Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
27Feb/121

Sun

Sun is a very interesting interlocking puzzle designed by Jos Bergmans. Two separate pieces which form almost closed loops require to be connected in such a way that the two semi-circles end up fitting together to form a completed circle, the sun.

The two pieces of the Sun

The two pieces of the Sun

The copy I have is made by Eric fuller and was offered in his most recent set of puzzles at Cubic Dissection. Made from Sapele with a Maple veneer for the sun the puzzle measures 2.6" x 3" x 3" so it's a good size and the construction is superb. Eric hand glued each joint, including a couple of triple mitre joints using a granite plate and a machinists square to ensure that every joint was at exactly at right angles, and it really shows in the finished puzzle. Attention to detail is superb. Three different wood combinations were available when Eric produced the Sun, including the inverse of my copy, Maple with a Sapele sun, and Walnut with a Maple sun. As always Eric has signed and dated the puzzle. 36 copies were made available.

Sun Partially Solved

Sun Partially Solved

The goal of the puzzle is to interleave the two pieces of the puzzle, to create one solid object where the two halves of the sun line up. Looking at the pieces, they initially seem like closed loops so joining them together at all seems impossible. With a little study though, there is one place where the two pieces will allow for an initial move to link them together, and that's where the fun starts.

Normally with this sort of rectilinear puzzle, some of the pieces have rounded edges, or parts of the edges have been taken away to allow the pieces to move past each other, such as the Cast Coil from Hanayama. This puzzle however has no corners or edges rounded, and all the moves, slides and rotations happen because there's just enough room for the pieces to move past each other, making this as close to a perfect example of this style of puzzle as is possible.

Sun in its solved state.

Sun in its solved state.

Once you have the two pieces intertwined, there's a couple of easy rotations, then you find yourself at a dead end. (At least I seem to every time I solve this puzzle!) I've solved it a good few times now, and each time I spend several minutes trying to figure out where to go next. There are a good few dead ends in the puzzle, so the challenge is fairly good. I seem to go though the same set of wrong moves at the start each time before finding that magic move and from there the solution seems to just flow, and I have it solved very quickly thereafter. I took around 20 minutes to solve this for the first time, but each time after that it still takes me 10 minutes, so I'd say is has some good replay value.

Taking the two pieces apart seems much easier than putting them together, so I'm glad that Eric shipped the puzzle in its unsolved state. It's a really fun puzzle, and very well made. I'm happy to have been able to get a copy of this for my collection.

One of the triple mitre joints

One of the triple mitre joints

As I mentioned earlier, the detail and quality of the work in this copy of the puzzle is superb. Just look at the triple mitre joint above, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Despite Eric commenting that the construction was painstaking, I think he's right to be very pleased with how these turned out!



24Feb/121

Havanas #1 & #2 – Chris and Heather

Eric Fuller recently started producing a series of Cigar Puzzle boxes, in honor of his local cigar bar Havana Deluxe. I have been lucky enough to get my hands on the first two puzzles in the series, the 'Chris', named after the doorman, and the 'Heather' named after one of the part-timers behind the bar.

Chris on the left, and Heather on the right

Chris on the left, and Heather on the right

As you can see both boxes look stunning, and as other people who have these have commented, the photo's don't really do the boxes justice. I've tried to get as close to the actual colour of the box as possible with the photographs, but I still think the actual box is better looking. (Sorry)

Havanas #1 -The Chris

Havanas #1 - The Chris

Havanas #1 - The Chris

Eric has this to say about Chris:

"One of my favorite activities is to have a big, stinky cigar after a long day in the shop...generally enjoyed at my local cigar bar, Havana Deluxe. I've been wanting to make a puzzle box that will hold a cigar for some time now. A while back I was talking to the owner about it and we decided that I would make not just one cigar box, but a series of them! Each box will named after one of the people working there. And thus was born the Havana's Puzzle Box series. This is the first box in the series...Havana's Box #1 - "The Chris"...named after the doorman.

The designs will start off fairly easy in difficulty, and get harder over the course of the series. This first box is therefore not super complicated, but it does have a nice "twist" to it as well as a sophisticated and compact locking mechanism concealed inside. The entire lockworks are contained in the endblocks, measuring 1"x1"x.45 inch. This makes the box nice and compact."

Chris is crafted from Quatersawn Sapele, and if you know anything about wood, it is most stable dimensionally when cut quartersawn. The top and bottom use cross grain Wenge veneer (have a look at my recent table project to see the face grain) to really make the box pop. The stunning contrast in the striped grain is really beautiful and Eric has used it to full effect in this box.

Don't be put off by this being veneer rather than solid wood. To have tried to create the top and bottom from crossgrain Wenge there would have been no strength to the box, and it would have snapped as soon as you looked at it, so this was a great choice.

The box measures 7.25" x 1.5" x 1.5" so holds the cigar comfortably, and in fact has a fair bit of spare space inside to hold a larger specimen. Only 40 were made and each is signed and dated as is Eric's usual custom.

Having waffled for long enough about the wood, and the reason behind the box, what is it like as a puzzle I hear you shout... Well, I really like it. At first, nothing seems to move much and as you turn it around in your hands, you'll find a small amount of movement, but not enough to be apparently useful.

A glimpse, but not enough to remove the prize

A glimpse, but not enough to remove the prize

With some more fiddling, the box starts to tease you with a glimpse of the cigar contained within, but you're not getting it out without snapping it, so more work is required. Before too much longer you should be able to fully open the box, and remove the cigar undamaged.

The Cigar free from the box

The Cigar free from the box

As the first in the series, Chris isn't too difficult to open as Eric himself commented, and is really here to give a feel for what's coming. I took around 10 minutes to open the box for the first time, but now that I understand the mechanism, I can open it in a few seconds. I love the mechanism, and even though it's entirely hidden from view once the box is open, you should be able to figure out what's going on inside those end panels. This is a great start to the series!

Have a look at what the rest of my puzzle friends are saying about Chris... Allard, Brian and Rox's thoughts.

Havanas #2 -The Heather

Havanas #2 - The Heather

Havanas #2 - The Heather

Eric has this to say about Heather:

"The second in the Havanas Box series is named the "Heather", after the one of the friendly part-timers behind the bar. It's a step up in difficulty from the first box...easy enough to get started but then a few moves in you hit a wall. The solution is fairly unique and I think it will be a lot of fun to discover. Tough to say much more about it without giving a lot away...all I can say is pay attention and the solution will match your observations."

This time, there were two options offered. The one I have is made from Quartersawn Sapele and has a Quilted Primavera veneer to the top. The quilting which looks like waves in the wood is easiest to see in the first picture in this post. The other option was with a Bleached Lacewood veneer on the top, however those sold out very quickly. There are still two of the Primavera boxes left if you're quick on Cubic Dissection (and I'd highly recommend these so don't miss out!). 45 were made in total, and they're all signed and dated.

Measuring 6.5" x 1.3" x 1.5", Heather is more petite than the doorman Chris (which is probably a good thing), and is certainly a more snug fit for the cigar contained within than Chris was.

Hitting a dead end

Hitting a dead end

As Eric mentioned, fairly quick progress is made for at least the first few moves, then you seem to end up stuck with only the tip of the cigar visible, and the handy matches that Eric has put in the box for you to light your cigar if you manage to get it out!

The Cigar free from the box

The Cigar free from the box

The mechanism is certainly unique, and Eric has disguised the next steps beautifully. I'll not say anything more about how to proceed as I really don't want to give anything away, but I really like what Eric has done with the puzzle, and think it's a fun progression from Chris. You'll certainly need to look closely, and think about what you could possibly do to successfully open this box!

Just to give a quick comparison between the boxes, here's a couple of shots showing the difference in sizes between them.

Size comparison between Chris and Heather

Size comparison between Chris and Heather

Size comparison between Chris and Heather

Size comparison between Chris and Heather


These are great puzzles, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the puzzles in the series. Keep up the great work Eric, can't wait to see what you do next.



21Feb/125

Time for something different

Some time back, Jen asked me to make a few pieces of furniture for her. Now I've been pretty busy with work, and making the puzzles, so I've not really been able to do much for her, but since it was something of an unwritten agreement when I started buying all the tools it was about time to start paying up. If you're only interested in puzzles, then skip this one, but if you want to see a little more on the woodworking I'm doing then keep reading.

Completed Table

Completed Table

The first project that I've tackled is the narrow table above which Jen wanted for putting keys and other stuff on just inside the door to the house. It needs to be thin as it has to hide behind the door when it's opened so really a custom piece was the only way to go. I left choice of woods up to Jen as it was her table, I was merely making it. We settled on Cherry for the legs (one of which when we finished it we found out is actually highly figured quilted Cherry!), Grenadillo for the frame and Wenge for the table top.

I'm going to use this post to work thought the build process and design decisions I made when building the table, as I have learned a lot from the project, and even though it's not puzzle related, it will certainly help me in puzzle making going forward. Hopefully you find the journey interesting.

Plans

Plans

More plans

More plans


When I started the project, there were a number of things I wanted to try to accomplish. Initially I wanted to push myself in terms of the woodworking, and not necessarily play it safe. Now by that I mean not just sticking to things I've done before, really trying to use this to step out of my current comfort zone. I decided that I wanted to create a table with a floating top, and as such the joints into the legs were going to be stopped dovetail joints since they would be visible in the finished table, and become a feature. I appreciate that I was asking a lot of myself, having never attempted any joinery before and jumping straight to a dovetail may seem crazy, however I was fairly confident that I could do it so why aim low?

With all the dimensions written down, I started off by cutting the pieces for the frame of the table. I even remembered to take into account the size of the dovetail, so I didn't end up cutting the sides too short. Starting off with some scrap pieces of wood, I setup the dovetail bit and made both sides of a joint to see what problems I was going to encounter and how close I could get the fit (which turns out to be so close I needed a mallet to separate the two pieces). The biggest issue was putting the dovetail into the ends of the long boards. Supporting them wasn't easy, but given that I have a friend visiting, he was able to help out.

The end piece for the frame.  One with the dovetail cut, the other without.

The end piece for the frame. One with the dovetail cut, the other without.

All of the male dovetails on the frame were cut at the same time, so the bit was setup once and there were no issues in getting the dovetails the same size. After that I moved on to setting up for the female size of the dovetail on each of the legs. Two female dovetails need to be cut into each of the legs, and they need to be the same distance from the outside edge on each leg to make the table look right when finished. Given that the setup for each dovetail in the leg is different I cut one dovetail in each leg before coming back and resetting the spacing for the second.

The first completed dovetail

The first completed dovetail

This was the first joint completed. As you can see, I'd marked the top of the leg with the centre of the dovetail, and the width of the dovetail to help with setting up the cut. The width of the joint is wider than the width of the bit I'm using, so that allowed me to creep up on the perfect fit. The joint is tight, and requires some persuasion to come out but there's enough room to account for the swelling of the wood when I add the glue to the joint.

Comparison between final dovetails, and the first pass

Comparison between final dovetails, and the first pass

As you can see from the photo above, there is quite a difference in width between the first pass in the joint, and the final dovetail. You'll also note that only the first cut was marked up. After that, the fence was set to allow the rest to be cut knowing that they were an exact duplicate of the first. When it came to ensuring that the adjoining dovetail was spaced exactly, I started the first cut closer to the centre of the final joint, and then crept back to the correct starting point by measuring the gap between the front of the leg and the top of the joint with my digital calipers, until they were exactly the same width (the gap on the bottom in the photo above).

Trimming the top of the table legs.

Trimming the top of the table legs.

With all the dovetails cut, I trimmed up the top of the legs, so that I knew everything was square, and that the depth of the dovetail was where I wanted it. As you'll have noticed, the male dovetail is slightly inset in the female groove, and this was by design. I wanted to have the dovetail really stand out, rather than being flush with the top I wanted to have it inset slightly. I'm sure other people would disprove of this choice, but I like the effect.

First dry fit of the frame

First dry fit of the frame

With all of the joinery cut for the main frame of the table, I put it all together on a dry fit. This allows me to test the fit without gluing things together, and see that everything is square and sitting the way I want it. At this point, I still have to add the supports for the table top to make it float, but I was happy that everything went together the way I had planned, it was square, and it was looking good!

Second dry fit of the frame, with the floats sized and in place.

Second dry fit of the frame, with the floats sized and in place.

Next up was to cut the groove for the supports and also size them to fit correctly. I decided to make life simpler here, and go for a straight stopped dado, rather than a stopped dovetail. After all, the wood is the same so it won't be a contrast like on the legs, and the entire point is to make the top appear to be floating above the legs, so drawing attention to the supports wasn't the effect I was going for. The intent is to add a curve to the supports, so they start flush with the frame and curve under the table top. At this point though, I was happy just having the stopped dado cut and the height of the float set.

It seemed like most of the hard work was done now but there was still one last piece which would in my mind make or break the project, and that was getting the table top in place correctly.

The Table top is 1/4" longer than the frame at each end, and 1/8" wider than the frame, front to back, so there is a slight overhang. When marking up the locations for the dado's that the floats will drop into, I had to take this into account, to ensure that the table top is exactly centred over the frame. Without this, I'd end up with scrap rather than a table top! (And I've put a lot of hours into this to end up with scrap).

Marking up the table top

Marking up the table top

Marking up the table top

Marking up the table top


I marked up the width of the floats, then marked the centre of the top before marking the area to be removed. Having checked and double checked the markup, it was time to go ahead and remove the material so that I'd have a table top. Part of this project has been trying new things and learning more woodworking techniques, and this was no different.

Sometimes hand tools really are the best tool for the job.

Sometimes hand tools really are the best tool for the job.

Yes, I still have the pins!

Yes, I still have the pins!


I decided to do this is a more traditional method, and use a chisel to remove the material. While it may not be the fastest way, it certainly was the safest, and by keeping my chisel sharp cutting through the wood really wasn't difficult. Not only that, but it gave me a chance to work with some hand tools, and really get a feeling for some 'serious' woodworking. (And if it all went wrong, it was under the table where no-one would see it!) By going back to the frame frequently, I could check the fit, and ended up with a very tight fit. Tight enough in fact that I could put the top onto one of the floats, with the entire top hanging over the outside of the frame, with no glue, and it wouldn't fall off.

Checking for level

Checking for level

Spot on

Spot on


With the slots cut, I checked that the top was level. Unfortunately, my garage floor isn't level, so I had to shim one side of the table legs to get it level first.

So there you have it, one table, built from a few boards to the finished product. The photos don't show it, but with the wood polished to 600grit, there is a mirror shine to the faces, even without any finish on them, to the point that you can see your reflection in it. I'll come back a little later and show you the table once it's been lacquered, but until then I'll leave you with a detail shot of the corner with the dovetails. I think it matches the original design drawing. I also added the bevel into the top and bottom of the legs to really finish the table. Clearly it's the details that make the project.

Corner details

Corner details

I'd also like to say a huge thanks to my friend Callum who's over from Scotland visiting me at the moment and helped throughout the whole project. I know that without his help much of the work would have been far more difficult.



10Feb/121

Four Colour Map Puzzle

A short time before Christmas, Brian reviewed the Four Colour Map Puzzle made by Artifact Puzzles, and given that my other half enjoys her jigsaw puzzles, and I enjoy puzzles in general, I decided to buy a copy for her as a Christmas gift.

Four Colour Map Puzzle

Four Colour Map Puzzle

This 68 piece puzzle measures 6" x 8" and the pieces are laser cut from 1/4" wood. The pieces are finished with a high gloss lacquer like finish in very bold colours so the puzzle looks great as a finished article. It comes shipped in a small box, with the pieces in a drawstring bag so overall it's well presented, and there's no bulky boxes to have to find space for if you decide to take it apart to store it.

When Jen opened the puzzle at Christmas, she was pretty happy, but we took a few days before we actually sat down to try to solve it. When we did, I think between us we spent around 20 minutes before we even found two pieces that would fit together! Now one of the reasons for that is that the shape of the pieces is based on some work by John Stokes III who is a master hand cutter. The pattern is specifically designed to make it difficult to see how pieces go together.

The task is made slightly easier by the fact that it is also representing the mathematical Four Colour theorem. Have a look at the wiki link for more information, but the short version is that no two pieces touching each other can have the same colour. As such you can narrow down the selection of pieces that will connect.

After getting a couple of pieces together, we found ourselves a little stuck, and ended up with several groups of two or three pieces together, but nothing that was making larger blocks. As we progressed, slowly things became easier until after around an hour we had two fairly large pieces that with a little shuffling around the table we found how they combined into one large piece.

I can say that we had a lot of fun putting this together, and the lack of any 'final image' actually adds to the fun of the puzzle. I think most people will agree that the finished puzzle as you can see above is really striking. I love the fact that there's no straight lines in the puzzle giving a very organic look; even the edges maintain the swirls and curves that make this puzzle so unique.

One thing I will note about the puzzle is that the thickness of the pieces are not very uniform. There's a fairly noticeable variance between pieces which doesn't detract from the finished puzzle, but does make things a little more difficult when you're putting the puzzle together.

I'll admit that I'm not a big jigsaw fan, I tend to find them fairly dull, and if I want a nice piece of artwork, I'd rather just buy the art, however I did enjoy working on this puzzle as it's more of a challenge than a standard jigsaw, and isn't too large that I lost interest. Jen and I really enjoyed putting this together, and despite it being quite different to what Jen is used to, she certainly had fun. Given that the puzzle sells for $32 and uses the Amazon shop, you get a great puzzle, and the piece of mind of using Amazon's shopping cart, which includes the free shipping. It's a great puzzle, and I don't think you can go wrong picking one of these up.