Monday, December 12, 2011

wooden wreath puzzle: a tutorial

We've started decorating around these parts. A little late, I know, but festive enough to make up for the tardiness. This not-so-little boy, in particular, is fascinated by all the new things to look at and pull down and smash with a hammer. Ahhhh, the sweet explosions of holiday cheer.

Post-holidays, we keep all of our decorations in one box in the basement, and every year it's something of a mystery as to what will emerge from the depths unscathed. Something always manages not to. (Speaking of, how is it that a string of perfectly functional lights can be carefully packed into a box in January, and emerge eleven months later no longer functioning? Exactly what happens in that box all year?) But the mysterious state of the contents only adds to the anticipation; a whole year later, everything is brand new again.

But even with the novelty factor, the favorites are the somehow always the same. My animal-girl bolts for "the bird of wisdom" while the youngest girl twirls the star on its stick. The boys dig for lights and the 10 year-old sorts the breakables. Then everyone pulls back and comes to watch as the wooden wreath puzzle emerges, and the pieces are laid out on the table.

Hands down, this wreath is the family holiday favorite.

The wreath was designed and hand carved by my husband the first Christmas we were first dating. I'm telling you, for a girl who begged for a pocket knife and spent hours whittling soap bars in the garage, this was about as impressive a gift as he could have come up with. Every year when we pull it out, the intense smell of wood knocks my mind back twenty years. A good twenty years, and every Christmas between then and now.

The kids always jockey for turns putting the puzzle together and taking it back apart, while it stays down on the table. But once the wreath goes up on the wall, the enjoyment is more of a visual nature.

{See it back there on that bland cinderblock wall? Way off in the distance . . . }

So for today, an attempt at a holiday tutorial.

Wooden Wreath Puzzle
The wreath in its entirety is 16" diameter. You can either shell out for a 1x16 or, as my husband did, use a (much cheaper) 1x10 or 1x12 and cut the puzzle in two sections. Follow the instructions below for both options.

  • A 1x16 piece of wood, at least 16" long, or 2 pieces of 1x10 or 1x12, at least 16" long.
  • A hand saw OR scrollsaw/jigsaw OR bandsaw.
  • Sanding equipment. Either an electric sander, or plain old sandpaper is fine.
  • Beeswax polish, or other finish.
  • Ribbon for hanging - at least 1 yard long.
Safety: Wear safety goggles and proper ear protection if using a scrollsaw/jigsaw, bandsaw, or electric sander. Make sure they are in proper working order to ensure safe use.

  • Print out and trace the above pattern pieces. (If you have any trouble with the pdfs, please email me or comment below and I will send them to you directly.)
  • Lay the puzzle pieces out on a table, making sure the places where they meet fit well together.
  • If you are working with a 1x16 piece of wood (or have printed the pattern smaller and can fit the entire wreath onto a smaller width board), lay the entire puzzle, completely put together, on the wood. If you are working with a board that is too narrow for the entire puzzle, put it together in two halves (4 pieces each) and lay them on the board/s in two separate places.
  • Trace carefully around the pieces, one at a time.
  • Cut out each piece using either a hand saw, scroll saw, or band saw. (Note: if you are using a hand saw, be very careful to cut between the pieces as vertically as possible. Any slant in your cut will make it difficult to get rejoin the pieces from both the front and the back). If you have cut out the pieces in two sections, make sure that the end pieces of each section join to the other section well. Adjust the cuts on these outside pieces as necessary.
Finishing the puzzle pieces:
  • If using power sanders, gently and evenly rotate each puzzle piece along the sander. Be careful not to remove too much from the points of attachment, so the pieces still fit snugly together.
  • If using sandpaper, start with a coarse grit (60) and sand all surfaces until smooth. Use progressively finer grit (higher number) sandpaper until you are happy with the feel of the surface.
  • Wipe the sawdust carefully from all pieces.
Finish the pieces.

1. Protect with beeswax.
  • Apply beeswax with a soft cloth, working it into the wood.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply additional coats as desired.
  • To maintain your puzzle, periodically reapply beeswax.
2. Protect with paint, stain, or other sealant. [Note: If you prefer to finish the pieces with a clear polyurethane or paint, be cautious with the joints; any build-up between pieces can make them difficult to fit together.]
  • Apply with a fine bristle brush.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply additional coats to surface (not between pieces) as desired.
  • When finished, double-check that pieces are able to fit together smoothly, and sand lightly at attachment points if necessary.
Hanging puzzle.
  • If your pieces fit snugly together, it should be safe to hang your wreath on the wall. Make sure to first attempt hanging it against the wall very close to the ground, with a soft surface to catch any pieces that might slip out. If your wreath does not stay together when vertical, you can put a small piece of finish-safe tape at the joints to keep it from coming apart.
  • Put puzzle together on a solid, movable board or piece of cardboard, on a flat surface such as a table.
  • Slide ribbon under the puzzle and tie at the end.
  • Carefully move the horizontal board to the wall and attach the ribbon to the hook or nail on the wall. For the safety of your wreath, do not hang it on a door or other mobile surface.
  • With the wreath weight on the ribbon, hold the pieces to the board with your hand while you shift it from horizontal to vertical, hanging against the wall. If the wreath is secure, remove the board.
And enjoy.


  1. Ooh, I totally forgot about this puzzle wreath. That is in fact the coolest thing ever. I'm making one the minute I get myself a saw of any kind.

  2. Oooo, can't wait for another wood project... and this one is PERFECT! I also love all the memories associated with this one. Did Brian really carve it by hand?

  3. he really did carve it by hand. with a little hand saw. amazing, no?