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How to Make a Chess Set with Nuts & Bolts

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Webelos Craftsman project chess set

When 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  for details. 

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 bolts

Your 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 bolts

Make 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 bolts

Your 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 bolts

We 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 bolts

The 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 bolts

Your 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,

P.S. If you liked this project, sign up below for more cool activities!

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Wednesday 12th of October 2016

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.