Really large chess piece ideas? For large backyard chessboard.
May 23, 2007 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I am constructing a large backyard chessboard, but can't decide from what to create the pieces. Ideas?

I thought about using lawn gnomes for at least the pawns, and painting them all special in black/white schemes, but it turns up they seem a bit expensive (unless you know of a good place to find hollow plastic lawn gnomes en masse). I'd rather not mess with resin.

The workable area is appx 20 ft x 20 ft, meaning room enough for 29" squares, but that may be a skosh large depending on what I use for the pieces. It's gotta be something light enough for a preteen to move, but not fall over in the wind. The tiles will be flat/level concrete (tinted in a checkerboard pattern, of course).

I'd ideally like to have each group (pawns, knights, etc) all be the same item but colored differently (which I can do myself) but doesn't necessarily have to be a specific scheme between groups (such as all being some kind lawn ornament).

I'm not positive where the picture comes from that I was inspired by to make this board, possibly the back cover of a Monkees or Beatles album, but I just always thought it would be cool to make one, and I've got the space for it (and lots of friends who play chess, incidentally).
posted by Quarter Pincher to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Traffic cones?
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:39 AM on May 23, 2007

I'd've thought actual over-sized chesspieces would be cheaper than gnomes... plus a whole lot less hassle. Even carving pieces out of chunks of wood isn't going to be cheap if you have to buy the wood.
posted by pompomtom at 7:42 AM on May 23, 2007

This site has traffic cones at reasonable prices in a number of different colors! Yay!
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:44 AM on May 23, 2007

Lamps? The same tall base with different lampshades to designate the pieces?

What's your budget? Are you interested in altering the object shapes at all with, say, paper mache?
posted by underwater at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2007

Do they need to be 3-d sculptures? If not, cut the shapes out of plywood and rig cross-pieces onto the bases for feet.

Otherwise, these guys will sell you a set of giant chess pieces for about $500.
posted by notyou at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2007

Play checkers instead.
posted by Leon at 7:47 AM on May 23, 2007

1) What about pink lawn flamingos? There are a variety of heights and price ranges, so you can make more variation than just "color." (Frankly, I think flamingo headwear will be the next big thing in chess.)

They could be stood on a grass or dirt play area, be stood in concrete tiles with an appropriate hole in the middle, or have added stands.

2) potted plants. Avoid cactus.
posted by whatzit at 7:50 AM on May 23, 2007

Fun costumes for you and 31 of your closest friends?
posted by jozxyqk at 7:50 AM on May 23, 2007

lots of friends who play chess

Do you have 32 of them? Tell them to come over wearing a black or white tshirt, and put them all in appropriate hats.
posted by yohko at 7:51 AM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Pawns: Cheap lawn chairs.
Knights: Pink flamingoes.
Bishops: drink holders (those “stick-it-in-the-dirt” skewer things that have a spiral on top with which to hold your drink)
Rooks: Bird baths
Queen: Some sort of garden ornament
King: Weber kettle grill
posted by bondcliff at 7:57 AM on May 23, 2007

I disagree with the poster above. I think pot Cacti would be awesome. Just get the tamer varieties with less lethal spikes, and put them into large pots. This definitely won't be something you'll be using everyday, and spiky plants are just cool.

I can see this getting pretty expensive too though.
posted by BeaverTerror at 8:12 AM on May 23, 2007

Meetup at Quarter Pinchers house!

I do foresee a problem with no one wanting to be a pawn though.
posted by yohko at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2007

Queen: Some sort of garden ornament
Clearly the wooden cutout of the woman bending over showing old-school bloomers.

BeaverTerror: Fine, get your cacti. What position do the carnivorous plants take?
posted by whatzit at 8:28 AM on May 23, 2007

Response by poster: The girlfriends of the r/k/b/k/q can be pawns, as they are less likely (trust me) to be interested enough to want to stand there for a whole game. Bonus: cat fight. Perhaps I should release a DVD of this event.

As for checkers, I'm sure I could find enough same-colored floaty toys for adequate use (and more compact storage).

Awesome on the traffic cones.

And speaking of floaty toys, I could probably find some large used kids toys at garage sales, though finding 16 big red plastic foot-powered cars might be hard.

From the related thread (which I swear I didn't even see, yikes) the wide-girth PVC option seems plausible and favorably inexpensive, with the bonus of getting to paint my own people on them. With vacuum hose arms. A coatrack would actually make a *superb* queen methinks. Bop bags are a good consideration.

I think 3D would be generally better, otherwise on a less windy day (or a secure base and/or secure upright supports) I could even do cardboard cutouts of Star Wars/Star Trek personnel. The ultimate Wars/Trek duel, no?

They'll most likely be staying outside in the backyard, with a hyper Jack Russell to pounce them when I'm not around to supervise, so potted plants might not be the best option (though I didn't mention the terrier clause before, my bad). The plants would otherwise have been good since they'd be outside all the time.

I did see the oversized chess pieces, and someone is selling large plastic ones on eBay for $95/set, but that just seems too easy =P

A few cheap nightstands might work for rooks, providing I could find 4 of them.

I will definitely take pictures of the process!

Keep the ideas coming -- like the coatrack, I am sure there would be a "oh that's perfect!" option surely to be discovered!
posted by Quarter Pincher at 8:51 AM on May 23, 2007

Although I'm sure it would take some time to put together, I saw a really good set made with old car parts and other stuff from the junkyard.
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:53 AM on May 23, 2007

Buy two outdoor nativity sets, the garish plastic kind that guy down the block ALWAYS covers his lawn with from approximately November 31st to February 13th.

Mary, obviously, is your Queen (though you could also get some awesome Queens by buying separate statues- this might be even cooler)

The three wise men or Joseph can be two of your kings, the angels or shepherds can be your bishops, the animals can be your knights, and I'll admit to no good ideas for your castles. Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 8:59 AM on May 23, 2007

You could make your own out of hypertufa (step by step). It's fairly cheap, weatherproof and sturdy. Massy enough not to blow over in a reasonable wind yet light enough to move.

I'd make a simple form for the pawns and just free form the other pieces. By adding concrete colourant you could differentiate the two sides.
posted by Mitheral at 9:29 AM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

as a uscf-rated tournament player since the age of eight, i have to tell you about the strong prejudice among many of us in favor of the staunton design of chess pieces - the traditional cross-crowns, coronets, castles, miters, horseheads and spheres. chess pieces are just symbols for the powers exerted by that piece on that square, and they should be instantly, subconsciously recognizable by the player without the player having to do any cogitation to figure out which piece it is, leaving the player's entire cogitation capacity available to figure out where he should move. that's why i refuse to play on a non-staunton set.

i have not lost or drawn an offline chess game since i moved to oregon six years ago!
posted by bruce at 9:36 AM on May 23, 2007

Three words: Bozo Bop Bag
posted by grateful at 10:20 AM on May 23, 2007

i have not lost or drawn an offline chess game since i moved to oregon six years ago!
Is that cause you haven't played in a tournament since 1992?

But I strongly agree with the staunton design idea. But I do like the flamingo idea, too!
posted by MtDewd at 10:33 AM on May 23, 2007

Response by poster: Nativity sets! Spectacular! I might be able to fashion a wise man atop a donkey (with an added sword prop) for a knight, and make a pope fancy hat for another to be a bishop. Should baby Jesus stand up, as the king, since when he's knocked over it's considered defeat? Hmm..

My current plans for the tiles will be 2ft homemade tiles, about 2½" deep, with a 1" border between tiles so the grass can grow up in between (I enjoy weed-eating, yes). I will likely tint the checkered tiles, and am making an appropriate wooden frame for the tile to set in while hardening, with a trash bag liner so it doesn't bond to the wood. Updates of the project will likely be posted @, providing I actually get around to finishing it =P

Keep 'em coming =D
posted by Quarter Pincher at 10:49 AM on May 23, 2007

I'll admit to no good ideas for your castles

The cradle of the baby jebus? Where does he fit into this chess game?
posted by fidelity at 11:01 AM on May 23, 2007

PVC Pipe. Not too expensive, and you can make the Staunton-type chess pieces. Comes in white, easy to spray-paint black. Plus, it's light and hollow.
posted by misha at 11:14 AM on May 23, 2007

If you've got any interest in sculpting you could fasion a quick set out of quikrete, sprayed insulation faom, or some other such quick-setting material. Both the quikrete and the foam should be paintable. The spray foam would likely be lighter and more sculptable after it sets, but the quikrete would be more durable.

Good luck, this is something I've always wanted to try.
posted by lekvar at 2:19 PM on May 23, 2007

mtdewd: is that cause you haven't played in a tournament since 1992?

i congratulate you for digging up my chess past at the same time as i marvel at you for doing the effort it took. i didn't even click on "1992", i know what it says.

in the 90's, my life got so complicated that i could no longer block out a couple of days for a tournament. i still play in bars and informal gatherings. any time you wanna take me on, my email's in my profile, just put "mefi chess challenger" in the subject line. show me what you got.
posted by bruce at 2:11 PM on May 24, 2007

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