I’ve been wanting to make a DIY Travel Chess Set for aaaages. I think the idea first started during my trip to Berlin last year (check out my video, here), when I visited the Bauhaus Archive. I fell in love with the harsh angles, minimalist geometry and clean lines that makes Bauhaus so distinctive. In the gift shop, I spotted a really cool wooden chess set. The pieces had been reduced down to their most basic shapes, then carved into wood. I immediately knew I wanted to make something similar!
I’ve held this idea in the back of my mind ever since then, wondering how best to make it. When I got my hands on the new Cricut Maker last month (read about it here), I finally knew how I’d do it! The Cricut Maker can cut balsa wood, so I finally had a way to make little wooden geometric shapes with ease. Yay! After a few trial runs, I came up with this easy method to make a Bauhaus-inspired DIY travel chess set.
Bauhaus-inspired DIY Travel Chess Set
Supplies and tools
- Cricut Maker
- Deep-cut Cricut blade
- Thin balsa wood sheets
- 16 wooden cubes, 2cm x 2cm
- 20 wooden cubes, 1cm x 1cm
- Craft glue
- Double-sided sticky tape
- Cricut Vinyl in black
- Iron-on Cricut roll in black
- Strong-grip Cricut Mat
- Light- or Medium-grip Cricut mat
- A small drawstring bag
Part 1: Colour your chess pieces black/white for each side
Start by opening up Cricut Design Space. This is where you’ll make the geometric shapes for each of your chess pieces.
The first thing to do is to create some black vinyl stickers. These will be stuck to half of your wooden cubes, so you can identify the two sides of chess pieces. Create 16 squares – 8 should be 1cm x 1cm and the other 8 should be 2cm x 2cm. Use your Cricut to cut these out in black vinyl.
Part 2: Make the balsa wood decorations for the chess pieces
The balsa wood decoration for each chess piece is a simple combination of squares and rectangles. The shapes are inspired by the movements that the piece can make in the game.
1. THE ROOK. The Rook moves in straight lines, forward/backward or left/right. This is therefore the easiest shape! Simply make a square that is 1.75cm x 1.75cm. This will be slightly smaller than the 2cm wooden cube.
2. THE KNIGHT. The Knight (or horse) is a bit more complex. It can move in an L shape. The decoration for this piece is therefore a right angled L shape. To make it, layer two rectangles (each one measuring 1cm x 2cm) on top of each other. Use the weld tool in Design Space to merge them together.
3. THE BISHOP. This piece can move diagonally, so its decoration is a cross. It’s a bit more involved to make it. Start by layering two rectangles (measuring 1.5cm x 0.3cm) over each other. Weld them together to form a cross. Then create a square measuring 2cm x 2cm, and position the cross directly over the centre of this square. Use the Slice tool to cut the ends of the cross that overhand the square. The result will be a neat cross shape that will fit onto the 2cm wooden cube.
The above three pieces are the only ones that will need a special shape making in balsa wood. Once you’ve made them in Cricut Design Space, cut them out in balsa wood. You will need 4 of each piece.
To cut out balsa wood with a Cricut Maker, you will need to create a custom material in your Cricut settings. I experimented a bit and found that this combo works the best:
- 1/32″ thickness of balsa wood
- Deep cut blade
- Strong grip mat
- 200 cut pressure
- 3 x cuts
Part 3: Assemble the chess pieces
This part is nice and easy! To assemble the DIY chess pieces, simply stick the black vinyl squares onto half of the wooden cubes (the vinyl is self-adhesive, so no need for glue). For the pawns, that’s all you need to do. For the Rook, Knight and Bishop, you will also need to stick on the balsa wood shapes. Simply use double-sided sticky tape to stick them directly on top of the vinyl. Obviously, for the “white” pieces of the chess set, omit adding a black vinyl square.
The King and Queen are the most important pieces of the game, so they are made by combining a 2cm cube and a 1cm cube. Simply stick the smaller cube to the top of the bigger one, using strong glue. The King should be square on, whilst the Queen should be on a 45 degree angle.
Part 4: Make the DIY chess board
The chess board is made by adding an iron-on grid to a plain drawstring bag. When you’re using a Cricut, this couldn’t be simpler! Simply search Cricut Design Space for “chess” and find a simple checkerboard grid. Resize it to at least 20cm x 20cm (so the wooden chess pieces will fit on the board comfortably). Cut it out in black iron-on material and iron it on to your drawstring bag, making sure to carefully follow the instructions on the pack.
I can’t tell you how happy I am to have made this DIY travel chess set at last! The idea has been sitting in my head for a year, but it’s finally happened! I really love how impactful the Bauhaus-inspired design is. In fact, I kind of want to make a wooden playing board so that I can display it in my home… it seems to cool to be tucked away in it’s travel bag! What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂
Thanks so much to Cricut for helping make this project a reality. Without their awesome Cricut Maker, I wouldn’t have been able to create the intricate balsa shapes as easily as I did. If you haven’t read it already, then be sure to check out my unboxing blog post of the Cricut Maker, so you can learn more about it! – Mike.
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