The Garden Chess Set – Outdoor Chess Games for any budget
When on trips, many of us have seen a garden chess set. It could be at a resort, a hotel, or even on a cruise ship – but outdoor chess piece sets have become so popular that more and more individuals want one for themselves.
The first time I was introduced to the idea of life size chess pieces was actually when I was a young boy at a renaissance faire. The live-action chess match is a staple for many of these faires to this day. Of course, instead of using chess pieces they are using actors who play the parts of the chess pieces and combat against each other under the direction of their King (although, admittedly they often do not follow the proper rules for chess. it’s still quite neat to watch!).
When I started working at the chess store I saw some really amazing chess boards, pieces, and sets – but one of the most impressive was a king from a Nomi Klein set of chess pieces. These outdoor chessmen were made from cement and fiberglass, and were nearly as tall as me. They cost a fortune. I thought ‘well, that’s neat – but who would really get one of these things!’. I was even more surprised to find that was not the only garden chess set available. There were several! Of different materials!
Garden Chess Sets in use
Well, it turns out a lot of people would.
The idea of a lifesize or garden chess set really captivates the imagination. Not only did we ship them to resorts and clubhouses, but many schools and private buyers as well. Many landscapers decided to build a chess board right in to a backyard patio area – why bother with a special chess board when you can have a fantastic one built right in? Others just looked to rent the outdoor sets – they are showstoppers for a community party or a chess enthusiasts birthday party.
For a long time there were two main types of garden chess sets. The most popular were the plastic ones. They were imported from Germany and came in two sizes, a 12″ and a 25″ and made from a heavy, durable plastic. Further, on the larger set the bases could unscrew so you could fill them with sand and make them even heavier. These have probably been the most popular outdoor chess pieces anywhere, and the ones you have most likely run in to. While the smaller one is no longer available, the 25″ set is still sold and continues to be the most popular, and affordable, outdoor chess set.
On the other hand, there was the Nomi Klein chessmen. This one was a fantastic work of art where you could actually choose whatever paint colors you wanted in order to truly customize it. They are considerably taller than the plastic sets, but also heavier due to the concrete and fiberglass construction. The downside? They cost well over ten thousand dollars!
With these two extremes, it felt like something was missing. A few years ago we found a third option; outdoor wood chess sets.
But wouldn’t a garden chess piece set from wood get ruined? Not really – the pieces are highly lacquered to protect against the elements. These hand carved chess pieces look fantastic, with a strong grain showing through the lacquer and made from solid teak. These chessmen are heavy, durable, hand-carved and custom made – they are available in a ton of sizes – 8″, 12″, 16″, 32″, 48″ – heck, even a 72″ tall king version is available.
For reference, we had a 48″ king on display in our store – it had a weight 65 lbs by itself! I can only imagine how massive a 72″ piece would be. The photos I’ve seen show it towers over the developer and manufacturer. I suspect you’d need a forklift to move the thing!
How do you play with such a huge set of Chess Pieces?
Many people will actually make a patio or outdoor area to purposely fit their garden chess pieces. Tile can be fairly inexpensive for this purpose in the long run, but it is incredibly permanent. There are a couple of outdoor chess boards that exist as options:
Always consider just using tiles, even if you are not laying them down. You can get very inexpensive vinyl tiles – often many for only a few dollars. With a little bit of creativity, this can make your ideal chessboard however you want to have it look, and at whatever size you would like.
Another option for a chess board would be the interlocking style found on our website. There are two options; one is a plastic interlocking style chessboard that easily can lay on grass or stone and is made to fit with the 25″ plastic outdoor chessmen. The second option are wood tiles for the teak outdoor chessmen. These pieces are much bigger and heavier, so the plastic is not suitable.
They actually have interlocking blocks of teak where you connect the pieces with dowels to form a full board. This works for the smaller sizes, with interlocking squares suitable for the chessmen up to 18″. For larger sizes, there are patio like wood planking that can be special ordered.
The advantage is that these will match perfectly and make a powerful statement and presentation. The downside is they are much more expensive than using a non-chess solution from a home improvement store!
Other uses for Outdoor Chess Pieces
These chess pieces look so fantastic that people started coming in to the store looking to buy just individual pieces. The 48″ King did not last long, and another customer purchased a king and queen from a 12″ set to use as bedposts. Others have ordered individual pieces for a variety of projects or simply as cool display pieces. It happened so much that we now offer the chess pieces individually for customers in our store and over the phone.
It is very difficult for us to put up every chess piece at every size, but we can do it. So, if you’re looking for a large piece for an art product or art piece, either indoor or outdoor, let us know. I’ve found people have some unusual uses for chess pieces – not only as the bedposts above, we’ve also sent out an oversized knight piece to an air force unit that had the knight as their symbol.
If you’re looking for a garden chess piece set, be sure you think about what you intend to use it for. Is it for display? for play? for both? Will it be outside all of the time, or just sometimes? Don’t try and get the biggest just for the sake of being the biggest – there are a number of sizes and once we’re looking at something upwards of 18″, they’re all quite big. Make sure you have the room to make it look great – after all, these are pieces of art as well!