Sphere Factor ~ Vintage Puzzle Box Build




About: I enjoy building wooden locking systems , ...and recycling/upcycling. It doesn't take long for a passion to become an obsession.

Intro: Sphere Factor ~ Vintage Puzzle Box Build

Have I mentioned I like boxes? I came across this antique embossed tin box and what I found that was great about it was how it had an intact wood lining already which makes it a whole lot easier to make a puzzle box if there is something to glue to.

In the end, this puzzle box never made it to its end destination, lost as sea I surmised. Probably good in the end as it was terribly difficult to open. ; )

I made this way more difficult than needed, hopefully you will see what I did here so you can design your own version.

Step 1: The Idea & 1st Layer

The idea was to have a steel marble traverse the 2 levels up to the top to use the weight of the steel ball to depress the locking mechanism in order to unlock the lid.

Simple right?

What you see happening in the pictures is that I am dividing sections that are to be left hollow for secret compartments while the rest is for the marble maze. One tricky hurdle in the lower level is a slider that has to be put into the right position for the ball to travel to the inner elevator shaft in the middle (space between the two compartments). If that wasn't enough, the box also needs to be upside down to escape the first level as the height of each level is 1.5 that of the steel ball height, so the hole won't line up if the box is oriented upright.

Once built, I glue in a ledge for the second level to sit upon.

Step 2: The Second Layer

Here is where I start adding holes big enough for the marble to fall through. The holes on the ends go down, while the hole in the middle allows the ball to come up, ...or down.

I added little ramps to the underside of the second floor so that it would guide the steel ball to the hole. It didn't make it that much easier, trust me.

In another pic you can see the inner slider that must be aligned properly for the ball to fall through. Interestingly, all the way to the left or right doesn't allow the ball through, but it does find its way easy enough.

To keep certain holes as 'down only' I added a small spring wire so that the steel ball would fall through from above but less likely from lower levels as the hole is blocked.

Step 3: The Lock Tab

I cut this lock tab while it was in a longer, more workable length and it is designed to allow the head of a nail to slide into the lock tab from above.

You can see the simple housing for the lock tab, and there are small neo magnets that push the lock tab into the locked position.

Take notice at all the holes going back down in the second layer, this is what made it very challenging. Though, once you knew the secret, ...it was just a matter of holding the box upside down until the ball was at its unlocking point before turning the box upside right again.

By the weight of the steel ball, the lock tab will be depressed just enough to allow the alignment of the lid pin to be released.

Now, does that make any sense?

Step 4: The Final Steps

Here you can se the 1/8" plywood cut out to fit around the existing structure.

A hole is drilled to allow the lid pin to reach down into the box just the right amount so the lid pin works perfectly with the lock tab.

Small blocks were made to cap the two small secret compartments. A simple headed nail was pushed through an oversized hole and had the tip snipped off at a point where the nail could be lifted by the head but not removed because of a little bend in the end of the nail.

One vintage puzzle box sure to stump!



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    5 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Browsing "puzzleparadise" was certainly enlightening. Wow! I had no idea these fetched premium dollar... I don't mean to downplay your worth either. I'd been shopping amazon for some time, and contiplated a purchase, but just hadn't made a decision. When surfing my Instructibles app, your project caught my curiosity. To point, sadly, I can't allow myself to forfeit $300+, at this time. Although, I'm sure yours are worth it. To give merit, your explanation, and photos on "Instructibles" were very clear. Well done on that front! Thank you. DTZ


    2 years ago

    Would you make one like this for me at a price? I love it!

    3 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    Hmmm, I don't usually repeat designs, but I can do one like it? ...the vintage box I normally start with each time is usually different as well. Sometimes customers provide their own vintage box, something that they have had, but had no real use for it. Email me if you want to learn more.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you, KelSnake for a speedy reply. After considering a personal object of affection to recreate your puzzle, I decided to leave it in your hands. An artist can't consciously take ownership if they finished another's work. In a way, your product is an original piece of art. You see something in nothing, and make it "your masterpiece." And, Remember to sign your work. Get back with me when you've decided. Thank you, again. Sincerely, DoveTailZ


    Reply 2 years ago

    Ok DovetailZ, I can make you one from the few hundred vintage boxes I have on hand. It gives me a reason to legitimately 'need' to go to antique stores, lol. If I know a bit more about your personal style I may even have something that's just right already. Depending on the complexity these type of puzzle pieces start in the $300 range and up. Sometimes you can find my sort of mechanical mayhem being auctioned on www.puzzleparadise.net but they usually go as fast as I can make them.