Life Size Chess Piece Materials
January 3, 2007 3:28 PM   Subscribe

What should I use to make life-size chess pieces?

My fiancee and I were recently in Vienna and we stayed at a hostel with a life-size chess board and had one of the most relaxing afternoons of our lives. In an effort to capture that feeling, we decided to build a giant chessboard on the patio of our lower east side apartment. We used nine 3' x 3' thin rubber squares and painted 64 purple and chartreuse squares on a 9' square board. Because we now have 8 squares across 9 feet, each square is 13.5" square.

Now the question is what to use for pieces. I'm leaning towards elaborately welded towers of scrap metal, but since I don't know where to get scrap metal, or how to weld, I'd settle for something about 3ft tall with a 12" x 12" base that's steady, heavyish and spray-paintable. And ideally, these would need to have some ability to have poles or signs or something coming out of the top of them to indicate which pieces are which.

We were leaning plungers for pawns and traffic cones for the other pieces, but plungers are too short and traffic cones have bases that are too wide. Also, they don't really have the Mad Max look I was going for.

Also, let's not forget that we have to buy 32 of whatever these are, so we're trying to keep the price down. Any thoughts from the wisdom of the crowds?
posted by pokeydonut to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Newspaper and wallpaper paste is cheap. If you do it right, it's more durable than you'd think. You can sand it. Takes paint great. Can even seal it wth shellac. Make initial armatures out of taped-together cardboard (for the sake of uniformity), papier mache over it.
posted by RavinDave at 3:43 PM on January 3, 2007

Not mad maxish or cheap but the full set.
posted by b33j at 3:46 PM on January 3, 2007

You probably know this already but you can buy Giant Chess Pieces.

But for the homemade / Mad Max / Low cost look...

Garden gnomes vs. pink flamingos?

Bird baths? Bird feeders? This might do double duty in a garden.
posted by bondcliff at 3:48 PM on January 3, 2007

Coat racks? Wooden ones, so it'll be easy to chop the tops off. But it could be pricey.

Wood working is easier than welding, so you could pile up a bunch of scrap wood instead of metal.
posted by RobotHero at 3:50 PM on January 3, 2007

Inflatable bop bags or other figures. E.G.

Justice League

Hercules the mighty warrior

And so on.
posted by amtho at 3:58 PM on January 3, 2007

You could also use large cardboard boxes, sealed and weighted, then decorated to look like your favorite people. Or use children's cheap halloween costumes to decorate them (or any other apparatus you might have).

Also: cheap (used? thrift store?) lamps; andirons (probably expensive); potted plants.

I love the idea of using potted plants, but that's just me.
posted by amtho at 4:01 PM on January 3, 2007

Have lots of children.

Alternatively, have one or two very popular children. Then have "Alice in Wonderland"-theme parties for them. You could camouflage the chess game as Simon Says - "Simon Says rook to E4!"

How about that expanding foam stuff? Make a mold and fill 'er up. Then you could paint it, or leave as-is for some sort of deformed marshmallow people.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:02 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Plywood profiles with pieces of 4 x 4's bolted on each side for the base. Or two profiles that intersect at right angles. Cheap untreated wood left to the elements would look mad-maxish.

You could accomplish this with a jig saw and a power drill, but it'd be faster if you also had a band saw and a router (especially for the 16 pawns). What tools do you have access to? Are you handy or all thumbs? If you signed up for a basic woodworking/metalworking class you could do some really neat stuff.
posted by hydrophonic at 4:13 PM on January 3, 2007

stainless steel / white enamel trash cans .
posted by hortense at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2007

If you're intent on doing this yourself, might I suggest using large PVC pipe sections and fittings? PVC pipe comes in black and white, is dirt cheap, durable, and easy to work with.

You have to be a little creative on some of the designs (the knight being the biggest challenge), but you'll get a nice deco feel from the pieces. For knights, hit up ebay or thrift shops to try to find plastic hobby horses, which you should be able to decapitate and glue onto pvc and paint.
posted by plinth at 4:42 PM on January 3, 2007

You can get scrap metal from your local dump, and this sounds like an absolutely ideal project to take on for a learning welder. Go for it!

Alternatively, arm yourself with a load of scrap roofing iron, snips, a drill with a screwdriver bit, and a bag of self drilling metal screws.
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 PM on January 3, 2007

PVC pipe is indeed dirt cheap, but the fittings aren't, so much. Even keeping it down to two fittings per piece, with 32 pieces to make you'd be hard pressed to come in much under the price of the commercial set that b33j linked to.
posted by flabdablet at 4:54 PM on January 3, 2007

Stryrofoam. You can carve it into whatever whimsical shape you want, and then paint it. Best to get a shitload of blue insulation panels, hot-glue them to get a 12" thickness, and then cut into blocks. You'll need a hot-wire cutter.
posted by adamrice at 7:26 PM on January 3, 2007

An electric knife also works well with styrofoam.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:38 PM on January 3, 2007

Styrofoam is difficult to paint, because most paints will dissolve the foam.

Plywood profiles with pieces of 4 x 4's bolted on each side for the base. Or two profiles that intersect at right angles. Cheap untreated wood left to the elements would look mad-maxish.
Something like this is the best idea. If you are ever likely to want to move and take them with you, you could use the intersecting profiles idea and they can be slid apart and flat-packed. You didn't say whether the patio is covered or not, which will affect wht you can use. Also, how windy is it? If you use something light, is it likely to blow away and cause a traffic accident six blocks down the street?

The plywood idea seems to cover pretty much all bases - light enough to move easily, heavy enough to be safe, resistant to weather (as long as you use exterior ply), easy enough to make with limited tools and some imagination.
posted by dg at 8:05 PM on January 3, 2007

I bet I'm not alone in hoping that you'll photograph the process and post back when you're done!
posted by ceri richard at 1:41 AM on January 4, 2007

Please, learn to weld. It's not that hard. This sounds so cool, and I haven't the space to do it.

If you don't need serious strength, shitty welds will do. You can probably get the scrap from a car wreckers, and bashing some sheets of old car into appropriate shapes would be fun.
posted by pompomtom at 3:36 AM on January 4, 2007

Clay pots glued mouth to mouth and painted. You can stack up to 4 or 5 pots depending on size. I would weight the bottommost pot for stability and put them all on casters or rolling pot stands. You could probably use plastic pots, but I don't know about painting them?
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 8:53 AM on January 4, 2007

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