The first step in making one of these puzzles is spending some time in front of the computer. You have to have an image to cut as well as create a properly sized puzzle overlay. If you are cutting something like a dollar bill or a playing card, you will still need to create a puzzle overlay.
I have decided to make something for my wonderful Mother-in-Law who happens to be one of the most dedicated Baltimore Orioles fans I have ever known. I know she loves Brooks Robinson, so I found an image of his Rookie Card and printed it on good quality picture paper.
Here’s the image after trimming it down:
Now that I know the dimensions of the puzzle, I can create and print out an overlay with the puzzle pieces on it. I do this in PhotoShop with the “Puzzle Pro” filter – the demo version is free, as long as you don’t care about the printing all over the place. In the case of my puzzle making It doesn’t bother me in the least!
After messing around with the proper size and then the number and shapes of the pieces, I created the following graphic and printed it out:
Now, I take a walk out to my woodshop to look for two pieces of wood. The first will be the actual puzzle’s backing board – I pick a piece of hard maple. The second just needs to be scrap piece that is the same size as your puzzle – I found a scrap piece of Baltic Birch Plywood that fit the bill this time. You can use just about anything so save those scraps!
After trimming them down to within 1/16” of the dimensions of the photograph, here’s what I wound up with:
Now, time to break out my improvised gluer’s easel and line them up for gluing:
I have used a bunch of different spray adhesives in the past, but recently fell in love with “Power Poxy’s Super Spray”. I picked up a bunch of cans at Ollie’s Warehouse really cheaply and it works perfectly for this purpose – bonus!
I spray glue on both the wood and the backs of the paper and let them sit for about a minute before affixing them. I find the bond is much stronger this way. You don’t want peeling edges when you will be cutting a bunch of small pieces with tabs on them!
Once you have them glued down go ahead and trim up the picture to where you feel it looks perfect:
Now, center the picture piece over the puzzle overlay and trace around it with a pencil – use those marks to trim up the overlay piece with your table saw. You should now have two identically sized pieces:
It’s now time to break out the packing tape – use the best quality tape you can. At the very least make sure it contains silicone in its construction. The tape lubricates the scrollsaw blade and prevents burning while you cut. Place the overlay piece on top of the image piece and tape them together very tightly. Try not to have any wrinkles in your taping and make sure you tape all four sides – this is important as you will later see!
You should have a sandwich of boards with the actual puzzle image in the center like this:
The prep-work is finally over and it’s now time to begin cutting! Let’s go out to the saw and start……….
For puzzle-making there is only one blade choice I make. They are the “Flying Dutchman brand FD-SP Puzzle Blades”. The blades are .015” thick and have 31 teeth per inch. They are made of very flexible steel which allows you to really take sharp turns when needed but also follow a line perfectly.
Cut the first piece out – do NOT cut an entire strip of pieces at once!!! Even though this might seem like the easy way to do this, your sandwich will fall apart if you do this. This is the reason you put tape on all four edges – I told you this was an important step earlier! ;-)
When you come up to a corner, stop the blade and rotate your puzzle 90 degrees and start cutting again – the blade SHOULD make the turn and leave a sharp corner. I suggest you practice this move a few times before attempting it on a real puzzle.
Once the piece is cut out, all you will have to do is separate the top piece from the bottom and peel off any tape from the back of your piece – one piece down and only 41 more to go for this puzzle!
Now image a nice musical montage in your head as you see the progress made of me cutting the rest of the pieces out………….
Wow – that went quickly! In real life this took around 45 minutes.
At this point your puzzle is done and you can do whatever you wish with it, but I am also going to make a very shallow tray to hold the puzzle in when it resting on a shelf, etc…
First, I choose a thin piece of walnut and cut it about 1/16” bigger on both sides:
Then I took thin strips of Baltic Birch plywood and glued them onto the sides:
I didn’t bother measuring as it is an easy task to sand them flush once the glue dries:
Now just repeat for the end pieces and give it a finish sanding – done!
A quick shot of spray lacquer on both the puzzle and the tray and we are ready to give this away to a lucky Oriole’s Fan.
Oh yeah – before you use ANY type of finish on an ink-jet printout try it first on a test image!!! I got lucky with my ink and the lacquer I chose. You might not be so lucky and have your perfect puzzle smear and ooze away when you spray it. Consider yourselves warned!
As a follow-up, I usually give some tips or lessons learned……………… Hmmmmm…………
The only thing I can think of is to practice on a scrap piece of wood cutting out puzzle pieces before you tackle a puzzle you care about.
Make sure you have proper tension in your blade and can get around those corners without rounding them over.
Also, when you are cutting do not back up and restart – your blade will have a tendency to cut a different path if you do this.
I hope this blog is helpful to a few folks – it was pretty fun making it and I know my Mother-in-law will like the finished result!
-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.rhoadesclan.com