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Picture of maze puzzle box
This is a puzzle box. To open it you need to perform a certain gesture and press a button. The gesture is defined by the shape of an internal ball bearing maze. You can easily create your own maze and plans using the website www.mazepuzzlebox.co.uk. The design is parametric, making it easy to make with materials of differing thickness.




Someone who doesn't know how to open it will struggle for a long time, especially if you give them no clues. Once you've learnt the gesture, you can open the box in a couple of seconds. My uncle (who is a maker working at a museum) took 24 hours to open it, with a team of interested buddies, an xray machine, a metal detector and large magnets!

Thanks
Many thanks to London Hackspace, and everyone who has helped me out with learning how to use the laser cutter! Thanks Lou for the good photos! This design has taught me a lot about using the laser cutter, parametric design and designing for CNC. This is about the 12th version, so it's pretty reliable by now. I hope the instructions are good enough!

Tools and Materials
Tools: a laser cutter, a CAD program
Materials: a sheet of 4mm ply, PVA glue, a small rare earth magnet, 2 x 25x4mm springs (you can get them from pens), a 4mm ball bearing and 2 x 10mm of 4mm metal rod (I use brass).

 
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Step 1: Cut your peices

Picture of Cut your peices
Design your unique maze!

Go here http://www.mazepuzzlebox.co.uk/create   and draw your maze. To make the maze harder, use dead ends and junctions where timing becomes more important. Click 'create box' and then enter your material thickness. Click 'generate plans' to get the plans that are correct for the thickness of your material.

Inspect the plans

open the DXF in your CAD program (QCAD is free ) and check things look OK. I use an HPC laser and the software won't import the file as it stands, so I have to save it with QCAD and then it works. I'd be really interested to hear if other software works without having to open and save it in a CAD program.

Laser settings

The finished CAD file has 4 colours, white and grey for the cuts, green for patterns and blue for etched parts. The settings I use on a 30W cutter are:

* etch (blue): speed 200, power 30, scan gap 0.05
* pattern (green): speed 100, power 40
* cut (white and grey): speed 4.2, power 100

It is well worth experimenting to make sure that the etched parts are sufficiently etched.  This is hard to explain, but if you look at the plans (image above), the ball rolls on the big etched rectangle on layer 4 with layer 5 (the maze) and layer 6 on top of it. The material is meant to be 4mm, but it is often thinner (my 4mm ply is actually 3.72mm). So we have to etch at least .3mm out of one layer for the 4mm ball to roll in the space between 2 layers.

Step 2: If you don't have a laser cutter

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A number of people have posted about making the box without a laser cutter. This page is for you!

Questions

Q. Can I make this without a laser cutter?
A. Yes! Megamoonman made one (see comments)

Q. Can I print out the plans and glue them onto the wood to help?
A. Yes, follow the instructions to make the plans, then see the instructions below.

 Q. I don't have a CAD program/can't run the software - can I still make it?
A. Yes, please PM me with your wood thickness and I'll make the plans for you.

The plans for making by hand

It's the same process as for the laser cutter, but after you've made the final CAD plans, you print them out to scale. To do this, please check the instructions on step1: Cut your pieces. Regarding printing, with QCad, you can export as a png. So you just need to get the resolution right so when you print you are getting the right dimensions. The dimensions for each slice are 140x100mm.


Step 3: Tips

Hints
Take your time between layers. There is not much tolerance in the design for mistakes. A mistake with glue will stop the mechanism from working and you'll never be able to open your box! Don't forget the bearing before you glue on the top layer!

Sand all the pieces

Sand the tops and bottoms of all the pieces to make sure they glue well. Especially sand the moving parts of the mechanisms to make sure they slide well.

Align the pieces

The important places to align are the hinge slots and the catch slot. Make sure these are as aligned as possible (use the hinges and catch to help). Any misalignment at the edges can be sanded off afterwards. Any misalignment in the hinges or catch hole will result in a difficult to open or close box.

Part numbers

To help with the instructions the layers are numbered on the drawing and if possible on the parts themselves. The bottom layer is number 1 and the top is 8. Layers 1, 6 and 8 aren't marked with numbers because they all have patterns on them that you'd see after assembly. Layer 1 is the bottom (maze pattern on the back and hinge slots), layer 6 is the one with the etched maze and website url on, layer 8 is the top (maze pattern on the back, no hinge slots).


Step 4: The parts

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Have a look at the parts in the images.

Step 5: Preparation

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Check the photos:

1/- sand the pieces shown

2/- make sure the holes in the hinges are 4mm, so the rod fits well

3/- check the catch is a tight fit in layer 7, otherwise sand it a little

4/- check the hinges are a tight fit in layer 7, but a sliding fit in all the other layers.

Step 6: Layer 1 (bottom) and 2.

Picture of Layer 1 (bottom) and 2.
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Start with the bottom layer (it has hinge slots) and turn this over so that the unpatterned side is up. Put the hinges in place to help align layer 2 on top of it. Get the next layer (2) and put some PVA glue over the back of it and glue it down. Remove the hinges and use a heavy weight to compress the pieces flat and leave it for 5 minutes.


Step 7: Check mechanism etching

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Assemble (but don't glue) layer 3 and the mechanism, with springs and ball bearing (see photo). Then put layer 4 on top, hold it down tight and check that pressing the button moves the catch slider easily.

If they get stuck then you need to check:

1/- the etched rectangles on layer 2 are deep enough (use sandpaper or a dremel to deepen them)

2/- that the sliding pieces are nice and smooth enough (sand them more)

Check again, and when you're happy we can move on to gluing layer 3.

Step 8: Gluing layer 3 onto 2

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Glue the back of layer 3, so we don't get glue where the sliding pieces will go. Use the hinges again to help align. Then glue it, weight it and leave for 5 minutes.

Step 9: Clean layer 3 and test again.

Picture of Clean layer 3 and test again.
Clean up any excess in glue where the sliding pieces will be.

Then assemble the mechanism as you did earlier, and with layer 4 on top, check everything is still fine.

Step 10: Assemble hinges

Picture of Assemble hinges
Get the hinges ready. Carefully put the rods through the holes, but don't force them or you could splinter the ply.

Step 11: Glue layer 4 to 3

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Put the hinges in the slots, make sure the mechanism is in place as shown. Then glue on layer 3. Use the hinges to help align layer 4 on top. Make sure the catch slot is aligned too.

Now the hinges are in place it's hard to weight it down over the whole box. So I put the box on the edge of the table, use a weight for the larger part of the box, and a bunch of clamps for the hinge edge. See photos.

Step 12: Check etch on layer 4

Picture of Check etch on layer 4
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Get layer 5 (with the cutout maze) and place on top of layer 4. Put the bearing in the maze and then hold down layer 6 tight on top. Check the ball moves freely round the maze without getting stuck anywhere.

This is really important to test, because there isn't a nice way of fixing it after you've glued layer 5 on!

If the ball doesn't move easily, remove more material from layer 4. I use a dremel. Ideally you won't have to do this because you'll have got the etch settings right on your laser cutter.

Solve the maze and check the button and catch slider still work. They can get stuck with excess glue, but it's fine if you keep testing them out from time to time.

Step 13: Maze layer

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Now find the maze layer (5), glue the back of this, avoiding the maze area. Glue this down.

Step 14: Cleaning the maze

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Scrape out any excess glue around the maze

Step 15: Add the magnet

Picture of Add the magnet
Wedge the magnet in with some wood and PVA glue.

Then with the ball stuck next to the magnet, put layer 6 on top and check that you can free the ball from the magnet with a shake. If not, try packing the magnet out a bit with some waste material.

Make sure you can free the ball from the magnet with a knock or a shake before gluing on layer 6!

Step 16: Glue layer 6 to 5

Picture of Glue layer 6 to 5
Make sure the ball is in the mechanism somewhere!

Then glue on layer 5, then place layer 6 on top, using the hinges and the catch to help alignment.  Weight it down and leave while we assemble the lid.

Step 17: Glue layer 7 and 8: making the lid

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Glue the 2 lid layers (7 and 8) together. Weight it down to ensure it's good and flat.
Leave for 5 minutes.


Step 18: Add the catch

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Then add the catch. Make sure it's pointing the right way!

Step 19: Sand the edges of the box

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Before we glue on the lid, round the edges on the hinge side of the box. This will ensure the lid opens smoothly.

Step 20:

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For now, just push fit the hinges into the lid slots. Check the box closes and the catch goes in the hole. Check that you can operate the mechanism and the box will fully close.

Check that the box closes properly at the hinge end. Sometimes the hinges can be a little too long (see photo).

Step 21: Glue the lid

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Glue the ends of the hinges, push them into the slots in the lid and then shut the box! Weight it down and leave it for 5 minutes. Then open it to make sure any excess glue doesn't glue the box shut!

Step 22: Catch adjustment

Picture of Catch adjustment
We want the box to be as close and tight a fit as possible. So I've made the catch slot a touch on the tight side. You might find that if you just pull the box open without pressing the button it will open anyway - because the catch slider isn't fitting into the catch slot.

Very carefully, start removing material from the the lower edge of the catch slot, trying it to see if the box locks. Press the button then close the box. Lift the lid a few millimetres and then release the button. As you push the lid closed fully, you should hear a click as the catch slider slides home.

Step 23: Sanding and finishing

Picture of sanding and finishing
I use a disk sander to get all the edges smooth and flat. Then I use some fine sand paper, and finally some beeswax wood polish.

Whatever sander you use, make sure you sand the button side in a horizontal position; to stop sawdust getting in and jamming the mechanism.
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Schaapje824 months ago

I tried to make this, but failed. Since the linked site gave the option to use other dimensions than 4mm, I used 3mm. But apparently it doesn't adjust everything well. The hinges won't fit, the lock won't fit, the springs from pens won't fit. Very disappointed.

If you want to make this, I suggest using 4mm and not any other dimensions.

managerajami4 months ago

matthewvenn

please send me this pattern, i can not download it. i can not become a pro either. PLEASE... TNX

managerajami4 months ago

oh God, :(

someone help me. i can not be a pro member. i live in iran. i need this pattern. what can i do? HELP PLEASE.

lbresler made it!6 months ago

I had a lot of fun making this. Even made a little video about it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URM8LZDHit4). My next one I want to make out of perspex and make the maze 3D instead of 2D.

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nxydes1 year ago
Hello,
I had to make an account to thank you for this! I made one for a xmas present. It came out really well with what was labeled as 1/4" plywood but was actually 5mm and 4.5mm bbs.

However, one suggestion to all. I was sanding the sides of the device with a handheld sander and I ended up getting tons of sawdust into the mecanism. Now it tends to stick pretty often. I highly suggest you sand with that edge of the box vertical or else it will fall in and gunk up the mechanism.

Thanks again!
matthewvenn (author)  nxydes1 year ago
Amazing! Please send me a picture(s) so I can put it on the website! My email is matt at mattvenn dot net.

Good tip on the sanding. I always sand horizontal because I use a bench mounted disk sander. Will add it to the instructable.
Hey i need to ask you a q My email is Hess1113@gmail.com
mmdcc2 years ago
I am planning to build a box by hand as I don't have access to a laser cutter. Ive downloaded the plans however I am experiencing the same problems as kholts, the hinges and maze designs are not there. I am using NX CAD 7.5 to open the dxf file. I am planning to print out the designs and stick them to the wood to help cut out. Another problem is trying to find a suitable way to scale up the images to the correct size.

Matthewvenn, would you be able to help me out?
link to maze: http://mazepuzzlebox.co.uk/2312
wood thickness 5.5mm
Email: davidcole293@gmail.com

Many Thanks!
kholtz2 years ago
Thank you!!! http://mazepuzzlebox.co.uk/2178 will be good with a thickness of 6.35mm

Thanks again, this is pretty sweet
-kholtz
holtz.kristen@gmail.com
kholtz2 years ago
Yes - i've tried qcad on mac osx and windows 7 but it didn't work =(
matthewvenn (author)  kholtz2 years ago
oh well. send me a link to the maze and tell me the thickness of material you want and I'll send you a dxf.
kholtz2 years ago
Hi,

I'm having some huge problems getting the file to properly download from the mazepuzzlebox.co.uk site. The hinges and maze both don't show up. Does anyone have any suggestions or can download and email it to me?

Thank you!
matthewvenn (author)  kholtz2 years ago
have you tried qcad? It seems to be the only cad file that can open the files.
AnJo8882 years ago
Really beautifull.
To add some difficulty to the puzzle I would put some soft material (suede-paper or felt) in the inner walls of the maze, so the ball could run without any noise. ;)
matthewvenn (author)  AnJo8882 years ago
thanks for the comment!
Sometimes I put ball bearings in the space so it confuses the sound. But it's already really hard for someone who doesn't know what's inside!
Hi, I can't get the file from the website correctly, I have qcad but the maze and hinges etc, like someone posted before, are missing, any ideas? Thanks! /Anders
matthewvenn (author)  Anders7309172 years ago
weird, what platform are you running qcad on? I've not had any problems with it myself. Otherwise, what ID is your puzzle and I'll download it and send it to you.
Hi!, I'm using Mac, Mountain Lion.. the #175 would be ok!
Thanks!
/Anders
matthewvenn (author)  Anders7309172 years ago
forgot to say what thickness is your material?
Hi, I'm working with 3mm acrylic
matthewvenn (author)  Anders7309172 years ago
email address?
andershjorth@gmail.com thanks!
matthewvenn (author) 2 years ago
yep, you solve the maze, open the box, close the box and solve the maze in reverse to lock.
That makes sense. I'm going to try making one of these. Some sort of return mechanism to save the whole reverse trip would be good. Hmmm, lemme think about it.
matthewvenn (author)  sludgemonster2 years ago
I think it would be straightforward enough. I think a "one way valve" is what's required, which could be done with another magnet perhaps?
Matt

Keep me posted!
One thing that's confusing me is how you get the ball bearing back to the magnet. Do you just have to "undo" the maze once you've opened it?
I downloaded your box maze DXF files to make one on my cnc router. Obviously the files will need adjusted. But I ran into the problem that the file was missing lines. Specifically the hinges, catch, and maze lines were missing. Granted it could be the CAD programs I used. I tried at first with Vcarvepro V5.5 which supports DXF, and then I tried with a copy of TurboCad Mac Pro V3. That wouldn't even import the file at all ( and it should.) although it's a very buggy piece of software.

Anyhow, I can obviously put in the line work manually on my own. Just thought I would ask first in case I am missing something obvious. Great box. Love it!

p.s. I tried downloading multiple box files from multiple browsers (e.g. Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer) both on PC and Mac.
matthewvenn (author)  pastprimitive3 years ago
Hiya,

I take it you made and downloaded the dxf from the website: mazepuzzlebox.co.uk ?

I'm afraid that the DXF files are very buggy, they only seem to reliably open with qcad. So I'd suggest installing this and then opening and saving the file. Once it's saved with qcad you might be able to open it with your other programs.

If you don't want to or it doesn't work, send me the link to your box and I'll open, save and send it to you!

I've learnt to loathe the DXF format! I'll be converting it all to SVG in the future and let people convert the file themselves.

Matt
mymridon3 years ago
Does anyone have a CorelDraw file of this they'd be willing to give me? Or maybe tips on how to use these CAD plans for a Epilog?
matthewvenn (author)  mymridon3 years ago
sorry, I missed this comment. Have you tried importing the dxf file into corel draw? What happens?

Matt
I have, a small error window appears and says "Unrecoverable Error" I have tried closing CorelDraw and restarting my computer and trying different box plans such as 167 and 175 which are suggested on the site.
matthewvenn (author)  mymridon3 years ago
can you try this one? I opened and saved it in qcad.
http://mattvenn.net/files/boxmaze_829.dxf
cwice3 years ago
Great stuff.
Thanks
tlandis3 years ago
I am curious how to get the dxf files as I would like to try this out and make modifications. (Are you selling the plans, or did I simply miss a link???)

I use CorelDraw to make other boxes, but I find your design very unique.

Keep of the great work!
matthewvenn (author)  tlandis3 years ago
You missed the link! go to mazepuzzlebox.co.uk, design a maze and then download the DXF.

Cheers,

Matt
Wish I could make this... too bad I don't a cutter precise enough...
matthewvenn (author)  mashedpotato133 years ago
if you've got a bit of money I can cut your pieces for you, see mazepuzzlebox.co.uk for info.

Matt
sdbersey4 years ago
By laser cutter do you mean a guided saw?
matthewvenn (author)  sdbersey4 years ago
no, a computer controlled machine that uses a powerful laser to cut through various materials. If you don't have one, you can still design a box and then I'll cut the pieces and send them to you. Check the details on the website mazepuzzlebox.co.uk!

Thanks!
megamoonman4 years ago
Got mine built using a scroll saw. Even with the improved instructions I couldn't get the python script to work - I kept getting a syntax error. I gave up on it and with with the scaled-up 4mm plans.

It worked out fine. All the parts fit correctly (with a bit of sanding) and it works well. I used a regular BB and regular pen springs for hardware.

Thanks for the plans! I'm currently working on staining it and I'm planning to line the inside with felt (mostly to cover some imperfections I couldn't sand out).
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