAN THE FRAME. I capitalized that cos it's important. Put the frame on the wood so that the area you're gonna be drilling is on the wood, and clamp both frame and wood down onto the table that you're drilling on top of. Use a drill bit that is equal in size to the hole in the bracket that's already there, and have at it! I found it immensely helpful when drilling the corner holes to use a nut and bolt (nut on the outside) to actually hold one of the braces in place, to help with the positioning of the other 3 holes. They don't have to be perfectly centered, but the closer to it that you can get, the better.

Here's how my setup looked during the side-hole-cutting-outing:

Step 11: Egads! Progress!

After you get your holes drilled, I found it was very handy to grab the next size up drill bit and manually scrape off the burrs (on both sides) from the drilling-out. Also, test to make sure your screws actually *fit* in the holes you've drilled for 'em - they don't need to slide in and out seamlessly, but you should be able to use a screwdriver to get them in.

THEN, you're going to want to check and make sure your brackets and braces and such still fit on the frame. You may need to flip the braces around 180 degrees (I know not why) to get 'em to work optimally, but when you're finished, you should be able to do something like this:

Step 12: Further Board Progression

Next step is to drill the holes in the plexiglass that the screws will go through. Note: You *have* to drill slowly, or you'll crack the plexiglass, and that's just not fun. What I did was I used the extra plexiglass I hadn't thrown away yet (or recycled or whatever I end up doing with it) to test how fast I was able to go through. The drill press in the basement is an awesome thing to have for this step.

After you get your holes drilled, trace 'em onto the board with a pencil, as shown in the 2nd photo.

Step 13: STEP OF DOOM!

Next thing to do is to pre-drill a hole for each screw in the board itself. You want it to be a very small hole, since screws can dig their own way in if they need to. Basically, you want the drill bit to be about as big as the screw MINUS THE THREADS. This is important enough that I made a separate step, with just one picture for it.

And so of course, the picture sucks. Such is life.

Step 14: Almost Done With the Board!

Last step on this part of the board (i.e. not the frame part) before we put the squares on is to get the screws in their holes. Layer up the wood, plexi, and angle brackets, and screw 'em on in. Note that in the pictures, I've used the hex-head screws instead of the flat-head screws I mentioned back in step 3 or so - I found out that I kind of fail at aiming, and the screws wouldn't be able to lie flush with the brackets. Rather than have a board where the screws are obviously trying to be level but failing, I figured I'd just use the hex-headed screws instead. Make it look all intentional. I'm clever like that.

Also, the first picture for this step shows the industrial-strength paper cutter I mentioned before. It's the green thing the board is on. Remember, the wood block is about a foot square. o.O

Step 15: Final Preparations

Last thing that needs doing before I can actually, you know, MAKE the thing, is the painting needs to be finished. In the first image below, you'll notice that I've gone and made a nifty little holder-upper-thingy for my angle brackets. I realized AFTER the fact that the outer edges were gonna be covered by the frame, and that the INNER edges were what needed to be painted. Mutter grumble grr.

The blue squares are also getting their paint in this step; you can make a few of 'em out to the left of the bracket-holder.

For those who were curious about how the frame would get painted, I included a picture of the apparatus I made for that too. (Stiff wire counts as an apparatus, right? ....Right?)

If you're concerned about the obvious excess of paint visible on the floor and pipe in the top picture, don't be - all spray painting has taken place in the coal chute room. Yes, my folks' house is old enough that it has a coal chute. And no insulation. >.>

Step 16: Final Preparations, Part 2 - Aerosol Fumes Are My Frie- I CAN TASTE COLORS

Now all that's left to do is the clear-coating! For this step, I set up a mini-table in a separate room of the basement with a board and two sawhorses - I needed to be able to get all sides of the pieces with one spray, and not worry about missing undersides or what-not due to angles, and the low-to-the-ground boards I'd been using for the spray painting just wouldn't cut it. The reason I'm bothering with the clear coat at all is that I've noticed that the blue paint is prone to chipping. The silver paint might be too, but at least with the silver, it's still silver underneath. Much harder to see.

In any case, for those of you who intend to make your own sets, if you use the clear coat, please don't do what I did and do it in the basement. You want a WELL VENTILATED AREA. Trust me on this.

After viewing the photos, it's kinda hard to see that the pieces have been clearcoated - trust me though, the difference is MUCH more visible in person.

Step 17: Board Creation, Ahoy!

Finally, it is time to construct the board! Huzzah!

I epoxied the blue squares onto a 10"x10" sheet o' metal that I'd spray-painted silver, and let that sit for about 8 hours or so. Once it was done, I unwrapped the plexiglass cover and put that on top, then screwed on the angle brackets.

After that, I put the corner braces on the frame, followed by the flat braces. The results can be seen below.

While the epoxy was drying, I grabbed this really awesome case that my dad gave me (after he removed the lock from the top/front of it) for the project and some high-density foam. I cut off blocks of foam to pad the sides of the case where the board sits, and cut slits in another piece for the pieces to sit in.

Step 18: Final Result

Last thing we did was grab some stick-on felt and put that on the bottoms of the pieces so that they can't scratch the plexiglass all to hell. That'd suck.

Here's the end result before the pieces got felted - thanks for tagging along!



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    43 Discussions


    3 years ago

    what are the Piece that you can never remember the name of

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Oh wow, this thing is still alive! Okay, um... if I remember correctly, and I make no promises on that (it has, after all, been 8-almost-9 years), I was referring to the pieces that make up the bodies of the queens. Unfortunately, I *still* have no idea what they're actually called, but I'm confident that if you brought a picture of said queens in to a hardware store, someone would be able to pick them out of a lineup.

    Best of luck, and sorry I couldn't be more helpful!


    3 years ago

    I'm looking for a chess set for my daughter - one w can make together - you have just inspired me - this is so cool thanks


    The answer that took 3 years to come is, sadly, not that great:

    If she'd liked it, I'd have done so. She, however... well, was less than thrilled. Apparently despite being a lover of board games, she despised chess.

    Also, we broke up, so there's that.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    As someone who isn't a massive chess fan I would still feel honoured to have a geeky boyfriend who put the effort and thought into making something as awesome as that for me. Congratulations on a project well executed.

    Omni DIY

    9 years ago on Introduction

     Awesome! I just made an aluminum foundry and now I know what to do with it! Great instructable :)


    I love this style of project.  Loved the write up! 
    Rock-on cottage industry (style) projects!!!!


    10 years ago on Step 18

    Wow, your girlfriend is a pretty lucky woman. :P

    qon duixote

    10 years ago on Introduction

    excellent project I really liked how clean the final product looked in the case. I'm in need of a chess set while overseas and I can't bring myself to buy a boring old plastic one, this looks like a good project. A carpenter's rule of thumb, wood from a lumber yard is almost always shorter than they claim (that's what she said). It's a result of the width of the cutting tools, usually it's just as easy as asking for lumber cut to size if you don't have your own equipment, but I recommend bringing your own tape measure to the store for most projects

    1 reply

    10 years ago on Introduction

    This looks rally cool. I think the peices needed to be filled out more like with nuts all up and down, they look really skinny. this whole thing loks like its part of a contemperary art exhibit. you could have masked off the metal plates and cut the squares out of the tape then painted the metal instead of the squares being a separate material.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Cool! I would make one, but I stink at chess (And yet I'm a nerd. Kinda ironic.).


    10 years ago on Step 18

    Great Instructable, Had me laughing. I'd make my own, but I'd porbably end up forgetting a certain vital part.. 5/5