Making a maker: Checking off the holiday shopping list with a DIY chess set

3D printable chess piece

I’ve always been enamored with DIY gifts. Every one I’ve ever received felt personal and meaningful; proof that this person spent hours making something instead of logging on to Amazon.

So when I received a set of knitting needles last year, I vowed to learn to knit and make 2013 a DIY Christmas. But, unsurprisingly, the needles unused all year. I considered learning at the last minute, but giving everyone uneven, hastily-made scarves just seemed a little disingenuous.

I did pick up another DIY skill over the last year though: 3D printing, which means DIY Christmas can still be a thing. With the help of the experts over at San Francisco’s TechShop makerspace, I am going to spend the next few weeks making a chess set with a few custom tweaks.

TechShop stocks Type A Machines 3D printers for its members. Photo by Signe Brewster

TechShop stocks Type A Machines 3D printers for its members. Photo by Signe Brewster

My workflow began with a call with one of TechShop’s “dream consultants;” an adviser who let me know the best way to tackle different parts of the set and suggested some new techniques I might not have considered. After struggling for months on my own at Noisebridge, it was a huge relief to have someone to point out possible improvements and assure me an idea would work.

Over the course of our conversation, the chess set evolved from being totally 3D printed to using a combination of different techniques. I now plan to laser cut the board, as laser cutting is faster and more compatible with large surfaces. Like a 3D printer, it’s still very easy to use a laser cutter for customization.

NYC Resistor hackerspace laser cutter

The pieces will be 3D printed, with the exception of some of the pawns. My dream consultant noted that it would be much faster to print one pawn and then make a mold, which would allow me to quickly replicate the pawn over and over. I also plan to use a 3D scanner to turn a found object into a 3D file for a custom pawn.

To keep things as simple as possible, I turned to the internet to find existing designs for the board and pieces. On Instructables, I found an interesting design for a board that includes a drawer.

Photo courtesy of Instructables user nikoala3.

Photo courtesy of Instructables user nikoala3.

The design actually incorporates some electronic components that can be used to pop the drawer open automatically, but I’ll skip those. If the board is still too complicated, there are also quite a few basic board designs available.

I’m pulling the piece designs from Thingiverse. There are quite a few fantastically designed, classic-looking chess sets on there.

Photo courtesy of Thingiverse user PerryT.

Photo courtesy of Thingiverse user PerryT.

I’ve got a few ideas for the form the pawns could take, but I’m going to see what items pop up organically in the physical world over the next week. I will print the pieces on TechShop’s Type A Machines 3D printers. I’ve never used one of them before, so I’m interested to see how well my skills from using Noisebridge’s Ultimaker will cross over. Wish me luck.

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