Chase away the winter blues with these contrasting stack-cut puzzles
I have designed more than 300 puzzles, but this snowflake is special to me because it was my first. After discovering a complete set of hexagon-based pieces within certain mathematical parameters, I then looked for a pleasing shape into which the pieces could fit.
I liked the snowflake shape the best, but it’s fun to use the pieces to make other shapes outside the tray.
The smallest piece, a single hexagon, is easy to lose, so I glued it in place in the center, both as a guide for placing the other pieces and to limit the number of solutions to 161. With the smallest piece loose, there are thousands of solutions to the puzzle.
The easiest way to make a puzzle with a contrasting frame is to stack-cut two puzzles at one time. Choose contrasting woods, such as walnut and Baltic birch. I finish the puzzles with clear acrylic to highlight the wood grain, but you can also stain or paint them. Painting the puzzle makes it more challenging because it prevents you from using the wood grain as a clue during assembly.
With the thinner pieces sandwiched between the thicker pieces, stack all four pieces of wood, use spray adhesive to attach the pattern, and tape the stack securely. Cut the perimeter of the snowflake. Separate the pieces, and then restack and tape the two thicker pieces. Drill a small blade-entry hole and cut the pieces, striving for accuracy. Separate the stacks and sand the edges if necessary.
There are several ways to add the detail lines on both sides of the puzzle pieces. You can engrave the lines with a rotary-power carver, burn the lines with a woodburner, or draw the lines with a permanent marker. Align the frame with the puzzle bottom and glue it in place; clamp it until dry. Swap all of the puzzle pieces except the center hexagon and assemble the puzzle with the contrasting pieces. Remove the center hexagon, put a dot of glue on the bottom, and replace it. Check for and remove any glue squeeze-out. Repeat for the second puzzle.
Materials & Tools:
• Walnut, 1/8" (3mm)-thick: backing board, 4" x 4 1/4" (102mm x 108mm)
• Walnut, 1/4" (6mm)-thick: puzzle, 4" x 4 1/4" (102mm x 108mm)
• Baltic birch, 1/8" (3mm)-thick: backing board, 4" x 4 1/4" (102mm x 108mm)
• Baltic birch, 1/4" (6mm)-thick: puzzle, 4" x 4 1/4" (102mm x 108mm)
• Spray adhesive • Clear packing tape
• Sandpaper: assorted • Fine-tip permanent marker (optional)
• Wood glue
• Finish of choice
• Blades: #1 reverse-tooth
• Drill and bit: 1/16" (2mm)-diameter
• Woodburner, permanent marker, or rotary-power carver (optional)