Gun Shell Chess Set




This all started out because my girlfriend like to play chess and shooting guns, and her birthday was coming up. So naturally, I decided to make her a gun shell chess set.

Disclaimer, I didn't really plan on making an instructable for this, that is why there is not that many pictures as I would have wanted. I apologize for that. This is also my first instructable, so please bare with me.

Step 1: Design the Board

The hardest part for me was designing a layout that I actually liked. After many revisions, I finally settled for a simple flip open box with the chess board for the top. With this design, I had a place to keep the chess pieces when they were not in use with out the chance of them falling out or disappearing. Plus, in my option, the extra brass around the outside and through out the board make it look a lot cleaner. Below are the materials and tools needed. I have also attached my designs in a pdf and a dwg for your view pleasure.


  • 1 panel at 10.5" x 10.5" x 1"
  • 1 panel at 7.5" x 7.5" x 1"
  • 4 panels at 10.25" x 2.5" x 2.75"
  • 16 feet of brass square stock .125" x .125"
  • 2 Brass Hinges
  • 1 Magnet
  • 4 Bumpers
  • Darker Stain
  • Wood Puddy
  • Masking Tape
  • Clear drying Glue
  • Polyurethane Finish
  • Patina
  • Clear
  • 1/2" foam
  • Felt


  • Hand Saw With a Fine Tooth Blade
  • 1/4 Sheet Sander
  • Miter Box
  • Table Saw
  • Tape Measure
  • Square

Step 2: Cut the Boards and Begin Gluing

To start off, you'll want to size and square the boards. The easiest way to do this is to find a corner that is mostly square and mark that corner. That will be your reference corner. From there, you'll want to adjust your table saw stop to your overall length. When you start cutting, make sure that the reference corner is up against the table stop. Then rotate the board 90 degrees and make another pass. You'll want to do this for all the boards.

After everything has been squared up, the next step is to cut the grooves in the top for the brass inlay. For this part, it might be helpful to have a scrap board laying around to test the set up of your saw. First, made sure that the blade of the saw is little over an .125 tall. This will insure that you can fit your brass in the groove with glue. Then move the table saw stop in to the first outside dimension. I found the easiest way is to start from the outside and work your way in. in my case, it was 10.125" from the inside of the blade to the stop. Once you have ran your test board through, and it looks good, then move into the real top. After the first cut, rotate the board 90 degrees and run it through again and again and again until all 4 sides are done. Once you get the outside groove put in, then you'll want to move to your second row and repeat until the all the tiles are cut out.

Finally, you'll want to glue the sides onto the bottom panel together around the smaller rectangular board. Once this is done, you should have a box with a lid.

Step 3: Repair/ Finish the Wood

This is the second most tedious step while making the chess set. After everything is glued up, then you'll begin the finishing process. The first step is to inspect the entire box looking for anything that is damaged. If you have any, like most people will, you should probably fix it now. Once the finish is on, its really hard to fix it and make it look decent.

In my case, I wasn't paying to much attain to what I was doing and I chipped a corner pretty bad. I repaired the corner by using some good old fashion wood puddy and sanding!!! Woohooo, its so much fun!!!! (note the sarcasm)

After that, you'll want to sand the entire box with 100 grit and working up to 220. I put the top on the box to make sure to sand the top and bottom together. This is to ensure that the top does not overhang the bottom to much.

This next part is pretty important. I taped the entire top side of the actual chess board and cut out the tape from the tiles that I wanted to stain. Its key here to make sure that the tape is all covering all of the tiles. This will cut down the the stain bleeding through. After the stain has dried, then you can remove the tape and sand off any stain that bleed through.

Then its a simple stain and finish the rest of the boards. I used a dark walnut stain on my box with a polyurethane finish. I am pretty happy with how it turned out. The stain gives the board a greater contrast and a nicer look.

Step 4: Cut the Chess Pieces

This is the most tedious part of the entire process. Cutting the pieces out of the shells is extremely boring, but when they are done, it looks really nice. i started off by getting two pieces of scrap wood and cutting a small v in them length ways. It made hanging on to the pieces a lot easier when you are trying to cut them out. Basically for this, i marked out the shells the way I wanted them cut, and used a hand saw, with the a miter box, and began cutting out all the notices and lines. Alternatively, if you have a Dremel, this wont take too long, if only I had one...

After each of the 32 pieces has be cut, used some Goo Gone to clean each one. This is pretty important when it come so the patinaing. It also makes the not discolored shells look cleaner. I found some Patina at a local hobby shop, thank the lord the internet has shut them all down, and some clear. From there, its just following the instructions on the patina and spraying them with some sort of clear when then are done. The clear helps preserve the discoloration.

Step 5: Attach the Hardware

Finally, after the finish on the wood, and the clear on the brass has dried, you can install the hardware. I got some cheap aged brass hinges from Lowes for around $3 that blended well with my board. I would recommend drilling pilot holes in the wood before you begin screwing anything in. This is mostly so the wood will not split and ruin all your hard work. For the brass, I found that on amazon at a decent price. I started by cutting the brass for the outside edge and worked my way in. I choose to do a weaving pattern across with the brass. Personally, it was a lot of work, but it turned out quite well. I used clear glue, so once it dried, it wouldn't show.

On the inside well of the box, I put some foam down just to keep the shells from bouncing around. I had some scrap 1/2" pink foam that was the prefect size. The pink foam alone looked awful, so I then wrapped it with some black felt.

Finally, I put a small magnet on the inside of the board just to keep the top closed while it was being carried around. I probably would have used a latch of some kind, but I couldn't find one that I liked, or wasn't stupid hard to put in.

After that is done, the chess set is done, and ready for its inaugural game!



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    14 Discussions


    11 months ago

    In most states of Australia it is illegal to possess any ammunition that you are not licenced for - spent or not.
    ie, if you have no license you cannot have any shells at all
    if you are licenced for a 9mm and you have 1 x 45 shell you can be prosecuted.
    even if it was say 1 ejected shell that spat into your range bag and you didnt know about it - you could be prosecuted.


    Question 11 months ago

    hi, what caliber did you use? a zoom is not clear enough to make it out.

    British Badger

    5 years ago

    I live in Britain It would be against the law to have a gun here but Its allowed in The US Africa and Australia

    4 replies

    I dont know about Africa or Australia, but in the US, almost everyone is allowed to own a gun. I myself own a couple. I dont know what the laws are in Britian, but we can also buy just the shells for reloading purposes. So there is also that possibility for acquiring shells.

    British Badgerbalt2977

    Reply 5 years ago

    In Britain you have to have a liecense and even then you can only have a rifle


    Interesting. In Michigan, we need a permit to carry handguns and another permit to own any fully auto rifle/ really large gun. Other than that, pretty much anyone can own a rifle, shotgun, or handgun.

    Just out of curiosity, is hunting not that big of a deal in Britain?


    Because of British pride you cant hunt most native animals eg





    But people do hunt bird like pigeons


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Some of the places we go, do not allow live ammunition. As, live ammo is pretty expensive right now.


    5 years ago

    why didn't you just use different caliber bullets and leave them in one piece?

    william thomson

    5 years ago

    Do you have a gun if you do it is illegal?


    5 years ago

    Great idea. Looks good