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How to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle

Updated on November 15, 2012

Instructions on How to Make a Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle

If you're looking for valuable trade secrets on how to make quality wooden jigsaw puzzles at home, you're likely to be misled by most of the free instruction you find online. This is because wooden puzzle supply is already greater than demand in the market, and there's an unspoken code among tradesmen of proprietary silence. You simply won't secure the best trade secrets without paying a price. While you can find some helpful instructions for free, most of it is incomplete, or just shy of good technique. Still, if you're new like I once was, you may be searching for quality instruction in hopes of bypassing the time and expense of a trial-and-error learning curve.

I've been making wooden jigsaw puzzles for 9 years now (I started in 2002), both to sell and to give as high end gifts. I've paid my dues in trail and error, and have examined most of what is out there in the way of puzzle-making instruction. Here I will provide you with links to, and critiques on all the best free instruction online, and also provide you with comparisons of the best high quality, reasonably priced paid instruction available.

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how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

Antiques Too Expensive? Make Your Own Jigsaw Puzzles in Vintage Style!

As old toys, antique wooden jigsaw puzzles can fetch huge price tags at auction. I have personally seen numerous nice old wooden jigsaw puzzles go for between $300 and $400 over the years. I even remember one going for $800 +/- on eBay a couple years back. The larger they are when in good condition, and the more whimsies they have, the more competition there is for ownership. Even newly cut wooden jigsaw puzzles are spendy.

They're just so nice to work, though, and I personally find them much, much more pleasing than cardboard puzzles.

So, to overcome the prohibitive cost, I simply determined I would have to make my own. I figured I could sell a few and at least make back the money spent on a good scroll saw. From there I could create my own beautiful, private collection, which I have done with great pleasure.

It's really not a difficult skill to master. It does take a practice puzzle or two before you'll love your own results, but I can say from experience that a couple of initial "so-so" puzzles are well worth the many great ones to follow!

Reviews on Free Puzzle Making Instructions - Evaluating "how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle" advice

The thing I see consistently in online free instruction is the suggestion that puzzle makers use spray glue to mount their face art. The problem with spray glue is that there just simply isn't a spray glue product out there that provides a quality, long-term mount. The adhesion is just too soft. The recommend to use spray glue for mounting face art to lumber is a tell-tale sign the instructions are substandard.

Most Useful Modern Puzzle Making Video

Free YouTube.com video (no embed code available)

This is one of the better offerings online for how to make wooden jigsaw puzzles, and even though it describes the making of children's puzzles, I highly recommend it. It does have one drawback, however. The video makes it look very easy to apply fast drying varnish to mount and cover face art. The reality is, paper mounted with varnish does wrinkle quickly and profusely, yet the video doesn't mention that, or tell the viewer how to deal with the problem. Yes, I have used varnish as a mount, but I lost a few potential puzzles in the beginning due to my lack of experience with this medium. It's not quite decoupage!

Unfortunately the proprietor who made the video does not want the video embedded elsewhere on the web, so you'll have to go to YouTube.com and type in "heirloom puzzles," and look for the video made by HappyLeafStudios.

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Pro Puzzle Maker Demonstrates Cutting

Nobody can cut a puzzle this fast at first! Heck, I've been doing this a while and I still personally prefer a slower speed. Aside from cutting speed, what every beginner watching this hopes to find out, is how do you make a modern cut evenly spaced without guide lines? You won't find the answer here, but it's still fun to watch this craftsman at work.

1930's Instruction for $5 on eBay - Source Instruction from Height of Wooden Puzzle Craze

One eBay seller is making black and white copies from articles found in the March 1932 and June 1933 Popular Science Monthly magazine, and selling the copies for $5 a pop. The magazines themselves run about $20 apiece on the antiques market.

I have included these public domain sources, along with modern manufacture techniques, and added puzzle making information from the era, in The History and Craft of Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles, (in "The Best How-to Book for Puzzle Crafting" module below).

Although these instructions are from the 1930s, you will find they are easily understood and applied to the workshop of today. Some of the product names have changed, and some of the glues and such available back then aren't available today, but overall you will find the articles very helpful.

If this seller has any current listings, they will show up here:

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Out of Print Puzzle Craft Books - Spendy!

The following titles can sometimes be picked up on Amazon, but you'll pay a pretty penny. The demand is bigger than supply for this information.

Puzzle Craft
Puzzle Craft

Out of print. Used copies go for about $75

 

A Good How-to Book on Amazon - One low-cost puzzle instruction option

This book is brand new, published in February of 2011. This is a generously illustrated book for beginners and hobbyists, written by a second generation puzzle maker who knows his stuff (Charles W. Ross). Ross shares a number of trade secrets that the beginner can use in making heirloom quality puzzles.

The book contains figural patterns and a figural stencil tip, excellent gluing and mounting advice (with only one exception...), plus it goes into materials detail not found elsewhere. For example, Ross does an excellent job explaining lumber and saw blade choices from a professional woodworker's standpoint, and he offers spot-on advice in paper selection.

The book does have some inadequacies, however. For one, Ross advocates drawing cutting lines on the face art at times. This is absolutely not necessary, even for a beginner. Second, spray glue is given as an implied viable gluing option. Even though Ross provides instruction for using spray glue properly, spray glue is not, in my opinion, ever an appropriate adhesive for heirloom quality puzzles. Third, the book offers inadequate instruction on re-creating period-style puzzles and boxes, and offers no period source instructions, or even references. And lastly, nothing is offered in the way of brass and tacks entrepreneurial information for those who would like to turn the hobby into a business.

All this being said, at around $10 retail the book is worth the price paid, and is a far cry more comprehensive than the free how-to information currently found online.

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how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

The Best How-to Book for Puzzle Crafting

The History and Craft of Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles - $7.99

The History and Craft of Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles

(Links to the author's storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.com)

$7.99 Instant PDF Download (Full Color)

$14.99 Softcover (Black & White Interior) - Amazon

This is the first and only wooden puzzle making book to provide both modern how-to instruction, and classic historical how-to instruction using primary source documents. Plus, this resource is all in a no-fluff, quick-read format, much like an instructional magazine.

Users of this resource get all the hoped-for practical puzzle making tips, like how to select equipment and materials (glues, blades, lumber, scrollsaws, best paper types, etc.), along with little known trade secrets for things like making re-positionable cutting and figural guides (so you don't have to draw on the face art), and hard-to-find stack cutting instructions and tips.

For those who desire a nostalgic look and feel to their wooden jigsaw puzzles, this book cannot be beat. Period source instructions cover not only puzzle making, but also authentic puzzle box re-creation. You'll also get a handy puzzle history timeline showing the evolution of picture puzzles and cutting tools clear back to the Colonial era. Very useful information for history buffs, reenactors, and educators.

And finally this well-rounded resource also includes a nice figural pattern library, along with entrepreneurial tips for entering the saturated wooden jigsaw puzzle market.

If there is a downside to this book it would be in its concise format. While the book has numerous pictures throughout, it is not a full-scale pictorial instruction manual. I wouldn't call it a play-by-play book for "dummies."

Brevity and all considered, this book is well-rounded and thorough in content, and is by all standards the best treatise available today in the art of wooden jigsaw puzzle manufacture.

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Gallery of Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles

how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

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Here I am cutting a puzzle in my kitchen during the holiday season, 2010. The following images are of some of my favorite wooden jigsaw puzzles...

how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

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This was my first two-sided puzzle. It was finished in a traditional cut with whimsies and some line cutting. This puzzle dons the face art of two antique German postcards which I enlarged using a graphics program. Cute, cute, cute! It measures roughly 11x6 inches.

how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

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This was one of my first wooden jigsaw puzzles. It comes out every Christmas at our house. The outline cut is called a "silhouette." This puzzle is fairly large at 14x18 inches, with 140 free-style cut pieces.

how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

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This free-style cut puzzle was made using a public domain image by Normal Rockwell. This one is titled, "The Rivals." Measures 11x13 inches, with 110 pieces.

how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles
how to make a wooden jigsaw puzzle - make your own jigsaw puzzles - making wooden jigsaw puzzles

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These little beauties are called Puzlet Gems, shown here very close to actual size (average is 2.5x3 inches). They are the smallest workable wooden jigsaw puzzles with whimsies to ever be produced. To my knowledge, no one else is making anything quite like them. I sell them in limited editions through LetsPlayHistory.org/Puzlets.

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Your Comments Are Welcome! - If you like this hobby lens, please social us - Thanks!

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    • JoyAgain profile image
      Author

      JoyAgain 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Ellen - This book does touch on CNC machining, as I have done some, but it does not, for example, go into details such as plotting the cut patterns, etc.. The gluing section does talk about mounting artwork to lumber in prep for waterjet cutting, but that's about the extent of information provided for CNC machining. The book basically introduces CNC as an outsourcing or contracting option.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      We have a home CNC machine. Would your book be appropriate for us, or are the techniques aimed at other technologies?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I too am a puzzle cutter, but have taken a few years off from cutting. Your advice is great. I found this a very rewarding hobby and got into it after purchasing some old wooden jigsaws. I use photo mount paper to mount my pictures to the wood. You can use a warm iron to fix the pictures- (the photo mount paper melts and does a permanent fix. I found this to work the best for me. Cheers from NY. USA

    • JoyAgain profile image
      Author

      JoyAgain 6 years ago

      @anonymous: I've never personally seen a full template for cutting wooden jigsaw puzzles. For the most part you have to learn how to free-style cut (practice, practice, practice), and then creatively add special touches as you get better at it. Just make up your mind that it's OK to do a couple of experimental "throw-away" puzzles to learn on, and give yourself permission to make mistakes at first. You will get the hang of it, I promise!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      im from south africa and i like the puzzle hobby but i struggle with the idea where to get a template to put on top of the picture i want to cut

    • Northbright profile image

      Norbert Isles 6 years ago from Philippines

      This is a hobby I would love to learn and do for my youngest. Thank you so much.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      Truly lovely lens - joy to see some of these puzzles.

    • profile image

      GenesisLabs 6 years ago

      Interesting lens. I'm going to have to try this when I get a chance. Thanks.