Mapping Out a Puzzle of America




Introduction: Mapping Out a Puzzle of America

Are you looking for a great gift for your kids, grandkids, nephew, or niece, then you came to the right place. This puzzle is a map of the United States and would be a great gift because it helps kids learn about the United States while keeping them entertained.

I got this idea from my cousin. I saw that he enjoyed maps, especially maps of the United States, and he loved puzzles. This gave me the inspiration behind the project, so I looked up some references and started to brainstorm. When I was done, I came up with the idea of a United States map puzzle.

If you are interested in making this puzzle, I have posted two brief videos that show me cutting the wood, the step-by-step process needed to make the puzzle, and the files I used to manufacture this project.



- 20''x30''x3/4'' piece of wood (I used Mystery Oak)

- 20''x30''x1/8'' piece of MDF

- 3 to 5 colors of spray paint

- Black paint

- Polyurethane protective coating


- CNC Router (I used a Laguna IQ)

- Laser cutter

- Sandpaper


- VCarve Pro 9.0

- Fusion 360


Step 1: Roughing It Out

Before you begin designing the puzzle you need to decide what you want to do. With a map of the United States, there are a lot of options to choose from. Some options include a topographical map showing varying elevations, a political map showing how past states have voted, or a plain map. Once you have chosen a map type you need to pick what you want the states to look like. Do you want to show the interstates and highways, do you want to show landmarks, or will the states remain plain?

For this project, I decided to keep it simple and keep the puzzle plain. I based the design on a typical state map you would see in a geography class.

Step 2: The Design (part 1)

The first part of the design was the puzzle base. I did the majority of the design in VCarve Pro 9.0. To begin the design I downloaded a United States map as a JPEG and imported the image into VCarve. Once the image was uploaded, I used the tracing tool to get a working outline and scaled it to the right size. To create the outer border I ran an offset. Once the rough outline was done I imported the design into Fusion 360 to make every sharp corn into a curve so the CNC machine could cut it out. When that was done I imported the new base design into VCarve and was ready to cut.

Step 3: Basing It Out

Before you can cut out the base you need to select and prepare your wood. The wood should be cut to a length of 20"x30" and have a depth of .75". Once your wood is prepared, you need to secure the wood to the CNC machine. Once the wood is secured you start cutting out the base.

Toolpaths info

- Outer border: profile at a depth of .75"

- Inner border: a pocket at a depth of .1"

- Add two tabs to the outer border

Step 4: The Design (part 2)

The next step of the design is the state puzzle pieces. I designed these pieces on Fusion 360. To get the best fit for the puzzle, I imported the inner border from the base. After the border was imported, I took the map the border was based on and scaled it, so it fit the border the best. Once the map was scaled I manually traced the outline to create the borders for the states.

Step 5: Laser Time

Once I finished the design for the puzzle pieces, I imported the design into LightBurn. Once the file was in LightBurn I was able to cut the puzzle pieces out of a 30"x20"x1/8" piece of MDF board.

Step 6: Finishing

Once the puzzle pieces and base are cut out they need to be finished.

To finish the base, you will need some black paint and sandpaper. The sandpaper is used to smooth out the edges of the border. I first went over the edges with a rougher grit to knock off any of the slivers hanging on after the CNC machine finished cutting. Once the slivers were off I used a fine grit to smooth the edge. Once the edge was done I painted the inside black.

To finish the states, you need 3-5 cans of spray paint and a can of polyurethane. Before you paint you should mark out which color each state will be. Then separate the states by color and paint the states. The states may require multiple coats. Once the states have dried, they should be hit with a polyurethane protective coating.

Step 7: Conclusion

This project took around ten hours to design and build. The design took 3-4 hours, most of which was tweaking the design to make it look nicer. The total cut time was around 3 hours. The finishing process took 3 hours. Overall, I found this to be a fun and relaxing project to build. It helped with problem-solving skills and shows that hard work pays off.

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    8 days ago

    This is a really nice instrucable. Thanks.

    But...and perhaps I'm a bit sensitive since I live in Oregon...why did you chop off so much of the west side of Oregon and Washington?


    9 days ago

    I've seen these made with handles on the smaller east coast states since those are so small and hard to handle. You could use thumbtacks with the pin cut to fit for a quick fix or round headed map pins to make it a little nicer.


    Reply 8 days ago

    Thanks for the advice, I will look into adding handles in future designs.


    9 days ago

    Great job. I like how you simplified the shapes of the smaller states to make it feasible.


    Reply 9 days ago