Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
25Feb/110

First Steps

As I mentioned in my previous post, I planned to discuss the steps I went through in creating my first puzzle.  This is going to be a burr puzzle, with a twist.  Rather than being able to see the pieces, they will be contained inside a cube.  In reality, the walls of the cube will be attached to the pieces, so that the completed puzzle will form a cube rather than putting the pieces into a cube.  Don't worry, it will make sense as I go!

The first of those steps was to get some sort of idea of how the puzzle would look, what the pieces were going to be, and to verify that it would actually work as a puzzle.  I drew a few paper sketches and had the idea in my mind as to what I wanted.  From there I was introduced to Burr Tools.  Check out the links on the right for more on the tool.  It's an excellent program and allowed me to create a virtual prototype of the puzzle, and verify that everything would would the way I intended it to.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that this is fool proof.  You need to work with the program as it has some limitations, and you really need to understand the mechanics of your puzzle to be able to get the program to do what you need.

The image below shows just one of the sides that I created.  As you can see, both the internals, and the external side are there, and the top left shows all the pieces I created.  I spent a lot of time working with the program to make sure that the pieces held each other in place and didn't just fall out when the puzzle was assembled.

The one thing I wanted to do was have the final piece (in my original idea, that was the piece shown below) to work like a key, which you would turn once inserted which would lock the entire puzzle in place.  Burr Tools doesn't have the facility to deal with rotations, however I could still use it to check this would work.

As it turns out,I didn't use this feature for the first version of the puzzle, as it is possible to build it without, and my prototyping material (Lego) doesn't make that rotation easy.  In wood, I could curve the ends so that they would turn past each other, but without a lot of work that 's not possible in Lego. 

I ended up with two distinct versions created in Burr Tools.  The first was a non-rotation version, and the second followed my original plan and retains the turning key to finish.

With the virtual puzzle complete, next step was to make it into something I could handle and check how it worked.  There are a number of tools out there to do that, and you can even export the shapes from Burr Tools and upload them to a site like shapeways for 3D Laser printing if you want.  I'll talk more about that in the next post though.

For now, as you can see from the image above, Burr Tools gives you nice easy to follow cubed units to allow you to translate the design into whatever prototype you're going to make.

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