Scroll saw artist specializes in cutting jigsaw puzzles without the aid of a pattern—and you can do it too!
Carter Johnson began cutting jigsaw puzzles in 1993 after moving to a larger home with room for a workshop in the basement. Both Carter’s and his wife’s families have been interested in wooden jigsaw puzzles for generations. Building on the family enthusiasm, Carter became determined to create his own puzzles.
To date, Carter has cut thousands of jigsaw puzzles including more than 600 full-size puzzles, each with 250 to 450 puzzle pieces.
“I cut them all without patterns, honoring the color lines in the pictures as the basis for the puzzle pieces,” Carter explained. “I deliberately select calendar pictures and photographs with distinct colors and images within them. I try to follow all of the color lines, whether they are animals, plants, or roof lines. Utilizing the color lines for the boundaries of the pieces not only eliminates the need for patterns, but it makes the puzzles a lot more fun to assemble.”
Carter also cuts puzzles out of postage stamps.
“I always keep a couple of one-cent stamp puzzles in my pocket to give away wherever I want to be remembered,” Carter said. “I bet I’ve given away over 2,000 postage-stamp puzzles in the past ten years.”
In late 1997, Carter and his wife were shopping for Christmas cards when he got the idea to create his trademark Christmas-card puzzles. 2009 marks the thirteenth year of sharing these unique holiday greetings with friends and family.
“I begin a year early, in January, and will have around 90 cards ready by December. I always select a card that’s great fun to cut.” Carter said.
Each full-size puzzle takes Carter five to six hours to cut. A Christmas-card puzzle takes less than thirty minutes to cut and Carter can cut a postage-stamp size puzzle in just over five minutes.
Carter uses Flying Dutchman #2/0 narrow-kerf superior puzzle blades for the full-size and Christmas-card puzzles. He uses an #8/0 jeweler’s blade for the postage-stamp puzzles.
“I prefer the kerf from the Flying Dutchman superior puzzle blades,” Carter explained. “I’ve tried many other types and brands, but none of them produce the kind of tight-fitting puzzle pieces I get when I use the superior puzzle blades. The pieces fit together properly, but come apart easily. I can get as many as 150 pieces from one blade. For the postage-stamp puzzles, I like the #8/0 blades. The fine blades break easily, but let me make tight turns.”
Carter attaches the pictures to 1/4"-thick 5-ply poplar plywood. The wood cuts easily, but is strong enough to produce durable puzzles. Thinner plywoods are too delicate for children to play with and for mailing.
“Please get rid of the notion that you need to follow a pattern when cutting jigsaw puzzles,” Carter concluded. “I have never met a scroller who could not do this--and who didn’t enjoy the freedom it provides.”