How to Make a Chess Set with Nuts & Bolts

Webelos Craftsman project chess setWhen I first saw this chess set made from nuts and bolts online, I thought it was the coolest thing ever!  In the past, I used it as a Webelos Craftsman project to fulfill the non-wood useful items requirement.

While this is no longer a requirement in the 2015 Cub Scout adventure program, making these chess sets is a very fun project.

The problem was that the sets got very expensive very quickly. Some of the sets I saw used specialty parts that were very ornate.  A second problem I ran into was that most of the instructions didn’t give detailed dimension information.  I’m sure that most folks could figure it out, but I do much better with concrete details.

My quest was to make a chess set from nuts and bolts that would not be very expensive and would have very clear dimensions.

Shopping List:

Note:  Please watch the shipping costs of the products listed above.  I included the links to help you, but the shipping fees on several of the items are high.

Another alternative is to use Home Depot’s “Buy Online and Pick Up in Store” service.  Click through my affiliate link for details. 

Buy Online, Pick Up in Store. Now available at a H
Here is a list of some of the things I learned.

  • You can buy nuts and bolts with either coarse threads or fine threads.  Make sure you buy all the same because a fine thread isn’t going to fit over a coarse thread.  The castle nut that I used on the rook has fine threads, but since I didn’t need to screw it very far down on the bolt, it wasn’t too much of a problem.  Had it needed to go all the way on the bolt, it wouldn’t have fit.
  • We have five Webelos 2s, so I needed to buy enough supplies for 5 sets.  If you are making more than one or two sets, you will probably have to go to at least two stores to get enough pieces.  Another alternative is to order the parts online.
  • If you go to the store to buy the parts, give yourself plenty of time.  You’ll need to locate the piece in the right size and count out the number you need.  Even with a salesperson helping you, it isn’t a quick process.
  • Zinc-plated parts are cheapest.  They’re made with other materials such as stainless steel, but these are much more expensive.
  • The hex bolts have raised identifying letters on the head.  Look for bolts with letters that aren’t too high.  If they are, they may make the piece wobble too much.
  • The larger the hardware parts, the more expensive they are.  So we decided to make smaller pieces for this project to keep the costs down.
  • To keep the screws from coming loose, use Loctite Threadlocker.  It’s thin and runny, so the adults should apply it.

chess king from nuts and boltsYour chess set project will need two kings–one for each side.  We used a 2″ x 3/8″ hex or cap bolt.  To make it look a little more ornate, screw a 3/8″ hex nut about halfway down the bolt and top with a 3/8″ external tooth lock washer.  Top with a 3/8″ acorn or cap nut.

chess queen from nuts and boltsMake two queens for your set.  Use a 1 1/2″ x 3/8″ hex or cap bolt.  Thread a 3/8″ hex nut about halfway down the bolt.  A 3/8″ Keps nut makes a fitting crown for the queen!

chess bishop from nuts and boltsYour set needs four bishops.  We used 3/8″-16 T-nuts.  These have points on them, so check them out before you give them to your Cub Scouts.  I didn’t think they were sharp enough to hurt the boys, so I decided to use them.  A 1 1/2″ hex bolt is your base.  Top it with the T-nut.

chess knight from nuts and boltsWe wanted our knight to have some sort of curve at the top to simulate a horse, so we used a 3/16″ x 1/2″ eye bolt.  Simply screw it into a #10-24 T-nut.  Make four knights for your project.

chess rook from nuts and boltsThe four rooks looked very cool with the castle nuts topping them!  Use 3/8″ x 3/4″ hex bolts, and screw  3/8″ castle nuts on the top.

chess pawn from nuts and boltsYour set needs 16 pawns.  We used 1/4″ x 1/2″ machine screws with hex nuts.  They are packaged together.

After you have assembled your pieces, you’ll want to spray paint half of the set.  My Webelos made his a blue and red set.

Craftsman Chess Set From Nuts and Bolts
Craftsman Chess Set from Nuts and Bolts2

I think his set looks great!  What do you think?

Be sure to make your own chess board too!

Yours in Scouting,

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13 thoughts on “How to Make a Chess Set with Nuts & Bolts

    1. Sherry Post author

      Including the frame, it was about $32 per set. A little pricey, but I think it was worth it. The boys loved making them. You can also use them for the Chess Belt Loop (which is a requirement for the Scholar activity badge for Webelos).

  1. Benjamin

    We made these last week with our Webelos and they LOVED IT! We are going to try and add it to our day camp plans this year!

  2. Rissa

    Love this!!

    How long did it take to make the Chess set (and then how long to make the chess board)?

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Sherry Post author

      Thanks! It was a lot of fun to do. Prior to the meeting, I divided up all the hardware for the boys so that they each got a little container that held all everything they needed for their set. I also made a demo set. Having those two tasks done, I would say it probably took the boys a little less than an hour to assemble their sets. They took them home to spray paint.

      The chess boards were a bit more tricky. Taping them off took a bit longer than I thought because you want to try to get the lines as straight as possible. It also took a few minutes of thinking to figure out what squares needed to be cut. In addition, the etching cream needs about 15 minutes to work its magic. So, I would say give yourself a little more than an hour for this part–especially if you have a large den.

      Hope that helps!

  3. ScoutMom

    Thanks for the detailed instructions. My son loved this. One more tip to add: If you have a Tractor Supply store in your area, they sell some hardware by the pound–specifically the bolts and hex nuts, which helped us reduce costs.

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  6. Gene

    Hey, you can also reduce costs by going to an electrical supply store. They sell the nuts and bolts and washers of various sizes by the box. A box of 100- 1/4 x 20 machine nuts costs about $4. It’s much cheaper than going to a hardware store where they can charge you the same amount for 6 or 8 machine nuts per pack. I made a nice nuts and bolts set (different from your design and a bit more elaborate) for about $20.


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