Introduction: Codex Puzzle Box

Please take a minute to vote for my project in the hidden compartments contest if you like it! Thanks!

This instructable will show you how to make a puzzle box that is opened by aligning inner rings that rotate and align into unique designs. This design lets you choose whether you want the box to open in 1 step or 5 steps (to make it more challenging!).

For example, the box I made must be opened by aligning the rings in to make 4 distinct patterns (the initials E, P, and M, followed by a plus sign). After each alignment, a hidden chamber moves up one level (out of 5 total)and the rings must be aligned again to make the next symbol. The video below shows how the box opens:

Step 1: Equipment and Materials

You will only need a few simple tools for this project:

  • Scroll Saw........... for cutting the boards
  • Drill Press/ make starter holes for scroll saw
  • (Belt) finish the project
  • Dremel/Carver.....optional - for making notches in the last construction step
Required supplies:

  • 1/2" x 6" boards (7' total length)
    • I used Mahogany and Padauk.
  • Optional: I also used a 1/4" thick piece of maple to decorate the top/bottom of the box.
  • 3/4", 2 3/4", and 3.25" screws
  • 120/240 sandpaper, polyurethane, and/or other finishing materials

Step 2: Cut 7 Circles With a Diameter of 6"

Start by cutting 7x6" circles. Since my box alternates between mahogany and padauk layers with paduak on top, I cut 4 circles out of padauk and 3 circles out of mahogany.

Once you have these circles cut out, sand their edges to make sure they are all flush and smooth.

The best way to do this is do clamp all of the circles together and use a belt sander to round them all off at the same time.

IMPORTANT: Once you have all of your circles made, label each layer (top, bottom, 1, 2, 3, etc...). This will help a lot in later stages.

Step 3: Cuts for Each Layer

You will cut the 7 circles in 4 different ways, depending on which level they will be used for:

  • Bottom Layer......1.....Cut an inner ring (4") with two notches
  • Top Layer............1.....Cut an inner ring (4.5") with no notches
  • Middle, Type A....2.....See blueprint - leave notches attached
  • Middle, Type B....3.....See blueprint - cut off notches/tabs
In my design, I used padauk for the bottom/top/middle Type A layers. Mahogany was used for Middle Type B layers. If you find a way to print the images off with 6" diameter, everything should be to scale.

  1. Use a pencil to sketch out your cuts on each layer.
  2. Drill pilot holes for the scroll saw blade with a 1/8" drill bit.
  3. Scroll away!
  4. Label everything as you cut it.
  5. Optional: Once you have one layer cut, you can use that as a template for all the other layers to minimize errors/differences between the layers.
When you cut the middle layers, you will get inner rings for the hidden compartment (4" diameter) and outer rings that will be the "rotating rings" in the final design (5" diameter). You will also get 15 smaller pieces that will be glued together for the external columns. The inner circles are mostly scrap. Keep track of this terminology for future steps.

Step 4: Assemble the 3 Outer Columns

After making the cuts in the previous step, you should have 15 small pieces (see first image below). Glue these pieces together (in alternating colors) to make 3 columns (image 2). I also used a screw to reinforce these columns.

Once the glue has dried and the columns are solid, sand them smooth. DO NOT attach the columns to any of the other pieces yet.

Step 5: 1 Step Solution: Assembling the Inner (Hidden) Chamber

As you assemble the inner chamber, you must make a very important choice:

If you want the box to be opened in FIVE STEPS, you must stagger the tabs. See the next step for more info.

If you want the box to be opened in A SINGLE STEP, you must align all of the tabs. (See image below)

  1. Start by turning the top side (4.5" diameter circle) upside down.
  2. Stack the 5 middle layers for the hidden chamber on top of that.
  3. Make sure the tabs are aligned!
  4. Glue all of these pieces together (top layer and 5 middle layers).
  5. You may also use 2 3/4" screws to strengthen this bond (images 2 and 3)
  6. Attach one of the scrap wood circles (3" diameter) to the bottom layer with a 3/4" screw. (image 4)
  7. Set the bottom layer (aka the lid) onto the rest of the assembly.
  8. Align the tabs on the bottom layer/lid with the rest of the tabs
  9. Drill two screws through the 5th middle layer and into the lid to secure it. (images 5 and 6)
Once you have the inner chamber complete, fit your rings onto it and draw vertical lines on them to mark the correct alignment for the solution. Make whatever design you wish on the rotating rings to mark the correct alignment for opening the box.

Step 6: 5 Step Solution: Assembling the Inner (Hidden) Chamber

If you want the box to open in 5 separate steps, then you must stagger the tabs on the inner chamber by 120 degrees, so that they do not align. See the image below.

  1. Start by turning the top side (4.5" diameter circle) upside down.
  2. Center an inner ring on the previous layer and glue in place.
  3. Center a tabbed inner ring onto the assembly and glue in place.
  4. Repeat step 2.
  5. Center another tabbed inner ring onto the assembly. Align the tabs initially, but then rotate them by 120 degrees clockwise. Glue in place.
  6. Repeat step 2.
  7. You may now reinforce the glue by using 2 3/4" screws to join these 6 layers. (images 2 and 3)
  8. Attach one of the scrap wood circles (3" diameter) to the bottom (tabbed) layer with a 3/4" screw.
  9. Set the bottom layer (aka the lid) onto the rest of the assembly. Align the tabs on the bottom layer/lid with the tabs on the closest ring, but then rotate them by 120 degrees.
  10. Drill two screws through the 5th middle layer and into the lid to secure it. (images 4 and 5)

Step 7: 5 Step Solution: Making Notches on Rotating Rings

In this step, you will make notches on the rings that rotate to open the puzzle box. We will do this by dividing each of the rings into 6 sections. Refer to the figure below for further instructions.

1.Align all of the rotating rings such that the notches are facing down.
2.Label the top of each ring with its corresponding number. These labels are crucial in the assembly process.
3.Use a pencil to divide the exterior surface of the rings into 6 sections as shown in Image 1 below.
4.Label each of the sections as follows, for the step in which they must be aligned:
a) Green = Step 1, Yellow = Step 2, Blue = Step 3, Purple = Step 4
b) See the image below for how to label each section.
5.Stack the rings (5 on 4, 4 on 3, etc.) and align them like you would for Step 1. (see image 2)
6.Sketch a design in that aligned section. (e.g. first initial).
7.Repeat Steps 5-6 for all of your other designs (e.g. 2nd/3rd initials and final symbol (+)).
8.You can put any design you want on the remaining white sections, just make sure it doesn’t match the designs on any of the other sections!!!

The last image below shows how the rings align and how I figured out what needs to go where.

Step 8: Test Fit

The purpose of this step is to completely assemble the puzzle box without gluing it together. This allows you to test all of your designs to make sure the box will open.

1) Put the inner chamber on a table (lid side up).
2) Slide each of the rings onto the chamber. Your label numbers for each ring should be facing down.
3) Test fit the 3 external columns into place. Keep them 60 degrees apart and rotate them until you can see the design for the first alignment. Mark the column positions on the top/bottom layers for future reference.

Step 9: Glue It Up!

Once you are sure the rotating rings are properly labeled, start assembling the puzzle box:

  1. Put the bottom layer on a table.
  2. Place the external columns onto the bottom layer in the positions you marked in the last test fitting step. The notches on the bottom layer should be pointing towards the middle of 2 of the columns.
  3. Glue the columns to the bottom layer.
  4. Stack the rings on the inside of the columns. Make sure that Ring 1 is face up (you should see the number you put on it) on the bottom layer, followed by Ring 2, 3, 4, and 5.
  5. Put the top layer onto the columns and glue into place.
  6. I also drilled some 3 1/4" screws into the columns from the bottom layer for extra strength.
  7. Slide the inner chamber into the box by making the alignments in the reverse order (e.g. +, M, P, E for my box)
Did it work? If it did, then great! You're almost finished! Go on to the next step.

If it didn't work, take the box apart and try to figure out what went wrong. Therefore, you should test step 7 before the glue fully dries.

Step 10: Optional Step: Top and Bottom Covers

I wanted to conceal the cuts on the top and bottom layers, so I added a layer of 1/4" maple to each side.

For the bottom layer of maple, I cut out a ring with an OD of 6" and an ID of 4" (see image 1). Glue this layer to the outer ring on the bottom of the box. DO NOT glue it to the inner hidden chamber!

For the top layer of maple, I cut a ring with an OD of 5" and an ID of 4". The ring was also part of a Celtic Knot design (see images 2-3). Glue this top layer to the inner hidden chamber. DO NOT glue it to the rest of the box!

Step 11: Finishing

  1. Give the whole box a good sanding (120 grit or higher).
  2. Apply any paint you might want to use to the exterior rings (e.g. I made green stripes on mine to make the initials stand out).
  3. Carefully apply a coat of polyurethane or oil to the box. Be careful not to use too much varnish or polyurethane to make sure the rotating rings don't stick together.

Step 12: Give It a Whirl!

Before you challenge any one to figure out the box, make sure it works:

1) Align rings 1, 3, and 5 to make design #1
2) Align rings 2 and 4 to make design #2. Note that the whole inner chamber can rotate freely now.
3) Align rings 3 and 5 to make design #3.
4) Make the final alignment for design #4.
5) Rotate Ring 5 until the chamber slides out.
6) Remove the screws that hold the lid in place and reveal the hidden chamber!

Secret Doors and Compartments Contest

Runner Up in the
Secret Doors and Compartments Contest