Architect, design consultant, and competitive chess player Brent Blake built his electric chess set using readily available components and materials he thought would be aesthetically pleasing—including mirrored Plexiglas for the board and a white laminate base. His pieces are working transparent bulbs—the pawns being clear and the remaining bulbs colored—with black and white bases differentiating between the two sides. Each plug-in bulb is low-wattage (7 watts for the pawns and 11 watts for the rest), keeping them from getting too hot to handle. There’s even a dimmer—you know, for those romantic evenings of chess.
The playing squares are crafted from black and white electrical sockets; one plug powers the entire set. When pieces are captured, they’re relegated to two unwired rows along each side of the board, where they sit in defeated darkness. Lights out.
Recycled Chess Set
French designer Eric Claverie used recycled hardware pieces to craft his unusual set. He first built the board from small sheets of brushed steel, which he then painted. He added adjustable feet to raise it up. For his pieces, Claverie used discarded nuts, tubes, and bolts that he polished, varnished, and welded together to create robot like bishops, knights, and rooks. Some sport blue balls for eyes; the pawns resemble tiny vacuums. The crowns adorning Claverie’s kings and queens are assemblages of brass sleeves and nuts.
Nixie Chess Set
Developer Tony Adams, aka Lasermad, found a brilliant way to light up the game of chess: use 1980s Soviet Nixie gas display tubes (an easy find on eBay) as chess pieces. Each glass tube is like a tiny neon lamp, discharging an orange glow when the low-pressure gas contained inside comes in contact with electricity. To power the pieces, Adams installed a large PCB driver beneath the board and an air-core transformer beneath each square. Similar to an induction charging system, an electromagnetic field transfers energy between the board and the pieces.
With all pieces emitting the same orange glow, Adams painted the brass bases of one side gold and the other side silver to tell them apart. Each piece also contains multiple cathodes that display numbers in Russian, plus a date code. Each piece also contains multiple cathodes that display a letter indicating its role in the game, such as “K” for king and “A” for alfiere (“bishop” in Italian).
Chessbot Chess Set
On their own, Joseph Larson’s 3D-printed creations look like ordinary chess pieces. But the 16 pieces from each side snap together to form two 4-1/4-inch “Chessbot Heroes,” one black and the other white. Pawns become hands, knight’s feet, and king and queens join together to form the torso and head of these transformers. Larson used online CAD and the 3D printing service Tinkercad to build the first set. He now uses a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer.
3D Chess Board
Ji Lee’s prototype 3D Chess Board puts the focus on the board rather than the pieces. “I designed the board to bring a physical element to the battle of territories,” says Lee, “so you can experience going and down hills, and seeing the enemy fall.” He built the entire structure by cutting rectangular wooden dowels and then gluing them together before spray painting. Next up for Lee is a similar board in which each cube is a loose piece, “so that people can stack it themselves and create their own battle ground,” he says.
Chess for Tesla
British artist Paul Fryer named his chess set for Nikola Tesla, the famed Serbian-American physicist known for a host of inventions and for championing alternating current. Designed as artwork for the 2009 touring exhibition “The Art of Chess,” the set features an electrically powered board crafted from lime wood and ebony, as well as 32 varying-size handmade chess pieces. Each piece is a working vacuum tube that lights up when plugged into the board’s recessed octal sockets. One side glows white, the other red, and they all are identified by a special symbol to reflect their movement. “The pawns are symbolized by question marks,” Fryer says, “as they are anonymous.”
Influenced by the amber collection in the department of paleontology at the Natural History Museum in London, Alastair Mackie’s unusual chess set uses transparent amber cylinders and insects as pieces. Flying insects such as wasps and flies constitute one side. Crawling bugs such as ants and grasshoppers, and arthropods such as scorpions, make up the other side.
Mackie created his board to resemble a waist-height table for viewing geological samples. There’s a light box embedded inside to help illuminate each piece. Once a player loses a piece, he or she can store it in one of two pull-out “specimen drawers” located on either side of the board.
Skeleton Key Chess Set
The key to designing a great chessboard? To Dave Pickett, it’s using 32 actual keys. Pickett’s Skeleton Key Chess Set uses actual brass keys as pieces, each one ‘locking’ into place as they move from square to square. He handpicked the keys, with each style and size meant to symbolize classic chess pieces. One side is finished in a liver-of-sulfur patina; the other is sandblasted.
Picket handmade the entire set, including a board crafted from maple and walnut, in the Cleveland Institute of Art’s wood and metal shops. It took “lots of glue, sandpaper, and good ol’ elbow grease,” he says. A separate walnut base holds the keys when they’re not in play.
Vertical Chess Set
Scott Williams’s DIY set turns the game on its side. The 16-inch-tall vertical chess set is made of a red oak board, with eight horizontal shelves held together by crown molding. It’s not only playable, but also makes a great wall hanging. The chess pieces are used wood pieces from another set, which Williams decided to leave as is.
Williams says building a similar board should take three or four days, with about 6 to 8 hours of actual labor. He did the woodcutting and sanding in a few hours; then it’s just a matter of applying multiple coats of stain and polyurethane.