Custom wooden puzzles

Puzzle pieces

We have gotten into the near habit of visiting some friends the weekend after Labor Day, and this year I wanted to bring a cool hostess gift. Also visiting that weekend is another friend who has made wonderful baby blankets for both of our girls, and I wanted to give her something special as a thank you.

For my quilting friend, I had wanted to make her a squirrel-something for a while, due to her personal vendetta against them (something to do with a nest of them eating part of her house). Our other friends have long-hair dachshunds (no vendettas, but they don’t get along with our dog too well), so I thought to make them something with dogs.

Enter the puzzle.

I made a chunky wood puzzle a while ago to be suitable for children, but I wanted to try more intricate shapes with easier to laser-cut 1/4” plywood.

I bought dog and squirrel artwork so I could focus on the puzzle aspect… using Illustrator I hand drew all of the puzzle lines for each one, and tried to loosely inject some detail into what would otherwise be just a silhouette.

Custom wooden laser-cut squirrel and daschund puzzles

My take aways and tips for this project were:

  • Make the outline of the puzzle as a separate object that is cut last.
  • Keep piece lines as long as possible, and don’t divide them at intersections.
  • Use a honeycomb bed so pieces don’t fall down into the laser path and get damaged
    • I used the blade bed thinking that I’d reduce char marks on the bottom of the pieces, but in reality I got fairly pronounced smoke staining anyway. Also, I had to pause the laser to tape pieces together as they were cut. Not wanting to push too hard led to the masking tape not making full-contact and leaving its own discoloration… But at least nothing fell through the slats and got damaged.
  • The pieces are big enough that I should have protected the wood with masking or transfer tape from the beginning.

The boxes:Custom laser cut boxes for small puzzles.


These were my first tabbed-boxes… I used the box-maker website found at to give me my files, which I modified to smooth out the top edge. I also created a lip that would assemble inside the top of the lid so it wouldn’t jiggle around…

The file from the website was easy to work with, just needing to ‘join segments’ in Nova Labs’ laser program.

After I made the first box I realized it was way bigger than necessary. But, it was easy to shorten each of the side pieces by deleting a pair of notches.

Assembly with .004” cut width settings was good (I probably could have gone .006” to get it tighter) and thin CA was enough to hold it all together.

My last note is that these puzzles are pretty tricky; the uniform color top and bottom doesn’t make it easy for you to know what side is up!

Custom laser-cut long-hair dachshund  puzzle Custom laser-cut long-hair dachshund  puzzle

Custom laser-cut squirrel puzzle Custom laser-cut squirrel puzzle detail

Custom boxes for puzzles Kiss-cut designs in the lid of a box for a puzzle.

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