Kids today are excited by ultrarealistic video games and 3D movies that take them into virtual worlds. But, put a classic picture puzzle in front of these junior cyber wizards, and they might just do the same thing we did when we were their age: dump it out and start shuffling the pieces together. There’s something about an old-fashioned puzzle that can still captivate kids, especially if you start them young.
This beginner’s puzzle is sturdily made and simple enough to keep a little one engaged but not frustrated. We’re using the otter image shown here by permission; it’s from a new book titled Saving Squeak: The Otter Tale, by Jennifer Keats Curtis (Schiffer Publishing, 2010 ISBN 978-0-7643-3588-4), it was illustrated by Marcy Dunn Ramsey.
Applying the Puzzle Grid and Face Image
Quarter-inch-thick MDF makes a good substrate for the puzzle pieces, because both faces are tempered and smooth and there’s no risk of splinters. Cut an 8-1⁄2″ x 11″ blank (piece 1) to shape. The basic process to prepare the puzzle pieces for cutting involves applying the puzzle grid to one face and the main image to the other. Your first inclination might be to spray-mount or glue them both in place, but I’d like to suggest a different approach. If you affix the puzzle grid paper to your substrate, you’ll probably want to sand it off when you’re finished. That’s a tedious and unnecessary job. All you really need is the outline of the shapes anyway, and here’s how to get it: Print out the grid using a laser printer. Then, position it print-side down, and wipe the back of the paper liberally with acetone. The solvent will release the black toner onto the MDF and transfer the grid. If you have an ink-jet printer, you can accomplish the same result using special inkjet transfer paper (available from craft stores or online) and ironing the printout with a household iron set to high heat.
With the grid applied, flip the puzzle blank over and mount the face image. I used spray adhesive, but you could also brush on a thinned washcoat of white or yellow glue. Flatten the image with a J-roller or a piece of scrap wood wrapped in a towel. When the adhesive cures, spray aerosol shellac over the face to seal in the image and stiffen the paper fibers. It will help prevent tearout during the cutting stage. I applied three light coats.
Trim the puzzle piece blank to its final size of 8″ x 10-1⁄2″ now.