This personalized animal puzzle is the perfect baby gift. The knobs on the pieces make them easy for little hands to pick up and play with.
We recently made several of these laser-cut puzzles for our friends with new babies. We chose Yukon animals for the pieces, but you could replace them with your own local wildlife.
On the back of the puzzles we laser etched the names of the recipients, to make them extra special.
Step 1: Design
The first step is to make the design for laser etching and cutting. We used CorelDraw, the program used for the laser cutter at our local makerspace.
Choose images for the puzzle pieces. We found photos we liked of northern wildlife.
Open a new CorelDraw file and draw a rectangle the size you want your finished puzzle. Set it to a hairline width so it will be a cut line.
Import the images and then scale and size them. Set all images to the same resolution (we used 300 dpi).
Use "trace bitmap" and minimize the colours. Remove any unwanted parts of the images and the background.
Select each image and use the "outline" tool.
Use the "contour tool" to offset the outline 0.25 to 0.5" from the image. Set this offset outline as a cut line.
Use the original outline, set with a width so it will etch (not cut), to enhance each puzzle piece image.
Adjust the contrast and brightness as required.
Step 2: Laser Cutting and Etching
Select thin plywood for your puzzle. We used ¼" birch.
Before doing any laser project, we like to do several small tests to get our settings right.
Once you are happy with your laser etching and cutting settings, send the puzzle file to the laser.
Cut an additional identical rectangle, without the animal pieces, to serve as the back. This is where we added names to personalize the gifts we were making.
Step 3: Cleaning and Sanding
Sand any rough edges on your pieces.
Unfortunately the laser etching revealed some white residue (dried glue) on our pieces. We removed it by scrubbing the pieces with water and a scrub brush.
Step 4: Assembly
Glue together the two rectangles with wood glue. Clamp it together and allow the glue to set.
Select some small drawer knobs to add to the puzzle pieces.
Drill countersink holes in the puzzle pieces to fit the screws on your knobs.
The screws that came with our knobs were too long to work with the thin plywood. Instead of buying new screws, we cut ours to length.
Screw on the knobs.
If desired, finish with a baby safe varnish and sealer.