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Quick & Easy Tree Puzzle

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image Freestanding design can be customized for a fun gift

Freestanding design can be customized for a fun gift

I was inspired to create this puzzle when I realized two of our friends would be celebrating their 70th birthdays in two weeks. I wanted to make them something personal, but with the limited time frame, it had to be reasonably simple. I was reminded of the saying "70 is not old—if you're a tree!" and started working on a design for the puzzle.

I looked at lots of pictures of trees and drew the shape freehand. I often use MDF (medium density fiberboard) for my puzzles because there is no grain or plies to break off, and its smooth finish is ideal for painting. The puzzle can be made from plywood or naturally finished hardwoods.

There are lots of ways you can personalize this pattern. Coordinate the number of pieces with the recipient's age or create a puzzle "just for yew"–made from yew wood. Include apple-shaped jigsaw pieces for the apple of your eye (perhaps five apples for a five-year-old) or cut acorn-shaped pieces and write "tall oaks from little acorns grow" on the back for the new graduate. Add family members' names to individual pieces for a family tree or add significant dates and events to create your own tree of life.

  • Step 1: Prepare the wood. Seal and sand the stock. It is easier to begin with smooth wood rather than trying to smooth the small jigsaw pieces. Attach the pattern to the wood.
  • Step 2: Make sure the saw table is square to the blade. Use a small square. If your table is not square, it will be difficult to assemble the puzzle.
  • Step 3: Cut the outline and open areas. Drill bladeentry holes and cut the open areas. Cut the perimeter of the tree and the base piece.
  • Tree Puzzle
    Shape the edges of the tree
    Step 4: Shape the edges of the tree. Round the edges with a router and round-over bit. I use a Dremel router in a router table. Do not round over the bottom edges of the tree trunk or the base piece. Seal and sand the routed edges. This step is optional, but does give the puzzle a more polished look.
  • Step 5: Cut the puzzle pieces. Use the pattern provided, sketch your own puzzle pieces, or cut the pieces freehand. If the puzzle is intended for a small child, cut large pieces to prevent a choking hazard. The green lines on the pattern are deliberately thick. Use them as guidelines to make smooth flowing cuts. Once the pattern has been removed, variations won’t be noticeable. Advanced scrollers can follow the traditional fine lines in the center of the green pattern lines. Adjust the slot in the base to match the thickness of the wood.
  • Tree Puzzle
    Prepare the puzzle for the paint
    Step 6: Prepare the puzzle for the paint. Remove the pattern. Seal and sand all of the edges. Assemble the puzzle and sand both sides with a sanding block.
  • Step 7: Paint the puzzle. Separate the trunk and base pieces and paint them brown. Do not paint the inside slot of the base. Divide the leaf pieces into three or four piles and paint the pieces in each pile a different shade of green to ensure a random distribution of color.
  • Step 8: Finish the puzzle. Allow the paint to dry. Assemble the puzzle, stand it up on its base, and spray with matte varnish. Sign or label your project on the bottom of the base piece. I create a label including a photograph of the assembled puzzle to aid the recipient and attach the label to the front of a box. I’ve also created laminated labels to attach to drawstring bags.
  • Click the article attachment to download this project's pattern (PDF Required).

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    Comments (30 posted):

    utbva on 03/27/2009 14:52:35
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    That is a really nice puzzle!!! I like it and it should be fun for the person receiving it. Great job Sue for getting it published too.
    wood-n-things on 03/27/2009 15:49:53
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    Congrats on being published Sue. Nice puzzle.
    Okie_Arkie_Wood_Cutter on 03/27/2009 16:31:29
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    Sue, this is just another great pattern in a long line of your most excellent patterns. This one is going to get cut a lot.
    Big_red_S on 03/27/2009 17:17:42
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    A very attractive puzzle indeed.
    workin for wood on 03/27/2009 17:34:18
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    Very nice from what I saw of the "cover" thread. When will this issue be arriving?
    KtownScroller on 03/27/2009 19:04:06
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    Now that's a nice puzzle JigSue! I downloaded the pattern and might cut it over the weekend. It really looks cool.
    Band Saw Box on 03/27/2009 20:02:50
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    Cangats on having your puzzle in the up coming issue. I'm going to make this puzzle for sure. I think it one of the neatest puzzle I've seen and I know my Daughter will like trying to put it together.
    Wood Dog on 03/27/2009 20:55:01
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    Cool Beans JigSue.....I didn't know the designer was our very own JigSue when we had the mag cover poll. Congrats.
    Shannon on 03/30/2009 16:27:04
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    The issue mailed last week. Depending on where you are... You should receive it within the next 4-6 weeks. If you don't have it by May 4th, call our customer service team at 888-840-8590.
    Sandy Oaks on 03/30/2009 16:45:19
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    When I receive the issue, this will be my first project from the magazine.
    Scrolling Days on 03/30/2009 18:44:36
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    I love the puzzle, JigSue, especially with the bright green colors shown. Then again, it might be really nice in autumn oranges and yellows as well! I love the personalization ideas you suggest. Worthy of publishing, and congratulations on that!
    Mike Crosa on 03/30/2009 21:55:27
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    Congratulations on being published and a wonderful pattern.
    SNAPPER on 03/31/2009 02:28:07
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    Congrats on the publishing. Very nice pattern, interested in cutting one. Dean
    WoodJunky on 03/31/2009 06:06:50
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    Firstly, Congratulations on having your puzzle published and thank you for a copy of your wonderful pattern.
    jigsue on 03/31/2009 08:32:07
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    Thanks Guys! Sue
    Ramjet on 03/31/2009 10:02:47
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    Congratulations Sue. Have not recieved the mag. yet .I'm sure it will be a hit . Roger
    wood-n-things on 03/31/2009 13:02:32
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    Rick, thanks for taking the time to critique your cutting of this nice pattern.
    Shannon on 03/31/2009 13:16:18
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    Sue actually suggested we just run the thick line - because you can vary within that width and it won't affect the end result. We thought folks would want the fine line so we tried the green thick line with the fine line in the center. (Totally our fault there - not Sue's) I'd be interested to hear feedback from others on this aspect.
    jigsue on 03/31/2009 16:51:41
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    Thanks for the explanation, Shannon. I did request a thick line (and I wholly appreciated what the mag came up with), it is much more important to have a smooth cut, than an accurate cut. As for the colour - I usually print my patterns in pink or green, (anyone copying it via their computer could change the colour.) KTown You are right in saying that the thicker you cut it, the easier it stands - this is the case for all puzzles like this (I have made quite a few), but thicker is more difficult - the danger is not cutting straight, in which case the pieces do not fit properly. If the magazine article is as per the proof, it suggests 1" stock. This one looks particularly good if you push the pieces in and out when you stand it up (that is why I also painted the inside edges), it also assists the "lock". You will find that once you paint it, the joints are much tighter - I promise - mine stands OK - the picture is testament to that. I made one in 1/4" MDF, it still stands although it is a bit of a balancing act!!! It is not really for children - I would suggest if you made one for a child you would make less pieces, this one, although easy to cut, is really quite a difficult jigsaw. I would love to see some variations, too - there's a challenge!! I do appreciate your comments - thanks, that is what it is all about - and I rarely get mad - life's too short for that!!! Sue
    sawdustus on 03/31/2009 17:01:59
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    I cut the puzzle today from the downloaded pattern before getting the mail with the magazine. It's a beautiful pattern and not difficult to cut but will be a tough one to assemble if you mix up the pieces. But quick and easy, I don't think so. 3 hours of cutting at 2/3 speed using a #5 RT blade and 3/4 poplar. I did not cut the open areas out first but just tossed them as I got to them and I also used my sanding mop to ease the edges. Like Ktownscroller, I also adjusted the base, but before reading these posts, to include the notch. In regards to the weak tabs mentioned by Ktownscroller, they work as drawn because of gravity and the overall balance of the tree. When I downloaded the pattern, it printed out with only the black lines and I just copied the pattern with my Canon MX700 three in one using the black copy setting. The thin black line printed clearly with the green line just barely visible. I am going to cut another one using a #2 or 2/0 RT blade to see if I can get it a bit tighter. george
    KtownScroller on 03/31/2009 20:48:06
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    I deleted my previous posts. My intention was to help others, not to irritate. Please accept my apology for any misunderstanding I may have caused. It won't happen again. :(
    Haggard3230 on 04/01/2009 20:55:42
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    I cut mine using 3/4" cabinet ply at about 800ppm and used a 2R Olson blade. I also adjusted some of the tabs. I will try again with a 2/0R. This was phun to cut though.
    jigsue on 04/02/2009 08:03:40
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    Merle and George Using a largish blade lets you cut more quickly and, then: If you paint the inside edges, too - as I did - it makes for a tighter fit and allows you to have some pieces standing proud, giving a better 3D effect. As you rightly said - the jigsaw is not easy at all - I always include a picture of the finished thing - although, in the past, I have painted pieces a different colour on either side, making it even more difficult to assemble. Thanks for cutting it. Sue
    Rolf on 04/02/2009 08:21:52
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    Congratulations Sue, I liked that design right from the start and look forward to cutting it.
    USNavyRetiredVet on 04/16/2009 13:02:14
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    Great puzzle! My wife always looks through the latest issue of my Scrollsaw Magazine. We both liked your Tree puzzle, and I plan to make it soon. Thank you! USNavyRetiredVet - ETC - two trips to Viet Nam
    catbird on 04/16/2009 17:46:08
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    Hi Sue. Congratulations on being published.This is a great looking puzzle. I am kind of new to scrolling and although I read to use 1" stock, I didn't see the finished dimensions of the puzzle. Perhaps it is in the article. When I tried to print the pattern (thanks for your generosity) it showed at 173% for some reason. Is it really that big? Thanks for sharing.
    Shannon on 04/17/2009 12:23:24
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    The pattern fits on an 8" x 10" piece of wood.
    keystonecop on 04/17/2009 12:31:10
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    make sure you don't use page scaling. here is a copy of the print setup for acrobat 9.
    ctm3rd on 12/23/2010 09:05:49
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    First of off I would like to thank Sue for sharing this awesome pattern with us. I'm new to puzzle making and a couple of items Sue mentioned in the steps raised a few questions for me. 1. What do you seal the mdf with before cutting? 2. What size blade do you use? and finally what type of paint do you use? Thanks again
    jigsue on 01/19/2011 07:30:28
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    Hi I never seal mdf prior to cutting, it is only the edges that require sealing, I find. After cutting: sometimes I use sander/sealer/ but if I paint it, I go straight into the painting, rubbing down after the first couple of coats, the paint seals it, anyway. I use acrylic paint and spray the finished thing, assembled, with matte acrylic varnish (one coat suffices) As for blade size. I use #5 for most things, unless the wood is very thin, thick or hard, when I have a play to find which is most suitable. cheers
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