wanted to find an interesting outdoor game to play in my backyard this fall but I didn’t want to go the typical ring toss or corn hole route. After a lengthly amount of internet-based research, I came upon an intriguing outdoor game I had never heard of or played before: Kubb (pronounced kOOb).
Kubb is also known as Viking chess (which is a way cooler name) and as it turns out, is quite a unique and entertaining way to spend an afternoon. You can play with as few as two people or as many as you want, although having at least four beers on hand is recommended.
Here’s a quick synopsis of how it works: you divide into two teams and each team places a set of 5 “skulls” in a row at one end of a boundary. The teams then take turns attempting to knock over the other team’s skulls by throwing “femurs” across the court.
Once one of the teams topples all of the other team’s skulls, they can then knock over the king to win the game. There are lots of intricacies to the rules so here is a great video explanation of how the game really works:
After looking at various Kubb sets online, I quickly came to the conclusion that the ones I could find for sale were a little more pricey than I’d like and some of the reviews claimed that they weren’t made well. An expensive thing that isn’t made well sounds like a great DIY project to me, so I found some plans online and went to work.
If you are confused by any of these instructions, it might help to review some of the illustrations from this tutorial. I essentially followed their directions with some slight modifications.
Here’s what you’ll need to get this project done:
- 1 4″x4″x8′
- 6′ of 1 1/4″ Dowel
- 4′ of 3/4″ Dowel
- Fine grit Sandpaper
- Stain/Finish (optional)
Total Material Cost: around $35
- Miter Saw
- Circular Saw (and a compatible fence)
- Hand Saw (preferably a Japanese Dovetail Saw)
- Combination Square
- Carpenter’s Pencils
- Miter box (optional)
Power tools and saws are dangerous to operate. Make sure you read and follow all safety and instructional materials related to your tools. Wear protective eye, hearing, and breathing gear. And most importantly always pay attention to what you are doing.
Cut the King
The 4×4 is already the correct width for the King, so we just need to cut it to its correct length. Using a combination square mark your cut line 12″ from one end of the 4×4 and make the cut with a miter saw. Set that piece aside.
Cut the 4×4 Down to the Correct Width and Height for the Skulls
After cutting the king out of the 4×4, you must cut down the width of the remaining 4×4 to the correct dimensions for the skulls. What we are wanting to do is make a 2 3/4″ square out of the remaining length of wood. Using a circular saw and a circular saw fence, drop your blade all the way down as low as it will go and set your fence for a 3/4″ cut from the edge of the wood. Roll through your entire piece and then flip it and do another cut that joins your previous cut.
Depending on the depth of your saw, you should be able to cut at a 90-degree angle perpendicular down into your previous cut and you can simply discard the remaining wood. My saw would not drop far enough to join up with my other cut so I had to do an extra two cuts to rip the wood to the right size.
Cut the Skulls to Size
Mark a cut line for 6 inches from one end of the slimmed-down 4×4. Using your miter saw, make your cut. Repeat this process until you have 10 skulls.
Cut the Femurs
Grab your 1 1/4″ dowel and mark a 12″ cutline. Normally you’d want to cut to either side of this cut line, but because the dowel is exactly 6 feet long (or 2 3′ dowels), if you cut to the inside of the line, the femurs will get progressively smaller as you cut further down the dowel. I just went ahead and cut down the center of the line, attempting to make them as equal as possible.
This doesn’t have to be perfect, provided you don’t want to use your set to compete for the Kubb world championships. You should end up with 6 12″-ish femurs.
Cut the Boundary Stakes
The remaining dowel is going to be used for 4 boundary stakes. They require a 45-degree angle cut on one end of each stake so that you can press them into the ground with ease. Realign your saw to make a 45-degree angle cut, then measure a cutline. It should be 12″ from the very tip of the 45-degree angle to the base.
By flipping around the dowel you should only have to make two 45 degree cuts for your four stakes, and then a straight 90 degree cut right down the middle of the final piece.
Cut the King’s Crown
This is probably the most challenging part of this whole project honestly. What you are attempting to do is make something that resembles a king’s crown here. Honestly, if you don’t care about the aesthetics, you could easily just skip this part because it doesn’t really affect the play of the game. It just looks cooler if you do this step.
Pick the side you want to be the top of the king, then draw an ‘x’ from corner to corner. With a combination square, mark the bisection of the x so you have a target right down the center of the wood piece (I tried to eyeball this without the x and it ended up kind of jacked up).
Using the 45-degree-angled edge on the head of the combination square, draw 45-degree lines on each side of the king, from the corners inward, and from the center points outward. These lines will look like a simple crown.
Using a pull saw (preferably a Japanese-style dovetail saw which was given to you as a gift from your awesome girlfriend) carefully cut your crown out according to your lines. I got really sloppy due to my impatience at this point (as you can see by the pictures), so if you are concerned with aesthetics, make sure you take your time and let the saws do the work for you.
Sand all of the Pieces
Your pieces will likely have rough edges and splintery bits at this point, so grab some sandpaper and get to work. Remember, working with sandpaper kicks up a lot of dust so be sure to use a respirator to protect your lungs during this process. After a lot of elbow grease, you should have end up with nice, smooth edges that aren’t going to drive splinters into your hands when you pick them up.
Finish Wood, Final Touches
At this point, you can add some stain or other protectant to your pieces. You can gussy up your set however you want basically. This tutorial suggests doing some decorative cutlines on all the pieces as well as staining and finishing them.
Since I knew we were going to be throwing poles at all the pieces anyway, I didn’t mess with doing any finishing or decorative cutting.
Go knock some skulls
Ok, so that’s about it. Grab a cold beverage and head outside to enjoy your hard work with a round of Kubb. It is said that after the Vikings conquered a village they would gather for a game of Kubb to celebrate their victory and unwind. Like the Vikings of old, it is time for you to do the same, so go forth and Kubb my friend.