It is possible to make a jigsaw in many different ways but the four methods
given below cover 99.9% of the puzzles that you will come across:
- Cardboard – Die Cut
- Wooden – Traditional Cut
- Wooden – Laser Cut
- Wooden – Cut by Water Jet
We will look in turn at the various systems used to make jigsaws and the
advantages/disadvantages of each method but first a few words about something
that is common to all jigsaw puzzles....
Each individual jigsaw starts life as one solid sheet of either cardboard or
plywood. Although it would be technically possible to print directly onto the
chosen material, the jigsaw makers almost always elect to glue a paper print
onto it. This ensures a quality finish without having to worry about blemishes
in the material distorting the picture. Large-scale jigsaw makers use special
glues, presses and thermal machinery and the technology is so good that you
hardly ever find a modern jigsaw piece where the print is separating from the
Cardboard Jigsaw Puzzles – Die Cut
Unless you have seen this type of machinery in use you will find it difficult to
believe how it works! Imagine a giant pastry cutter that is extremely strong and
segregated into 1,000 jigsaw size pieces. Now imagine the power required to
force the entire pastry cutter through 2 millimetres of solid cardboard. Every
cut must be clean and even to ensure that the intricate shapes are not damaged.
This is the basis of cardboard jigsaw die cutting.
It is possible for the dies to be fashioned to make jigsaw pieces of virtually
any shape but most manufacturers do not make full use of this. The more
intricate the shapes, the more difficult the jigsaw becomes to put back together
again – particularly if some of the pieces are made so that they are not fully
The great advantage of die cutting is that it is an extremely quick way to make
jigsaws and therefore the production process is cheap. Manufacturers can make a
jigsaw for something like 10% the cost of a comparable sized wooden puzzle. On
the downside it might be argued that if you make a jigsaw from cardboard you
must expect that it will not be as durable as wood.
Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles – Traditional Cut
During the first 170 years of jigsaw history this was the only method by which
to make jigsaws. It was not until the 1930's that the combination of cardboard
and die cutting paved the way for much cheaper, less durable puzzles.
A quality puzzle relies upon a good saw and considerable skill. Saws have
progressed from hand held fretsaws through to treadle (foot peddle) operated
saws to modern electrically driven saws. But through the years the amount of
skill required has not diminished. The jigsaw maker does not work to a
pre-defined pattern and each individual piece of the jigsaw is configured "Off
Some of the most beautiful jigsaws in the world are painstakingly cut one piece
at a time using electric saws. Sara White (right) is a fine British exponent of
this art form.
The disadvantage of making jigsaws this way is that it requires a great deal of
skilled labour for each puzzle. A competent cutter will make a maximum of 100
pieces per hour, so a 1,000 piece puzzle requires a full day - and some
overtime! However, the advantages are considerable:
- The maker can incorporate special "Whimsies" into the design that have
special significance to either the puzzle or the ultimate owner.
- Fiendishly difficult shapes can be cut that often follow the exact line
of a division of colour and this adds an extra dimension of intrigue.
- Each maker can develop his/her own recognizable style along the same
lines that artists do with painting. This, combined with the fact that each
puzzle is unique, will ensure that these are the puzzles that appreciate
most in value.
Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles – Laser Cut
Lasers are a wonder of the late 20th century and can be used to cut through
solid steel with astounding precision, so a sheet of hardwood prevents no
difficulty for them. In essence a laser is a concentration of light – you will
glean that this is not a simple process from the fact that the laser machines
cost up to £100,000 each. The laser is mounted close to the surface of the
developing jigsaw and complex computer programming controls its movements. It
darts backwards and forwards making pieces at up to 100 times faster than a
The photograph on the right shows the laser in the top left hand corner about to
start cutting this jigsaw. Lasers make excellent quality puzzles extremly
Although it's very quick there is still the matter of the £100,000 machine to
pay for – that's a lot of jigsaws! In consequence the cost of laser cut puzzles
is somewhere between cardboard and traditionally cut wooden ones. You get the
benefits of wood (more durable and a better family heirloom) and intricate
shapes that often include whimsies but you miss out on the individual charm of a
unique traditionally cut puzzle.
Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles – Cut by Water Jet
If you found it difficult to credit the “Giant pastry cutter” mentioned above
then try this....... A tiny nozzle is mounted above the jigsaw that squirts out
water at over 1,500 miles per hour! The force is so great that the water cuts
straight through the image and the wood like a knife through butter. The cutting
head is computer controlled in a similar fashion to laser cutting heads. The
result can be a beautiful jigsaw with amazingly complex pieces.
The undisputed master of this art form is a gentleman called Bob Ayer from
America. He makes jigsaws with pieces more finely cut than any others.
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Jigsaw Puzzle Info. page.