After using a standard wooden chess board for the past 10 years, I decided that it might be a good time to upgrade to a more durable set. I wanted to create something that would last my entire life and reflect my individuality. The process and steps I will lay out below can easily be followed by someone who wants to make their own board with a different theme or can be modified to create more intricate designs.
Some quick notes before we get to the steps based on my experience making this board. First, definitely use 1/8" tile spacers. This will keep the board even and it takes the guessing out of spacing the tiles appropriately. Second, try to use tiles that have a similar thickness. Trying to make the board flat and work the grout between the tiles can be a headache if you don't. Third, if you are using a simple design, or have a vinyl cutter for more complex ones, use vinyl instead of painting the image. The ones I painted look OK, but you will have a more consistent look if you apply vinyl over the tiles. Lastly, make sure there is enough grout between the tiles. You can see some cracking already in the finished project and it doesn't look as good as it could.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- 64 2”x2” Mosaic Tiles (32 white and 32 dark)
- 2’x4’ plywood ¼” thick
- Sanded adhesive & grout
- Computer paper
- Gold oil-based Sharpie marker
- Masking tape
- V-notch trowel
- Radial saw
- Putty knife
- X-ACTO knife
- Source of warm water
- Paper cutter
Step 2: Creating the Board
Warning: Wear protective glasses gloves and earplugs while using saw. Be mindful of where your hands are while cutting the board to avoid injuries or a trip to the emergency room.
Use a radial saw to cut a piece of plywood that is 17 1/8 inches wide and 17 1/8 inches long. This will be the base that you bind the tiles to. The reason for this dimension is because you want 1/8” of space between tile and on the outside edge of both sides. The tiles side by side are 16”x16” and the spacing adds the extra 1 and 1/8”. After picking the color scheme that you want to use for the board, remove every other light tile from the webbed backing and replace with the dark ones to create a checkered appearance. Set aside the unused tiles to use for replacements (or another board).
Step 3: Binding the Tile to Board
Using the trowel, apply the adhesive/grout mixture to the plywood board. You want to do this like you were spreading frosting on a cake and try to keep the adhesive to about 1/8” thick. Use the V-notched side and lightly drag across the mixture. Place the tiles attached to the webbing onto the board with the light tile being on the bottom right corner. Apply some mortar onto the dark tiles and place with 1/8” of space between them and the light tiles. Repeat the process until you have all the tile in place with 8 per column and 8 per row. Make sure the surface is level and let sit overnight. The next day, use the putty knife and work in the grout diagonally at a 45-degree angle starting from the top left of the board. Make sure to pack tight so there are no shrinkage cracks after the grout dries. Wipe off excess material with a wet sponge and towels.
*I used a metal putty knife which worked fine but I would suggest using a plastic one so you don't scratch the tile and can apply more force to make the grout compact without worrying about damage.*
Step 4: Painting the Design Onto Tile
Search for the image that you want to paint onto the white tiles on Google. I searched for the Triforce symbol from the Legend of Zelda video games. Save the image and insert into a Word document. Under the format tab you go into the crop section and set the dimensions you want for the image. I used 1.75” length and 1.75” height. Copy and paste this image as much as you can throughout the document and print. Use the paper cutter to get each image separated and use the X-ACTO knife (project knife) to remove the outside triangles. Be careful to leave enough paper so the middle triangle stays attached. Use the masking tape and center the image on the tile. Last use the Sharpie marker to color in the triangles and repeat until all the white tiles have the image.
*I got about halfway through before I realized that the white tile wasn't in the bottom right like it is suppose to be. The image should be rotated 90 degrees to the right to be done correctly.*
Step 5: Final Thoughts and Enjoying Your Finished Board
After everything is dried you have a new, durable chess board to use. Bust out those old wooden pieces or get more creative and 3D print or sculpt some new ones to go with your themed board. You could also buy the Zelda-themed chess board that is sold online and in stores to acquire these pieces, but it costs $50 so it might not be worthwhile.
My original plan was to use some etching cream like Armour Etch to engrave the design into the tile. After a few attempts and failures, I decided to just go with the painting method. I was using the computer paper as a stencil and probably should have used vinyl. Either way it didn't work like I wanted and might try this method on dark, glossy tiles the next time I do this.
Also, try to get plywood that is as flat as possible. The one I bought was bowed and contributed to problems with making the board level. When I do this again and the board turns out better I would like to add a wooden border with paneling to insert the plywood into.