A History of the Shop in 10 Objects

The Star of the Show

Once I decided to pursue hand cutting wooden jigsaw puzzles (a seed planted after reading George Perec's wonderful novel Life: A User's Manual), one of my first decisions was what sort of scroll saw to purchase. After a bit of research I quickly settled on a Dewalt DW788. I've long been a fan of thrifted deals, so rather than buy new I sourced a second hand machine in Salinas, CA (Steinbeck country and a scenic two hour road trip from my then place of residence). The saw had the added benefit of being Type 1 (Made in Canada; versus Type 2: Made in Taiwan), a model with a slightly more esteemed quality control reputation. One of the few knocks against Dewalts verus higher end brands concerns the second-rate lubrication used on the various bearings. Unsure if this is a flaw which plagues all models or just Type 2s, but I've since done a full tear down of the machine and relubricated with high quality grease. Not a horrible procedure and one that I'll likely repeat throughout the years.


Second Fiddle

The majority of my puzzles are rectangular in dimension, and while I am capable of cutting a reasonably straight line on the DW788, for further perfection I turn to my trusty 36V Makita XSR01Z circular saw when preparing puzzle blanks. This saw is a true beast. Granted it doesn't take much force to cut through 6mm plywood, but it held its own quite well while rebuilding a rotting deck, cutting through pressure treated 4x4's (albeit in two passes, blade diameter being a limiting factor) with the greatest of ease!


Pressing onward...

Before cutting a paper-on-wood puzzle, one must adhere their paper image to the wood. As far as I'm aware there are three main methods of doing so: wet glue, spray adhesive, and dry mount film/tissue. At the start of my puzzle cutting career I employed the wet glue method, though this had several issues: applying the proper consistency of glue takes practice, it can be messy, properly clamping everything down to fully cure is a bit of an art, you have to wait at least 12 hours for that curing to occur. I quickly moved on to 3M Super 77, the spray adhesive of choice among the puzzle cutting community. This offered several benefits over wet glue: less mess, shallower learning curve (pretty much just follow the directions on the can), and while I'd still recommend letting things cure for 12+ hours under weight, the clamp up procedure is far less elaborate. However just because it's less messy than wood glue doesn't mean it's entirely mess free. I ruined an early puzzle by accidentally getting adhesive on the front of the print. The noxiousness of spray adhesive is another drawback, necessitating use of a respirator in an ideally well ventilated environment. Dry mounting is what I consider the gold standard of paper-to-wood adhesion, though it does require a somewhat expensive (money- and space-wise) heat press. When my nearish neighbor Isabelle of Puzzlapy mentioned a local warehouse with good deals on Fancierstudio tshirt presses, I leapt at the opportunity, picking up a model capable of mounting up to 16x20" boards (coincidentally near the limits of my saw). Heat presses have the added benefit of serving as lamination machines.


You Gotta Roll With It, You Gotta Take Your Time

Even the best dry mount press is useless without dry mount adhesive, the wonderful solid-when-cool/liquid-when-hot substrate that makes dry mount adhesion possible! There are two main species of dry mount substrate: the relatively common dry mount tissue (a thin tissue permeated with adhesive) and the significantly rarer dry mount film (pure adhesive with zero backer). A bit of research led me to consider dry mount film the better product, with the brand Fusion 4000 particularly well regarded. Unfortunately by the time I'd acquired my heat press Fusion 4000 had been discontinued for close to a year due to still unresolved supply chain issues. Undeterred I managed to find a single supplier in the UK that had some dead stock and was willing to ship overseas. Quickly ordered enough film to last me for about a decade! As the only size roll available was a quite unwieldly 3.4 foot length I constructed a roll rack from pvc pipe and iron pipe/fittings. Fusion 4000 occupies on the bottom rung, a roll of low-melt protective surface laminate sits up top.


Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle with Glue

Just because I dry mount my artwork doesn't mean that there's zero room for glue! From left to right:
-2P10 (aka cyanoacrylate aka super glue): My glue of choice for correcting the inevitable spot of paper lift. Also one of the few substances I found acceptable for adhering polyester transparencies to acrylic sheets (and believe me I tried a lot!)
-Gorilla glue: Similar to the 2P10 in terms of adhesion properties but slower drying. Doesn't see a lot of use to be honest.
-Gorilla wood glue: Great for mixing with saw dust to prepare an ad hoc wood putty. Instrumental to repairs those rare instances I've encountered a small void in a puzzle blank. Nice general carpentry glue, used to reinforce joinery on the light boxes I've built for some acrylic puzzles, for instance.
-Goof off super glue remover: Haven't used it much, though saved my heat press when I got some 2P10 on the platten while adhering polyester transparencies to acrylic... Oops!
-Modge Podge: Used in some early (and ultimately unsuccessful) "glitter on wood" puzzles
-3M Super 77: It's back! While I no longer use this for adhering paper images to wood, it is great for temporarily adhering multiple layers of wood/acrylic (with protective surface masking) for stack cutting. Has also been used on the rare puzzles where I've employed patterns. 


The Image Locker

I'll browse the art selection of my local used bookstore every month or so in search of inspiration and artwork for paper-on-wood puzzles. Have found quite a few gems there and at other shops in my travels. Built a little shelf to keep my cache out of the way. May soon be time for a second one!
Left stack (top down): Perlorian Seasons, Yugoslav Naive Art, Kandinsky, A Treasury of the Great Childrens Book Illustrators, Life's Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists' Brush with Leisure, Alphonse Mucha Masterworks, Affinities
Right stack (top down): Folk Art in American Life, Seduction: Japan's Floating World, The Majesty of Spain, Netherlandish Painting from Van Eyck to Bosch, Expressionism, Art Forms in Nature, East of the Sun West of the Moon, The Art of Charles Wysocki, Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, Glorious Cats: The Painting of Lesley Anne Ivory


At my fingertips...

Some of my earliest education in the practicalities of wooden jigsaw puzzle construction came through the very fine and informative Youtube videos of veteran cutter Mark Cappitella. One trick I quickly adopted was the use of heavy duty rubber finger cots on one's fore and middle fingers. Not only does their textured rubber provide a grippy surface to better control the work piece, they also protect your fingers from callouses and the artwork from finger oils. Would recommend buying one size smaller than your typical glove size for a firm fit.


Peg o' my Heart

Who doesn't love a nice bit of peg board? I have two sections hung above my work bench, this one more fully devoted to puzzle making tools and supplies: organza bags for tiny-pieced puzzles, glue spreaders (used for my Sticks & Stones series), high lumen void dowsing torch, speed square & scissors, cordless drill, assorted clamps, PPE, varied tapes.


It's not pretty but it works!

Following the example of Terra Rodgers of Chestnut and Hemlock I picked up this rolling baker's cart to store completed puzzles prior to disassembly/boxing. While not quite a beauty as the antique oak flat file cabinets of my dreams, it gets the job done at a fraction of the price. Also functions as storage for my odd scraps of off-cut, labels, and other boxing supplies.


Bench Marks The Shop

Hand-built by the carpenter/electrician who owned my home from 1976-2018, this work bench occupies the back corner of my garage and offers 24 square feet of surface space with handy under counter storage and upper shelving for my various paints, stains, glues, and odds and ends. My major addition to the bench was a layer of sanded ply after receiving one too many splinters from the original (and quite rough) plywood top.


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