A Father’s Day Tradition

About 15 years ago, I created a puzzle for Catherine Weber, who wanted a very special Father’s Day for her husband, Paul. As he was a new father and puzzle lover, she wanted to surprise him with a unique gift.

She chose seven photographs and scanned a piece of William Morris wallpaper (Chrysanthemum design), which was custom made for their Arts and Craft style farm house in Southborough Massachusetts, to use as the background image for the puzzle.

She also asked for special pieces in the puzzle, their son, Benjamin’s birthdate, as well as his initials. I wrote about this puzzle in 2002, when Benjamin was 14 months old for our printed newsletter, here.

Now, all these years later, Catherine tells me that they put the puzzle together as a family every year around Father’s Day. It has become an important way to celebrate another year of their family life.


The Technology Behind the Puzzles: A Video Interview

I am pleased to have been interviewed by WGBH this spring for their Auction In An Hour series.  Every year I donate a puzzle to their auction. This year I donated Jungle Scene and was pleased to be asked to do an interview with Chris Voss. He brought a film crew to my Altier in Marblehead and I demonstrated my machine on camera. I hope you enjoy it!


Custom Jigsaw Puzzle Makes For a Special Wedding Day


I recently received this letter from a bride for whom I made a custom puzzle. She agreed to have me publish her story.

Enjoy, Jim


“When I was planning for my wedding, one of my ushers Tim contacted me and told me that he wanted to get us something special for our wedding–not just something from our registry but something meaningful to us.  He suggested a wooden puzzle since he knows that I love puzzles.  A customized wooden puzzle had the advantage of being durable and being designed to reflect us. I, of course, loved the idea; and Tim suggest we try to incorporate the puzzle into the wedding.

Picking the image for the puzzle was easy.  We had had designed for us a wedding logo.  The logo was our names (Jerry & Christina) stylized in a way that they could be read upside down or right side up.  We felt that using the wedding logo rather than a photograph would commemorate the day appropriately and fit the theme of a puzzle.

After much consultation, we decided that the best way to incorporate the puzzle into the wedding was to have our guests help complete the puzzle during the reception.  Due to the number of guests and the fact that many of the guests don’t speak English, rather than having each guest put in a piece, we had a representative from each banquet table put in a piece after
we toasted with the guests at that table.

In order for the representative from each table to put in the puzzle piece easily (we realized that not everybody is into puzzles as I am), the puzzle was designed with a number of special pieces that would be relatively obvious to place.  We used our names and our wedding date and a number of objects (such as a guitar, a tiger, a cross, etc.) that were special to us.

During the reception, the partially finished puzzle was on the table as Tim supervised guests inserted pieces.  Because the wooden puzzle was quite sturdy we were able to place the puzzle on an easel after all the guests finished.   At the end of the reception after we had said our thank yous, Jerry and I placed the last piece, a heart, into the puzzle together.   It was a wonderful way to end the evening with meaning.”

Christina Chan-Park

PS.  Since the puzzle commemorated the wedding with one of my favorite hobbies, we ended up commemorating the wedding with
one of Jerry’s favorite hobbies too–comic books!


Marblehead Girl’s Swim Team

This is my first blog since before Christmas so it is appropriate that this year starts with an upbeat story. For the first time the Marblehead High School girl’s team won the state championship. The meet was at the Harvard pool. 31 teams competed but only with each team’s fastest swimmers. All afternoon Marblehead exchanged the lead with Wayland, a prennial winner. Comming into the last event, a relay, Wayland was slightly ahead. Marblehead won the relay and the championship by one second. It was David vs Goliath. Wayland had 19 swimmers, Marblehead 7. The Boston Papers were there. A Herald reporter christened the Marblehead team The Magnificent 7.

My wife asked me to design and make puzzles for the swimmers and coach. A mother took a good picture. In the upper center of the puzzle my signiture cat is surrounded by fish. All other silhouettes are female. The cat is too.  She comes from a cartoon by Albert Dubout that shows her leading her kittens across a war torn Paris street. Notice Olive Oyl , lower middle next to “Jane Bond” but no Popeye. I put in as many figure pieces as possible; that makes the puzzle easier. Swimmers are not necessarily avid puzzlers.

Another Custom Wooden Jigsaw puzzle.

My client asked for a puzzle of his friend’s house including an alligator as a special piece and the house name in drop-out lettering. He gave me a picture that might have been good enough for an 8 x 10 puzzle but not for an 11 x 14. The picture may have been taken with a cell phone. So we made the puzzle with wide white borders and put the name in the bottom border. He found the alligator at the left, I traced it in right and left hand versions and put each piece in the side borders.  Just for fun I made the corners differently.

Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles – Hand vs. Waterjet cut.

I have been cutting wooden jigsaw puzzles since 1986. I think it is high time to contrast waterjet cutting to hand cutting. Each has its advantages.

I think the most obvious advantage waterjet cutting has is price. Cutting a puzzle by hand takes skill and time. Good hand-cut puzzles are more expensive. The biggest advantage that a hand cutter has over a waterjet is the ability to relate the cut to the picture. I wish my machine had that ability but obviously it just does not see the picture. Almost all my puzzles are regular shapes, rectangles and ovals, that conform to the length and width of the picture. I cannot make a cut along a horizon or the outline of a tree.


Here are two pair of pieces pictured front and back. The hand-cut ones on the left are very smooth. The waterjet-cut ones are smooth only at the top where the jet enters the cut at the picture. The cut is progressively rougher toward the back. This is not a disadvantage. The rough edges hold the pieces together so the puzzle will stay together until it is taken apart.  I think you can see that the waterjet cut is a bit thinner than the hand cut. I am amazed that the jigsaw cuts are as fine as they are. That’s a tribute to the skill of the cutter and the quality of the blade. But the hand-cut puzzle is a little looser, has more visible cuts and the pieces slide around because they are so smooth. 

This is a picture of several pieces that make up a centaur weathervane. It is part of the design of many of my bigger puzzles. I show it here to illustrate the amount of detail I can put into my figure pieses. The jet stream is like a tiny round jigsaw blade, in this case .007 inches dia. It can cut in all directions. I take advantage of this to put a lot of figure pieces into a puzzle.  Also this allows me more freedom to add drop-out letters and numbers to custom puzzles.

Fred and Ginger updated

This wedding picture reminded me of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers a few generations later. It was a pleasure to make a puzzle from such a fun picture. I was asked to include the names of the bride, groom and their parents. Drop-out lettering would have detracted too much from the picture so Bob was one piece, Anne, Nate, Lisa and Jean were two pieces and Walter was three. Were I to do it again, I would pick either a more bold font or larger lettering.F_Blog

Larger figure pieces

           Here are some larger figure pieces. The top two dinosaures I designed into Forest at Fontainebleau. So far I have used it only in that puzzle and in the relationship to each other as shown. I think the creatures fit the brooding quality of the painting. The larger is made of eight pieces; the smaller four. Upper right is an extinct sloth made of six pieces. Middle left is a stag from a merry-go-round. It has seven pieces. The cuts, which are hard to see, corrospond to the tack of the saddle and bridle. The runing boy has five pieces plus the hat. For scale, the hat is 3/4 inch long. The pin-up is three pieces. The center piece is her rather skimpy bathing suit. The narcistic mermaid with the long hair has seven pieces. Finally the heraldic lion rampant has six pieces. I first used it in a puzzle I sent, unbidden, to Queen Elizabeth.


Figure Pieces

I try to fill my puzzles with figure pieces. One of the advantages of cutting with a water jet is that I can cut much more intricate detail than is possible with a jigsaw. Generally, figure pieces make a puzzle easier to put together so there is a practical limit. One of my designs for an 11×14 puzzle has a total of 326 pieces. Of those pieces, 29 are single-piece figures and there are three figures made of two pieces each.figure_pieces1

The cat at right was from an Albert Dubout cartoon of her leading her kittens across a war-torn Paris street. That figure piece is in almost all of my puzzles and is the one I sign and date.  The date is the first time the puzzle is taken apart for packaging and shipping. Next to the cat is a demure young lady I call Jane Bond. Lower left is my only nude. At lower right is a figure few know though she used to flittingly appear about once a week on public television. I will show some more figure pieces in future editions of this blog.