Backyard Chessboard Project, part 2, UPDATED

Part 1

The next major project will be a large backyard chessboard. The current plans are to work within a 20′ x 20′ workable section of yard. Grass doesn’t grow especially well back there due to a tallish neighbor fence and two shady pecan trees. The tiles will each be handmade 2′ x 2′ x 2½” concrete blocks — made from a wooden frame sitting on my kitchen floor (as the Jack Russell outside would mess it up) of appropriate dimensions and a trashbag as a liner so the concrete won’t bond to the board faces and can thus be reused as needed. Here is the first photo of the tile-frame’s unpieced components to start us off, and a shot of the spot where the board will be ultimately set (minus the previous owner’s clothesline!). I work with the speed of a half-hewn sloth (twitching, at best) so updates may be slow.

If you’re looking to add your two cents, I’ve set up an Ask Metafilter Question about what exactly to use as chess pieces. There’ve been lots of great answers so far, and hopefully more ahead!

Part 2 (updated May 30, 2007 @ 10:30 am)

Ok. So, I took the 1″x3″x2′ boards and bracketed them together to make the frame as shown in one of the pictures below, leaning against the back wall. I sawed the 1″x1’x4′ particle shelf board in half to make a 1″x2’x2′ surface that I could set inside the frame, giving me an available area of 2’x2’x2″.

I plopped down on the kitchen floor with a bowl, a screwdriver (stirrer) a plastic cup to dig the concrete out of the bag with, and a pitcher of water. I scooped out concrete, poured in water and mixed to a nice consistency, and dumped a bowl in, spread it around. Couldn’t find a nice enough trowel, so I used a weirdly-shaped-but-flat cheese grater to spread it evenly. I poured bowl after bowl in until I had the right level, then headed off to bed. Got up hours later, checked by lightly pressing on the surface to see how much dryer it had gotten overnight, and found it was tough enough to knock on. Decided to leave it as-is until I got back from work. After work, I slid off the frame (which was not bound to the cement thanks to the trashbag as a liner) and lifted the tile and heaved it slowly into the backyard to set it down to see how it would look. Looked just fine, except for a not-smooth surface but that could be painted or something. For a schlock DIY job (and no client but self) it’d be just fine. Showed my dad the next day, and he suggested I flip it over to see if the other side was smoother, and it was except after doing so I noticed a hairline crack all the way down the middle. I carefully lifted it up again and kablooey, it cracked in half. Dad decided to step on it and cracked a half in half (as shown). Looks like I’ll be making the next one deeper, though dad suggested a more expensive concrete..

I already had 2 bags left (took shy of one bag to fill the frame). So a day or two later, I plop down and remove the particle base so that I’ll get an extra inch, and this time decide to embed some kind of rebar-like support in the form of (and I may very well regret this) some wring (shown at the bottom of the last pic). I used a plastic ice-cream scooper for a stirrer (nice and scoopy plus kinda reinforced) and a metal spatula for a trowel now, which has a wider surface area. The 2nd tile is now curing up being 3″x2’x2′ abouts, and mixed with a skosh less moisture. We’ll see how THIS works =P

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