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Fresh Shop: Tool Chess

Jan 30, 2014

by William Gallmeyer handmade and vintage goods

Every day, our community grows in unexpected and delightful ways. For our Fresh Shops series, sellers who have been on Etsy for a handful of months or are waiting for those first few sales introduce themselves. Here’s a warm welcome to all our newbies!

My name is William Gallmayer, and I am the maker behind Tool Chess. About 15 years ago, my father still owned the family business – a precision grinding machine company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called Gallmeyer & Livingston Co. Once, two workers who were playing chess at lunch lost a rook and replaced it with a socket-head cap screw. My dad was inspired to see if he could make a complete set using nuts and bolts. The configurations of the pieces evolved somewhat over the years, then the project sat dormant for a long time.


About a year and a half ago, I asked my dad to give Tool Chess another go as a business (his main interest was to solve the problem of how to make accurate and beautiful representations of chess pieces out of hardware items). He agreed, and we have been pleasantly surprised by the response. It seems that we have hit the nail on the head.


The name accurately describes the product – Tool Chess is a chess set made out of nuts, bolts and various other hardware pieces. I assemble each set by hand to my dad’s design, then the pieces are powdercoated for a rich, glossy color. All Tool Chess pieces have a hex nut on the bottom and a threaded stud in the middle. The tops are various configurations of nuts, washers, brass balls, rivets, etc. Some tops are connected with a high-temperature metal glue, and others are put together with small spring pins embedded in the threaded studs. The knight head is the only custom-made piece; everything else is available from the hardware store.

After the pieces are assembled, they are attached to a homemade “powder-coating rack” and we drop them off at a local shop. A few days later we pick them up, remove the pieces from the rack and attach a felt pad on the underside of each piece. At current production levels (my dad and me), we can make about six Tool Chess sets per week. The finished set comes in a red or black tool chest (yes, this play on words has sometimes created confusion).


I like making Tool Chess sets because it gives me a sense of connection to the family business that closed in 2000. My grandpa came up with the name, and the tool chest carrying case was my mom’s idea. I’m also proud to be part of a tradition of “Handmade in USA” makers and basement tinkerers. For the future of Tool Chess, I’d like to start offering custom colors, custom pieces and deluxe sets (with a wood board included). Who knows — maybe one day I’ll pass on Tool Chess Co. to my son or daughter.

All photos courtesy of Tool Chess.

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