|Photo by Eliza Wiley, Independent Record|
Kenneth Marx's bright idea to turn recycled spark-plugs into chess sets is finally paying off.
After having the light-bulb moment while working at a gas station four decades ago, the retiree from Helena, Montana, has decided to turn creating the unique sets into a business, and he's commanding $275 for each creation.
Mr Marx collected the spark-plugs, chucked out after tune ups, and began manufacturing a few chess boards for friends, according to the Helena Independent Record. 'I thought that there’s got to be something we can do with these instead of just throwing them away,' he told the newspaper.
But then life got in the way and he ditched the hobby. Decades later and with a bit more time up his sleeves, Mr Marx has rekindled his passion for the spark-plug chess sets and now runs a business making them from his home. He has transformed his garage into a production line for creating the pieces and dedicated a special spot in his basement to painting them.
In the past year, he's made 23 sets. I’m just getting started,' he said. 'I’m basically doing a lot of baby steps.'
About once a month, Mr Marx tours his local repair shops, which put the used spark-plugs aside, waiting for his visit. When home, he sorts the spark-plugs by size and manufacturer and cleans them by soaking them in solution. After choosing the ones in the best shape, he grinds the bottoms and affixes a nut to make them stable.
He also saws off the tops of the plugs and then puts a cap on each, determining the type of chess piece. For example, the king’s topper is an inverted tire stem, according to the newspaper. He also uses valve covers and other auto parts.
The process is very labor-intensive, with each set taking about 20 hours of Mr Marx's time, not including drying time between steps.
The retiree also makes custom wooden boxes for each set. 'Even at mass production, I am making 52 a year,' he said.
Each set is custom made. The purchaser can choose colors and even brands of spark-plugs. Some have made rival sides such as American manufacturers versus German, he told the Helena IR.
Mr Marx is in the process of securing a patent for his spark-plug chess boards, which he sells his boards for $275 from his website www.chesscreations.com and also out of his home at 303 N. Hoback St.
A few of the employees at the repair shops that donate their old spark-plugs have snapped up sets, Mr Marx said, adding that they appeal to both chess players and car fanatics. 'It’s a very small step in recycling,' he said.
Given the time taken to create each set, Mr Marx is realistic about the money he'll make from his business but he enjoys the creative side. 'I don’t plan on making a fortune on this,' he told the newspaper.