DIY Vertical Chess Board featured image

DIY Vertical Chess Board

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Our DIY Vertical Chess Board hangs on the wall, so there’s no rush to finish a game. It’s a playable piece of art that everyone will love!

DIY Vertical Chess Board

I’m in awe of chess players. The ability to think and plan several moves ahead and build ever-changing strategies and contingencies has always seemed like magic to my sputtering and backfiring little brain stem.

When I see people playing chess, I imagine this is going on in their heads:

via GIPHY

I see it when I watch Barish and Handan play. There’s an intensity I really admire.

Every so often, I’ll throw my hat in the ring and offer myself up for slaughter.

After asking again (as I always do) which pieces do what, I sit and contemplate the game board. While Barish’s or Handan’s brain has probably already anticipated how many moves it will take to destroy me, I just stare at the board with a little drool pooling at the corners of my mouth, while my brain does its thing:

Okay, so I’ll never be Bobby Fischer, but at least I have a couple of chess players in the family to make me proud.

One of the things that Handan wanted for Barish’s teen bedroom makeover was some sort of permanent chess installation. Since horizontal real estate would be at a premium, she suggested I build a vertical chess board. She started yammering on about metal and magnets and frames and stain, and then before I knew it:

via GIPHY

She wanted me to stain a checkerboard pattern on a piece of plywood for the chess board. This required me to come up with a way to create clean lines with stain. Once I had that part figured out, the rest was relatively easy.

The DIY vertical chess board I built for Barish’s room has metal platforms for the pieces. Since it would be in a teenager’s room and subject to bumping and jostling, Handan wanted to keep the chess pieces secure with magnets. Working with metal adds a bit of complexity to this project (I had to buy a metal-cutting blade for my table saw), but the chess board can also be made with wood or Plexiglas platforms.

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DIY Vertical Chess Board

The onyx chess pieces I built the vertical chess board around were part of a set that Handan and I bought during our time in Afghanistan.

stone chess pieces and board

They are beautiful pieces, and we’ve been wanting to display them for years. This DIY vertical chess board was the prefect opportunity to show them off!

DIY Vertical Chess Board

For my chess board, I chose a piece of 3/4 inch birch plywood with a nice grain pattern. I had a few panels left over from the cabinets I built for our laundry room renovation, so I didn’t have to spend any additional money on the board.

large piece of plywood

Note: you’ll see some process pics with a different piece of plywood. I originally made a chess board with a plain-looking piece of plywood that I also had as scrap, but I wasn’t happy with how it turned out, so I made another with the piece pictured above. I happened to take many more process pics of the one I didn’t use, so you’ll see a mixture of the two. The process was the same for both.

I based the size of my board around the size of my chess pieces. Since the metal I’d be using for the platforms was 12 inches wide, I was limited to that for the width, but it turned out to be the perfect size. Each space would be 1 1/2 inches wide.

For the height, I wanted to leave more than enough room for the pieces so the board wouldn’t look crowded. 31 inches seemed about right. Dividing that by the 8 spaces on a chess board gives 3 7/8 inches.

I marked the board every 3 7/8 inches for the cuts I would be making for the metal platforms. Since the saw blade has a thickness of 1/8 inch, I market the edge of the board at 3 13/16 and 3 15/16 just to make it easier to line up each cut.

side grain shot of plywood

I then adjusted the height of the blade so it would cut through about half the thickness of the plywood or about 3/8 inch.

saw blade next to plywood

Then I ran the board over the blade at all my marks.

plywood with a channel cut into it

Here’s the board with all the grooves cut for the platforms.

plywood for vertical chess board with grooves cut into it

Next I used a utility knife to cut vertical grooves every 1 1/2 inches in order to get clean lines when staining the board.

A drywall square was perfect to run the knife against.

man running a knife along a drywall square on a piece of plywood

After one pass along the drywall square, I ran the knife freehand over all the grooves again. When I finished the lines, I lightly sanded the board with 220 grit sandpaper.

cutting a groove in plywood with a utility knife

I used 3Ms Platinum tape to mask off the squares. I could have used regular blue tape for the step (the grooves contain the stain, not the tape), but since the Platinum tape tears at a 90 degree angle, it was easier to use for this particular application. You can read more about this in my How to Make Clean Lines with Stain post.

diy vertical chess board masked for staining

I was careful to cover the grooves with the tape, as explained in my How to Make Clean Lines with Stain post.

blue tape on plywood

Cutting grooves and masking are essential to making clean lines with stain, but the third key to success is not to flood the piece with stain.

Ebony stain would be the perfect color for this vertical chess board.

can off stain in front of diy chess board

I applied just enough stain to get color on the piece with no pooling of residual stain.

gloved hand applying stain to diy vertical chess board

The moment of truth! I peeled off the tape and was thrilled to see a perfect checkerboard emerge!

removing the masking tape from a diy vertical chess board after staining

Success!

newly stained diy chess board

DIY Vertical Chess Board Platforms

Since we wanted the chess pieces to stay in place with magnets, I needed to use steel sheet metal to make the platforms. I chose 16 gauge sheet metal, which is about 1/16 inch thick. As my platform grooves were 1/8 inch wide, I’d need to shim the metal. More on that later.

The quickest way to cut sheet metal is with a carbide-tipped, metal-cutting table saw blade. I ordered one from Amazon for about $35. It made quick work of the sheet metal! I cut eight 1 1/2 inch pieces.

cutting sheet metal on a table saw

I’m holding up a piece of scrap as a deflector in the picture above. Without it, I would have been peppered with little molten shards of metal.

After a while, I got tired of holding the deflector shield, so I geared up to take the onslaught full force!

man in hoodie with goggles and face mask

See those two little exposed patches of cheek in the photo above? Yep, I think that’s where 90% of the molten shards landed, lol!

The platform pieces were a little jagged, so I smoothed the edges with 150 grit sandpaper. This was quicker and easier than using a metal file.

piece of sheet metal on a table

To make the platform pieces look better, I buffed them with a random orbital sander and 400 grit sandpaper.

random orbital sander buffing sheet metal

All buffed and ready to go!

buffed sheet metal

As I mentioned earlier, the metal platforms are only 1/16 inch thick, and the groove is 1/8 inch wide. I made 1/16-inch-thick shims from some scrap hardwood and cut them to about 3/8 inch wide, so they would fit perfectly in the groove.

metal pieces and wood shims

Installing the platforms…

installing metal platforms in a diy vertical chess board

I used a spare shim to help hammer the other shims in place. It was a tight fit, which is what I wanted.

diy vertical chess board closeup of platform

DIY Vertical Chess Board Frame

After installing the platforms, I cut pieces for the frame. I wanted to keep the frame simple and build it onto the chess board. I used 1 x 3 pine lumber, cut them to size, sanded them and then stained them.

diy vertical chess board before attaching the frame

To install the frame pieces, I applied some wood glue along the edge of the chess board and then brad nailed the frame piece in place.

edge of vertical chess board
vertical chess board with one frame piece atttached

I did this with the remaining frame pieces.

nearly completed diy vertical chess board

As a last step, I glued the final metal platform piece onto the bottom frame piece, and my DIY vertical chess board was finished!

Handan then cut out little pieces of the magnetic sticker sheet and adhered them to the bottoms of each piece.

bottom of chess piece with magnetic sticker

To hang the chess board, I installed two D-rings to the back and ran sturdy picture frame wire between them.

installing d-rings to the back of a diy vertical chess board

Barish’s DIY Vertical Chess Board looks awesome on his wall, and he and his mother have been playing every day!

DIY Vertical Chess Board
DIY Vertical Chess Board
DIY Vertical Chess Board
DIY Vertical Chess Board

If you’re following along with the teen bedroom makeover, here’s how we stand:

Teen Bedroom Makeover Checklist (for The First Room)

Click here to see more teen bedroom makeover posts as we continue to cross items off our checklist!

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21 Comments

  1. So cool…and absolutely beautiful! By the way you completely nailed the very same experiences I have when I attempt to play chess with my kids, seriously! ?

  2. Wow you two are so clever and have amazing imagination!! That is fabulous a game and beautiful display/storage in one. I’m afraid when it comes to games Snakes and ladders and snap are about my limit.

    1. Thank you, Catherine! I love snakes and ladders! Though here in the US, we have “Chutes and Ladders,” as I guess snakes are too scary for kids, lol! 🙂

  3. What a cool idea! I wish I played chess better but I play it so little, I never seem to learn to plan ahead with my strategy. I am too busy trying to remember how each piece is allowed to move!

  4. Wow! You both are so clever & talented. I’m always entertained reading about the projects. Another successful, unusual, amazing, useful endeavor!

  5. Thanks again for the great idea. You have the best blogs in my opinion. You do an amazing job on very unique items.

  6. This is a beautiful piece! I LOVE following your creative process! Your thinking is so clear and confident, even when you realize a mistake and rethink how to accomplish the goal!

  7. that baby is nice really nice and i can’t play chess worth a flip either backgammon was as hard a game that i ever played xx

  8. You two never cease to amaze me with how your minds work! This is gorgeous! I don’t know how to play chess but I’d love to have one in my house! Hint., hint! (I may end up using it as a checkers set but don’t let that dissuade you from sending me one!?)

  9. When I was younger my cousin used to love whipping me at chess. I think our final tally was about 73 to 5. My only strategy was to foray blindly but with great enthusiasm into No Mans Land and hope for the best. My cousin, who had an actual strategy, did away with me from there. She also used to like destroying me at Monopoly, and Poker, and any other game she could lure me into playing.

    But I still displayed my chess board proudly, as if I had any idea of what I was doing, because heck, it looked good! It did take up valuable coffee table real estate though but I would have never thought of placing it on the vertical. Inspired! What a great way to include such a beautiful set into interactive art.

    The way the grain of the wood matches the stone is beautiful. I don’t think you could have picked a more perfect piece to use as the board. And those LINES. Why are perfect lines so satisfying? I think I’d just walk past this board occasionally and sigh happily at the perfection of those lines. Gorgeous work.

    1. I think our brains work in the same way, Jay. Mine is no good for strategy games. I always felt like a guppy at a shark convention when I’d get myself ensnared in anything that didn’t depend on the dumb luck of a die toss, lol!

  10. Pretty darn amazing. I love your build and I love your writing composition, great illustrations. I feel the same way about those who play chess.
    beautiful workmanship. I would love to build a vertical chess board for my son but its above my skill and tool capacity.
    Thanks for posting.