Making a chess set for Truckee

As we approach nearly two years of planning and work to open a makerspace, it’s important to reflect on why we’re doing it. It’s important to remember that makerspaces don’t just benefit makers who use the space, they benefit the entire community.

The very first chess game played between officer Jon MonPere and Roundhouse board member Morgan Goodwin, with help from a local 5th grader.

The very first chess game played between officer Jon MonPere and Roundhouse board member Morgan Goodwin, with help from a local 5th grader.

The Town of Truckee completed a ‘streetscape’ project to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Through an agreement with a developer and a local artist, the Locomotion giant bike sculpture was designed and placed in this new, mini plaza. Town staff had the idea of making a chess (or checkers) board in the sidewalk behind the sculpture, and it got built. But there were never any plans for how the chess board would be used.  (Sorry checkers fans, I’m going to keep calling it a chess board.)

 

The Locomotion bike sculpture by local artist Fred Besch stands at the entrance to the mini plaza containing the chess board.

The Locomotion bike sculpture by local artist Fred Besch stands at the entrance to the mini plaza containing the chess board.

The Truckee Roundhouse had the idea of being the group to finally construct a chess set. It was intended to be released several weeks before the Maker Show as a promotion for the event. As it turns out, things often take longer than expected, and the set was completed in August and made it’s debut at the final Truckee Thursdays.

Local maker and laser cutter enthusiast Tom O’Neill volunteered to construct the set. He started with a free chess set from instructables -- unfortunately the pieces were about 2 inches tall, and we needed them to be 2-3 feet! After hours in illustrator, Tom had scaled up the pieces so we could cut them from cheap ⅛” plywood. (90% of the skill required to operate the laser cutter effectively is actually just skill in adobe illustrator or similar vector image programs.)

Simple construction and cheap materials were key because we had no plans of locking up this set -- the magic of it is that it be available for use. We expect that some pieces will be broken or go missing over time, and we plan to replace them. Perhaps our ‘intro to the laser’ classes will be able to make replacement pieces as needed!

Because the set is available for everyone all the time, people are playing it all the time!  In the two weeks since the set’s debut, there have been people actively playing chess the majority of times I have been by. The pieces show some signs of wear as the wood hits the ground when they fall over, but overall we are very pleased.

Interactive, public art benefits everyone. A corner of downtown that previously rarely had people now almost always does. Visitors to Truckee can be amazed at this fairly unique feature, and marvel at the fact that there aren’t any locks. And, playing chess on a big board is really fun!  Share your stories about the public chess set.

 

Walkable, interactive public space benefits everyone in the community. 

Walkable, interactive public space benefits everyone in the community.