2019-12-09

What goes into making a puzzle snake?

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy

You don't see these for sale very often. I think this is because they are time-consuming to make. There are twenty-six puzzle pieces, one for each letter of the alphabet and thirty-one holes to drill if you want to use the cut letters.  Even if one of the several other methods for the alphabet, they all take a while to do. The other issue I see is for some of the lettering methods; there is no do-over. If I miss cut one of my letters, the puzzle is trash. To give you an idea of how much goes into making an alphabet snake puzzle keep reading.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


I purchase the wood and prepare it for attaching the pattern. Preparation includes cutting to size and sanding both sides. The sanding removes milling marks and other defects and smoothes the surface. When cutting the puzzle, small imperfections in the wood surface can hang and cause the cut to go crooked.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Once the wood is ready, I cover the top surface with 3m Blue Painters tape. The tape is there so I can remove the pattern without leaving any residue or using solvents to get the glue to release.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


I print the pattern, cut it out, and glue it to the blue tape covered the side of the wood using 3m spray adhesive. I use this adhesive because it sticks like crazy and doesn't peel while cutting.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Setting up the scroll saw to be dead square is very important when cutting puzzles. If the cuts are not square, the pieces will not fit together correctly. You can fix it with sandpaper if it isn't too bad, but sanding 26 puzzle pieces to fit isn't something you want to do. There are several methods of squaring the scroll saw blade to the table. I use a small machinist square backlit with a flashlight to square my blade. I store the square attached to the saw stand with a magnet.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


I cut out the snake puzzle using, and Excalibur EX21 Scroll Saw using Flying Dutchman #5 Ultra reverse blades. These blades give me a smooth glassy cut that requires little sanding. I will usually wear out or break two of these blades per puzzle.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


I first cut the outside of the snake. Getting rid of as much wood as possible right away makes cutting out the individual puzzle pieces easier.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


I  cut the individual puzzle pieces next. I don't need to pattern precisely so long as I don't get to close to the letters, and the puzzle pieces have keys that lock together. Cutting the puzzle apart first makes drilling the holes much easier.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


There are 31 internal cuts in each snake puzzle, one or two for each letter and one for the eye. Using a drill press, I drill a hole for each internal cut.  Each hole represents a scroll saw blade change. The scroll saw blade has to be released from the clamps and threaded through the hole for every letter segment. With the puzzle pieces cut apart, this is not to difficult, and I have fewer problems with kinked blades than when I try to cut them with the puzzle altogether. The larger the piece of wood, the harder it is to get the blade through.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Next comes the sanding. If I use good blades and nothing goes wrong, there will not be a lot of sanding to do. I sand the sharp edges off and fix any spots that I don't think are quite right for some reason. I use various sanding tools, including a sanding mop, sanding blocks, fingernail files, diamond needle files, bits of sanding belts, and shop-made sanding tools to do the sanding. I need to be very careful when sanding puzzles so as not to damage the fit of the puzzle keys. I do not sand the edges of the keys at all unless there is a fitting problem. There are a lot of pieces in this puzzle, and it takes a long time to inspect and sand each piece.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


The finish comes next. I dip the puzzle in mineral oil. It is non-toxic and doesn't interfere with the puzzles assembly. It sounds simple, but it is messy, and it takes a while for the oil to be absorbed so I can package the puzzle. It would be great to have room for a drying rack so I could do production runs of puzzles. I don't have space for this, so I dip the puzzles one at a time and drain the parts in a colander. After draining any excess oil is wiped off with a blue paper towel. The puzzle pieces are left to dry overnight, standing on edge on a paper towel.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


When making more than one puzzle, I use plastic boxes to keep the parts of each puzzle separated. Handcut puzzles do not have interchangeable pieces. I learned this the hard way.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Why do I use cut letters? The original design called for rub-on letters.  I have seen them done with markers, paint, decals, and stick-on letters. All of these will rub off with use. I intend to make an heirloom toy that will last and used for many years. Cut letters will not come off.

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy

Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy


Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy
Handmade Wooden Alphabet Snake Puzzle Toy