A lot of time and thought goes into creating an original wooden jigsaw puzzle. When I first started making puzzles, I used patterns published by Judy and Dave Peterson. It was a great way to learn about different materials and to become proficient with my scroll saw. Their books have great tips for any scroll saw artisan.
When friends began asking me for custom puzzles, I developed my own creative process. Now I exclusively use my own designs, which is why my puzzles look so different from the hundreds of jigsaw puzzles you can find on Etsy.
I begin by finding reference images for the design. For the boxer dog pictured above, I started with a Google image search with usage rights set to "labeled for reuse." It's important to be sure that I'm not going to rip off someone's intellectual property! Generally images "labeled for reuse" have creative commons licensing that allows free commercial reuse of the image. When in doubt, I follow the image back to its source on Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay or Creative Commons and check its copyright details. Once I have several reference photos to work from, I draw an outline of the animal, machine, building or person.
The next step is to divide the image into puzzle pieces. My goal is always for the finished puzzle to stand independently when assembled, which means paying attention to both the natural contours of the object and the way gravity will affect it. Placing the keys - the bulbus projections that lock the pieces together - in just the right spots is essential. If I don't get it right, the dog could have a floppy head or a drooping tail.
I also need to consider the properties of the wood I plan to use. Some woods cut easily and allow for quick turns. Others are brittle and will chip or crack if the keys are too pointed. Long, thin pieces need to always follow the wood's grain line or they will be prone to breaking.
In the video below you can see how the boxer design came together. Once I have my finished design on paper, I scan it into my computer to be printed whenever I want to cut a puzzle.
In my next post I'll show you how the design on paper becomes a wooden jigsaw puzzle.
Barbara Bitgood, Artisan owner of Holyoke Puzzles in Holyoke, Massachusetts.