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How to Make a Nuts and Bolts Chess Set

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Learn how to make chess pieces from hardware for a cool nuts and bolts chess set! Includes a parts list, instructions, and helpful tips.

diy chess pieces

Have you ever thought about making chess pieces from nuts and bolts? This is a fun diy activity for kids. And the great part is that they can play chess (or learn how) when they finish it.

In the pre-2016 Cub Scouting program, the Webelos Craftsman activity badge had a requirement that the Scouts were to make a useful item out of materials other than wood.

When my older son was a Webelos, I saw a hardware chess set and thought it was so cool. My son's den liked it too, so we decided to make it for their requirement.

I started looking for instructions online. There were some really beautiful sets.

But I ran into two problems. First, some of those sets used specialty parts that were very expensive. Since we have 5 Cub Scouts in his den, I knew we would have to find a more cost-effective version.

The second problem was that most of the instructions didn't give detailed dimensions information. I'm sure that most folks could figure it out, but I do much better with concrete details.

My goal was to find a way for our Webelos to make nuts and bolts chess pieces that would not be very expensive and would have very clear dimensions.

Before I explain how we made them, here are some things I learned that will hopefully help you.

Helpful Tips for Making a Hardware Chess Set

Same Size Threads

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.

Finding Enough Supplies

We had five Scouts in our den, 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. Home Depot's “Buy Online and Pick Up in Store” service is a great option if you have a store near you–no shipping costs.

Less Expensive Alternatives

Two readers suggested trying either a Tractor Supply store (if you have one nearby) or an electrical supply store for more affordable parts.

Time Needed to Shop

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.

Buy Zinc-Plated Parts

Zinc-plated parts are cheapest. They're made with other materials such as stainless steel, but these are much more expensive.

Inspect Raised Lettering on Bolts

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.

Make Smaller Chess Pieces

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.

Keep Screws from Coming Loose

To keep the screws from coming loose, use Loctite Threadlocker. It's thin and runny, so the adults should apply it.

Supplies for DIY Nuts and Bolts Chess Pieces

Instructions for Putting Together DIY Chess Pieces

Follow these directions to make your chess set.

Steps for Making 2 Kings

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.

Steps for Making 2 Queens

chess queen

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!

Steps for Making 4 Bishops

chess bishops

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.

Steps for Making 4 Knights

chess knight

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.

Steps for Making 4 Rooks

chess rook

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.

Steps for Making 16 Pawns

chess pawns

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 som made his a blue and red set.

chess set pieces

Now, it's time for chess lessons!

Yield: 1 Set

Nuts and Bolts Chess Pieces

diy chess set
Make chess pieces from hardware for a cool nuts and bolts chess set.
Active Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Difficulty Medium
Estimated Cost $20

Instructions

    1. Make two kings. Use a 2" x 3/8" hex or cap bolt. 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 king
    2. Make two queens. Use a 1 1/2" x 3/8" hex or cap bolt. Thread a 3/8" hex nut about halfway down the bolt. Use a 3/8" Keps nut for the crown.

      chess queen
    3. Make four bishops. Use 1 1/2" hex bolt as the base. Top it with the 3/8"-16 T-nut.

      chess bishops
    4. Make four knights. Simply screw a 3/16" x 1/2" eye bolt into a #10-24 T-nut.

      chess knight
    5. Make four rooks. Screw 3/8" castle nuts on the top of 3/8" x 3/4" hex bolts.

      chess rook
    6. Make 16 pawns. Use 1/4" x 1/2" machine screws with hex nuts that are packaged together.

      chess pawns
    7. After you've put together all of the pieces, spray paint them with two different colors.

Be sure to make your own chess board too!

Yours in Scouting,
Sherry

nuts and bolts chess pieces
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Gene

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.