Outdoor Chess Garden (and an Accidental Four-Square Court)

In my last post (Outdoor Chess on Any Budget), I mentioned that we were completely hung up on one small detail to finish our backyard chess board.

Keep in mind, you DON’T have to buy a set or pour a concrete pad in your yard to have a chess garden of your own.  The last post shows all kinds of DIY options…you can add paint or stain to create a board on your existing deck, driveway or any flat surface.  I bet you could also make something nifty out of pallet wood.

When we started discussing the chess board for our purchased pieces, I thought we would buy some square pavers to make something like this:

But Mr. D&D had other plans. He envisioned a concrete patio near the middle of the yard. He wanted a square pad with “little jut-outs” for seating and space to walk around the board.

And so we added this to the yard that summer:

Outdoor Chess Park

Tom the Concrete Guy thought we were crazy when we told him what we were planning.  When he came back to score the concrete, he just shook his head and said, “You mark it, I’ll cut it.”

Mr. and I put our heads together and made it up as we went along…pretty hilarious…and terrifying. I didn’t take pictures at the time, but this is the method we used.

We decided to start from the center of the pad, and after we snapped a chalk line, Tom scored a saw cut from end to end…  THAT was an unexpected and very welcome bonus for our kids, as it created an instant four-square court (a favorite game among their friends).

But four square was not the end plan, so we continued outward,marking off an outdoor chess board snapping 16” rows with chalk string, which Tom then scored with his saw. Then we rotated a quarter turn and the same thing to finish the squares.

measure out the squares

Tom recommended waiting a bit to color the squares because the concrete was fresh and we didn’t want to risk the stain bleeding into adjacent squares. “No worries”…we’d tackle that at a later date.

Who’d have thought that “later date” would be two years later?!

The kids made do by filling in the squares with chalk…but every time we investigated how to stain it, we heard the words “muriatic acid wash” and started quaking in our boots.

Supposedly, it’s not that hard, but we just had visions of wrecking the pad. And in our “penny wise, pound foolish” way, we had hoped to save some $$$ and do it ourselves.

Stained or not stained, over the last two years this became our favorite sitting area in the yard. It’s located next to the hill and drainage ditch we just landscaped…and was the reason we took on the stacked stone walls this summer.

It wasn’t until very recently that a concrete supplier set us free from paralysis with the news that rough-surface concrete doesn’t HAVE to be acid washed. WHAT??!! Really!!!

All we had to do was clean it up, ideally with a power washer (which we don’t have, so we just hosed and scrubbed.)

hose down the concrete and scrub scrub scrub

We removed most of the stains and while it wasn’t new-concrete-clean, we thought it was close enough for our purposes.

Remembering that the right front corner square on a regulation Chess board is always the lighter color, we used chalk to mark an X on each square that would not be stained.

mark the unpainted squares

Believe me, we were glad we did this, it would be easy to goof it up and stain the wrong square.

Then we “brushed” on the stain, using cheap chip brushes and this product :

apply the stain to the squaresWe wanted the dark squares to be a subtle light grey color for two reasons: 1. We like subtle. 2. If we messed up with dark grey or black, it would be pretty noticeable.chess board

Truly…staining the squares was a breeze.  It went on like paint and covered like paint. We decided to wait a couple days before hosing off the chalk.Ourdoor Chess Board
Wow…was that easy! It only took us two years of whining and one hour of painting to finish this project.

Mr. D&D and I celebrated with a lime-flavored beverage and called the project complete!

Here’s the whole “completed” area…(at least, until we stain it black).

Backyard Chess GardenOutdoor Chess Garden

Did I just say we’re staining it black?  Yep…I did.  Just yesterday, we decided we’ll revisit the board and restain the squares.  The blue grey is exactly what we wanted…very subtle.  BUT…we think the grey will emphasize when the concrete is dirty.  Even when we do get a power washer, I don’t intend to clean that area weekly.  It’s about enjoyment, not perfection.  SO…black it will be.
Backyard Chess Park 1

(BTW, Mrs. D&D—who is the one who cuts the grass in that area and trims around those “little jut-outs”—grumbles and mutters about them with every lawn cutting. There’s a landscaping job in our future to soften those edges so we can just ride around them with the lawn tractor….just warning you, Mr. D&D!)


  • Irene Thayer

    This is so inspiring! I love the post:)


  • robjodiefilogomo

    Wow—did that ever turn out fabulously!! I think that having places to sit around on the sides is brilliant! (and worth the extra time trimming—although part of that is because I’m not doing it–ha ha!)

    • EmDirr

      Lol…thank you… I mostly had a get-out-of-jail-free card on the trimming this year because we’ve had a major drought…

      Thanks for the comment!