Outdoor Chess for Any Budget

Have you ever been in the middle of a project and were completely thrown off by one small detail…only to find it was shamefully simple?

Well that’s what we discovered trying to create an outdoor chess park.

Back up about three Christmases ago…YES, THREE!!!

As a family gift, we bought outdoor chess pieces.

My mom’s next door neighbor put a chess set in his yard, and built the board using red and black pre-cast 12″ concrete squares. Then he made his own checkers out of cast concrete. We all thought it was pretty cool!

It looks a lot like this:

Mr. DustandDoghair looked at the MegaChess website (btw, this is not a sponsored post) and noted that we’d spent similar amounts on video game systems. However, outdoor chess could be enjoyed by the whole family and would get everyone, well, OUTSIDE!!!

So…even though we wouldn’t really be able to use it for the next five months…that was our family Christmas gift. I thought the kids might be a little disappointed because we wouldn’t use it for a while, but their reaction was just the opposite.

Everyone started thinking about what kind of chess board we would need.

We went online and found cool ideas…the most important one being that you don’t HAVE to spend oodles of money on a chess park.  There are all kinds of options for every budget.

I thought this one was genius! Instead of buying a set, this family created their own by repurposing and up-cycling found objects. It shows you can have a chess garden with a little imagination and found objects.

You might even build your own pieces using various wooden shapes, like this:

Or skip the shapes and make these simple stand up pieces using a plain board and stain like Kona Guest shows you in this Youtube video.

The search reminded me of so many table top chess sets I’ve seen with abstract pieces rather than traditional ones.   Which tells me you could make a set out of anything.

  • Premade birdhouses you can find in assorted sizes at any big box craft store
  • Garden gnomes of all shapes and sizes
  • DIY sets made of hypertufa shapes (limitless options)
  • glued together components from the dollar store… I’m thinking about those garden totems so many people are making.
  • A collection of painted or saw cut shapes from 4×4, 6×6, or 8×8 posts
  • Different sized clay pots, either filled with plants or stacked
  • Salvaged lamp bases (with the electrical components removed)
  • Plastic bottles and pic pipes

Like the abstract sets, you really only need to come up with representative pieces.

But since we had the pieces, we were searching for board ideas…like this grass and paver creation from the DIY Network.

But I took one look at this step and said “I’m out!”


There was this labor-intensive brick paver version from Patricia St. John:


We considered purchasing a mat with interlocking squares (which would make everything portable) like this one featured at Buffalo, NY’s Canalside:

Or any of a number of beautiful and clever ideas from the downloadable chess park brochure from MegaChess.com…including this stained deck with storage seats:

A DIY version might involve a deck or patio you already have in place, a picnic table, or something clever with pallet wood.

I’m a keep-it-simple (and frugal) person…I thought we could recreate the DIY Network version using precast 12″ patio pavers from the big box stores…like these:

concrete paver

Little did I know that Mr. D&D, of course, had other plans. He envisioned a concrete patio near the middle of the yard. He wanted a large square pad with “little jut-outs” for seating and space to walk around the board.

Three years later and we finally finished OUR chess “park”…which came with an accidental, but much used bonus for our kiddos. We’re just finishing up the area, so I have some pictures to take.  (I was a little waylaid by last week’s skunk incident, lol.)

Here’s a sneak peek at the finished product:
Chess Park 1

You can see the rest of the pictures here in the next post.


Have a suggestion for other chess pieces or boards?  Feel free to share them 🙂



  • robjodiefilogomo

    Oooh…I can’t wait to see what you came up with!
    What a great idea, and a fantastic project of planning with the kids! I had no idea there were so many options for this kind of thing.
    I think my fave of the ones you’ve shown here is using the found objects—I bet you could get them at a thrift store!!

    • EmDirr

      Hi, Jodie,

      Hey! How nice of you to visit and comment!

      You’re spot on with the thrift store idea!