My daughter loves puzzles and recently got interested in shapes. I decided to make her a wooden puzzle with basic shapes using my Glowforge laser cutter. This can also be made with woodworking tools.
You can use as many different shapes and colors as you want. I also show how you can use either thicker puzzle pieces or puzzle pieces with little gripping pegs.
Step 1: Supplies
- 1/8" wood - I'm using Birch plywood I got from mikeasaurus (I bartered with chewy molasses ginger cookies)
- 1/4" wood (optional) - also Birch plywood
- 1/4" diameter dowel - this is for the handle on the puzzle pieces, if you check out the wood section in your craft store, you might be able to find some pegs to try but I didn't get a chance to check that out before making these.
- Wood Glue
- Little Clamps - or whatever you like to use
- Sandpaper - I used 220 but you can go as fine as you want with the grit
- Paints - I'm using Rust-Oleum paint and primer in Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, & Pink (because I do everything in rainbows)
- Shellac Clear Finish
- Masking Tape - for laser cutting
- If you are going to laser cut large sheets, I recommend a wide roll of masking tape
- Laser Cutter or appropriate Woodworking Tools
I am using sprays because I have no talent for painting. You can use what you want, just make sure it is made to be used on wood.
Step 2: Design
I used Inkscape to design my puzzle.
I started with the shapes so I would know how big the puzzle needed to be. I've heard the rule of thumb is if something can fit down a toilet paper tube, it's too small for very small kids to play with. With that in mind, I started with a square that is 2" by 2." Then I just started making more shapes based on the size of that one.
I knew I had 7 colors of paint, so I decided to do just 7 shapes. You can do more or less. When deciding on shapes, I went with some pretty basic ones that are already on a cardboard puzzle my daughter has: Square, Circle, Triangle, Diamond, Star, Pentagon, and Heart. Some other to consider are Rectangle, Parallelogram, Trapazoid, and Oval (those are the other shapes from the puzzle I already had). Also, get our little one to say parallelogram or trapezoid. It's the cutest!
I wanted to arrange the shapes as evenly as possible, so in the end, I had them in two rows of two, top and bottom, and a row of three through the middle.
Something else to keep in mind when making the shapes is that when possible, make them even. A square and circle are already set, but make sure your star, triangle, diamond, and pentagon can be placed in any way. This will make it easier for your kid. If the shape only fits one way when it looks like it should fit anyway, they might get frustrated. To check if they were even, I would duplicate the shape, change the color and rotate it to make sure it still fit.
I wasn't sure at first if I wanted thick pieces or pieces with little handles, so I tried both. I had dowels that were 1/4" wide so I made holes that were just a smidgen smaller than that to cut out. This ended up being a bit too tight, but you can always sand them down if you have the patience. It's good to do test cuts and test the fit before committing.
Once I had the shapes in the size I wanted and the arrangement I wanted, I needed the puzzle outline. I decided to use a rectangle with rounded corners to make it safer for kids to handle. My puzzle ended up being about 8" by 7.5" but it's not exactly that. To save on cuts and space, I put the puzzle back right next to it and deleted one of the overlapping lines.
Time to cut!
Step 3: Cut
Time to cut your design. If you are using woodworking tools, have at it! I don't have any experience so I can't really give advice, but if you have them already, you know how to use them.
Before laser cutting, cover the front and back of your wood with tape. I originally didn't cover the back and it got burn marks. I say, just cover them both just in case.
Put your wood in the cutter and cut! Your settings are going to vary depending on your cutter but with my Glowforge Pro 45 Watt Laser Cutter, I used the settings: Thickness .125" / Speed 170 / Power Full.
Always do test cuts, but I actually got my information in the Glowforge forums.
Since I wanted to try both peg pieces and thicker pieces, I put holes in the pieces I cut with the puzzle board and then did sperate pieces on 1/4" Birch plywood. If you only have one size of wood, another option is just cut two sets of the pieces and glue them on top of each other. I used the other size simply because I already had it.
Cutting the dowel can be kind of weird. You can just cut it with woodworking tools, but I decided to go for it with the laser. I was able to easily cover it with a normal roll of masking tape, then I taped it in place in my cutter. I did some test cuts and when I had the settings I wanted, I just cut lines across it. It got a little more burned on the "edges" where the laser didn't go through as much wood, but it seemed to all work out fine.
Step 4: Sanding
Take off all that tape, it is Sanding time!
You need to sand your pieces before painting to get the burn marks off, to get a smoother finish, and so the paint will stick to the wood better.
I used just 220 grit but you can start coarser and/or go finer. It's your call. I'm no expert.
For the pegs, I sanded them a bit on each end in a circular motion on the sandpaper and I carefully tried to round the edges a bit to make them smoother for kiddie fingers.
Another thing to keep in mind. When I sanded burned edges lightly, I did it in one area of the sandpaper and used another area of the sandpaper for the flat faces because the burn comes off on the paper and you don't want to transfer it to clean areas of your wood.
Lastly, I rounded pointy edges just a bit particularly the star, square, and diamond. You don't want these to be weapons. I know I could have designed them and cut them rounded but I wanted just a slight rounding to not lose the shape.
Step 5: Gluing (+ More Sanding)
Time to glue everything up!
Glue your board from to the flat board back. Make sure you put it on forward though, it shouldn't really matter if your pieces are even.
I clamped this and wiped off any glue that oozed out.
Make sure you don't have glue oozing inside the puzzle cutouts or it will interfere with the puzzle pieces fitting in. I used a folded piece of paper (or wax paper) and scrap any glue out you can now before it hardens.
If you are using the pegged pieces, carefully add some glue inside the cutout hole (I used a pointed popsicle stick) and then smash that peg in there. Mine pegs were a super tight fit so it was quite the battle! Try not to push them too far through. Get them even with the back if you can.
If you are putting in pegs, make sure the piece fits in the puzzle base before gluing the peg in. This will only be an issue for none equal pieces, but in particular, check the heart. If it isn't symmetrical, it will only fit in one way.
Wipe excess glue and let them dry.
Once they are dry, I recommend sanding the edges of the puzzle board to get any excess glue and the backs of the pieces where the pegs stick out to get a smooth and clean finish.
ALSO! Be careful as the burn can smear with the glue, so you may have to wash your hands a lot during gluing to avoid making a mess of your pieces.
Step 6: Painting (and Sanding)
I used sperate boxes for each color to keep myself clean and organized. Now, I know you are supposed to prime, sand, paint, sand, paint and all that, but I forgot so I'll tell you what I did, but please do what is best for you.
- I painted all the pieces and shellacked the puzzle board.
- I let it sit for a few minutes, then gave everything another coat.
- Then I let everything sit for 20 minutes.
So, the colored paints I got said to apply a second coat or clear coat within an hour or after 48 hours. Well, I wasn't going to wait that long, so my goal was to have everything done in that hour period. Or as close to it as I could. [The shellac said to wait 1 hour before painting, but I knew I wouldn't be painting after shellacking so I didn't worry about this.]
If you are going to sand, you would probably do it now and then do another coat on the front of the pieces.
- After the 20 minutes, I flipped everything over and gave the back a few sprays.
- I let them sit for a few minutes, then I gave everything another coat.
- Then I let everything sit for 20 minutes. I put the color sprays away at this point.
- Now I flipped all the puzzle pieces back to the front and sprayed them with shellac. Since I wasn't really going to do more with the puzzle board at this point, I put it on its side (picture 3) and sprayed the edge.
- Wait a couple minutes and spray everything with shellac again. I turned the board clockwise and sprayed the next edge.
- Wait 20 minutes.
- Flip the pieces to the back and spray them with shellac. Turn the puzzle board clockwise and spray the edge.
- Wait a couple minutes then spray everything again. I turned the puzzle board one last time to spray the last edge.
- Now I just let everything sit and dry.
When I was able, I moved the pieces around a bit so they wouldn't stick to the paper or box they were on.
Step 7: Dry and Done
After everything had some time to sit, I moved everything to a clean box to finish drying and picked up my spraying mess.
Give the pieces all at least a day before any playing with it. Don't want it getting on your kid's fingers!
Enjoy and if you make this, let me know what your kid prefers, thicker pieces or peg pieces.
After having done this, I think thicker pieces with pegs might be the best, best way to go, but I'm still happy with how things turned out.
As you can see, the burned edges of the pieces didn't get covered as well with paint. I expected this and didn't care. If you want to avoid this you will need to sand more and/or do more coats of paint.