Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles for Adults

 

Why choose a wooden jigsaw puzzle? Wooden puzzles are better than the more common cheaper cardboard puzzles as they are much stronger, and the pieces don’t bend or split apart. There is no cardboard dust in the bag and each piece is cut perfectly – no having to separate pieces first before you start the puzzle. There is also much less chance of a piece missing as cardboard puzzles have to go through a mechanical scrambler – I have seen many cardboard puzzle pieces get stuck there! Wooden puzzles also last much longer and can be passed through generations as heirlooms!

I’m Geoff, former Director of Product Development at Gibsons Games with over 20 years of experience in Jigsaw Puzzles. Welcome to my personal guide to the best wooden puzzles from the best manufacturers – Nautilus wooden puzzles, Liberty, Wentworth & Artifact. See how wooden puzzles are made, what type of wood they use and how they can be personalised with whimsies. 

Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles

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My Best Wooden Puzzle Recommendations

There are so many types of wooden puzzles – these are just a few of my current favorites.

Best Wooden
Puzzle
Shaped

Liberty Mabula Elephant wooden jigsaw puzzle
Liberty Puzzles
The Mabula elephant by Sue Coccia
with 573 pieces

Best Wooden
Puzzle
for Whimsies

Whooo Goes There
Nautilus Puzzles
Whooo Goes There!
141 pieces including some great owl shapes!

Best Wooden
Puzzle
with Pop-ups

Wentworth london-landmarks-wooden puzzle

Wentworth Puzzles
I developed the original 2D version at Gibsons and love these new pop-ups!

Best Wooden
Puzzle
for the Rich!

Tree of life
Stave Puzzles
These are the ultimate wooden puzzles. Tree of Life – only $895!

Best Wooden
Puzzle
for Adults & Kids

Unidragon
Cheetah – Incredible design that looks 3D.
190 pieces

Click here to see more Geoff’s Top Picks!

What are Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles?

Wooden jigsaw puzzles have intricate pieces crafted from wood instead of the more common cardboard.
Each puzzle is cut by hand or laser, and as each piece can vary significantly in shape and have much greater stiffness, they feel very luxurious! (Wentworth puzzle shape below)

Wentworth Whimsy piece

History of the Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle
(in five sentences!)

  1. In the 1760s, John Spilsbury created the first-ever jigsaw puzzle by gluing one of his maps to a flat piece of mahogany or cedar wood and cutting out the outlines of countries.
  2. These early jigsaws were called ‘dissections’, meaning ‘cut into pieces’.
  3. They weren’t called jigsaws as he cut them using a marquetry ‘hand’ saw.
  4. In 1855, the Jigsaw tool was invented – named as the vertical saw looked like it was dancing or performing a ‘jig’!
  5. The word ‘Jigsaw Puzzle‘ was first used in 1906.

What is a ‘Whimsy’ piece or ‘Whimsies’?

Whimsies, also known as “whimsy pieces” or “figurals”, are the specially shaped pieces – only found in a wooden jigsaw puzzle. 

They are usually intricately cut into shapes found in the puzzle, such as animals, flowers, people, symbols, or even words.

The use of whimsies in jigsaw puzzles dates back to the early 20th century when the original puzzle cutters hand-cut specially shaped pieces ‘on a whim’ as a signature of their work.

Three companies are especially well known for their whimsies:
Liberty Puzzles (see image), Artifact Puzzles,Wentworth Wooden Puzzles  & Nautilus wooden puzzles.

Liberty puzzles - whimsies

How are Wooden Puzzles made?

 

Once the painting has been designed (hopefully with lots of interesting colours and not full of just blue sky!), it is then printed directly onto wood or paper. The printed paper is usually coated on one side, which allows the ink to be absorbed in just the right amount and produce vibrant colour and sharp detail.

This paper is then glued to the wood using a strong adhesive and smoothed to ensure there are no bubbles or wrinkles.
Once the adhesive has dried, the wood is ready to be cut into puzzle pieces.

There are three main methods of cutting: Traditional hand cutting, Die cutting and Modern laser cutting.

  1. Traditional Hand Cutting: A craftsman uses a jigsaw or scroll saw to cut the puzzle pieces. The process begins by creating a pattern for the puzzle. This could be a standard grid or a unique, irregular pattern. The craftsman then uses the saw to carefully cut along the lines of the pattern. This process requires a very steady hand and a keen eye for detail. It’s time-consuming, but it allows for high customization and those essential ‘whimsy’ pieces.
  2. Die Cutting:  Stamped out by something that looks like a highly complex cookie cutter using vast amounts of pressure. Used mainly by cheaper brands as this cutting can create splinters – be careful out there!
  3. Laser Cutting: The modern method uses a laser cutter to cut the puzzle pieces. A pattern is specially created, which uses the puzzle image for inspiration and the designer’s imagination! The laser cutter follows this pattern to cut the pieces, which is much faster than hand cutting and allows for precise, consistent pieces. Does it burn the wood? Yes!

(Disclaimer – the image below is not factully correct, just my imagination!)

Yoda laser cutting a jigsaw puzzle

Why does Laser Cutting not burn your wooden puzzle!

Great question! You might wonder why the laser doesn’t burn the wood? Well, it actually does, and you can smell it when you open the bag!

It doesn’t catch fire though because of the precision and speed of the laser. Laser cutters are designed to cut by vaporizing the wood in a very controlled manner. The laser moves quickly and doesn’t stay in one place long enough to cause significant charring or burning.

After cutting (or burning!), the edges of the pieces might be slightly darker due to the laser’s heat, but this is usually slight and doesn’t affect the quality of the puzzle. In fact, some people like the contrast of the darker edges!

(Disclaimer Two – Homer Simpson does not actually make jigsaw puzzles!)

Homer Simpson using a laser to cut a jigsaw puzzle

What type of wood is used for a Wooden Puzzle? How thick is the wood?

The wood is generally 1/4 inch plywood and can vary from Maple veneer (Liberty) to 4mm Birch/Basswood plywood (Nautilus) & Mahogany veneer (Bogarts). In 2022, Wentworth changed from 3mm plywood to 4mm plywood. See the table below.

CompanyCountryThicknessMaterialNumber of PiecesCutting method
Liberty PuzzlesUSA (Colorado)¼ inchMaple veneer plywood100 - over 700pcsLaser cut
Wentworth Wooden PuzzlesUK (Wiltshire)4mmSustainable wood15-1500pcsLaser cut
Artifact PuzzlesUSA (Washington)¼ inchEnvironmentally friendly plywood & soy based inks54 to 2,476pcs!Laser cut
Stave PuzzlesUSA (Vermont)¼ inchCherry-backed 5 layer plywood100-650pcsHandcut
Nautilus PuzzlesUSA (California)4mmBirch/basswood plywood sustainably harvested in Finland and FSC-certified.50-801pcsLaser cut
Bogarts Wooden PuzzlesUSA (Maine)¼ inchMahogany 5 ply plywood125 - 300Handcut
Peaceful Wooden PuzzlesUSA (Wisconsin)¼ inchMaple veneer plywood240-860pcsLaser cut (Victorian Style)
Ravensburger Wooden PuzzlesGermany4mmPlywood150-500pcsLaser cut
Gallison Wooden PuzzlesUSA¼ inchPlywood144pcsNot specified

Benefits of Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles

 

  1. Shapes of the Puzzle Pieces – wooden puzzles can have an incredible variety of shapes or ‘whimsies’.
  2. Durability: Wooden puzzles are generally much stronger and more durable than cardboard puzzles. Made with recycled puzzle board, cardboard pieces have laminated layers that can split apart – especially if trying to fit the piece in the wrong place! This is the most common area of faults with cardboard puzzles and doesn’t happen with plywood.
  3. Tactile Experience: The feel of wooden pieces can be more satisfying to handle with their weight, and they don’t bend!
  4. Puzzle piece fit: Wooden pieces often fit together more securely, reducing the frustration that can come from cardboard pieces that split, bend or don’t snap into place properly.
  5. Shaped puzzles – laser cutting allows a greater variety of more intricate puzzle shapes.
  6. Dust – laser cut wooden puzzles are relatively free from dust compared to the dust found in the corner of every bag of a cardboard puzzle.
  7. You could appear on an Antique show in the future! – as the puzzles are passed down through generations as heirlooms!

What is the Best Brand of Wooden Puzzles?

The best wooden jigsaw puzzles are handcut or laser cut. Companies such as :
Liberty puzzles, Wentworth, Artifact, Nautilus & Stave Puzzles (for the true puzzle connoissseur!).

For kids wooden jigsaw puzzles – the market leaders are Melissa & Doug wooden puzzles.

CompanyPiece countType of ArtArtists includeShaped Puzzles
Liberty Puzzles (Colorado, USA, 2005)Approx 100 to over 700pcsAmericana, Animals, Birds, Vintage, Maps & Posters, Seasons, Large piece, PersonalisedSue Coccia, Classical, Modern, Contempory, AsianBlack bear, Mabula elephant, Octopus, Grizzly Bear, Owls, Sea Turtle
Wentworth Wooden Puzzles15-1500pcsFine Art, Animals, Nature, Cottages, Nostalgia, Photographic, Mindful, PersonalisedP.D. Moreno, Joy Laforme, Lena, Eduard, Claire Comerford, Animals, Aimee Stewart, Dominic Davison, Steve Crisp, MacNeil, Randy Wollenmann, Abraham Hunter, Rachel Arbuckle, David Maclean, Gary Walton, Claire Morris, Royce McClure, Bill Bell, Jenny Newland, English Heritage,Cake Stand, Peacock, Champagne, Wolf, Bunny, Queen Elizabeth II, Fox, Bee, Christmas, Easter, Campervan, Butterfly
Artifact Puzzles (Washington, USA, 2009)54 - 2,476pcs!Fine art, Fanciful, Landscapes & Seascapes, Animals & Birds, Flowers, Asian, Maps, People, ChristmasKristen Adam, Paul Bond, Bek Cruddace, Tom Dubbeldam, Jim Flora, Jathryn Freeman, Richard Friend, Karla Gerard, Geoffrey Gersten, Angela Gomes, William Groper, Tyson Grumm, Erin Hanson, Kawase Hasui, Justin Hillgrove, Hokusai, Jonik, Eric Joyner, Kozyndan, Iwona Lifsches, Vikram Madan, Victor Molev, Edvard Munch, Thomasz Pietrzyk, Angie Rees, Randal Spangler, Rachell Sumpter, Roch Urbaniak, Liv Wan, Aaron Wolf,Double sided, Irregular edges, Split Tendril Connectors & Super Fancy Pieces (!), Mini Hexagon, Connector less.
Nautilus Puzzles50 - 801pcsArt Nouveau, Art Deco, Contempory, Fine Srt, Modern, Photographic, Impressionist, ReligiousCatherine Rowe, Aimee Stewart, Ciro Marcetti, Monet, CR Townsend, Debbie Creswell, Dominic Davison, Garry Gay, Greg Giordano, Utagawa Hiroshige, Howard Robinson, Jacek Yerka, Jim Hansel, Ken Zylla, KevinMainly square or rectangular puzzles, but lots of whimsies!

Personalised or Custom Wooden Puzzles

Two major Wooden jigsaw puzzles companies also offer personalised or custom wooden jigsaw puzzles from 100 to 1000 pieces.
Liberty (225 pieces for US$140- 425 pieces for US$170)
and Wentworth (250 pieces for £32 – 1000 pieces for £145)

Also try Etsy who have some makers of personalised wooden jigsaw puzzles and other wooden gifts.

Where can I buy Wooden Puzzles?

Links to buying the best wooden jigsaw puzzles below :
Liberty puzzles, Wentworth, Artifact, Nautilus & Stave Puzzles.

Also try :
Ravensburger
Galison
Lavievert
Unidragon
AllJigsawPuzzles
Victory Puzzles (a really nostalgic UK brand)
& Woodsbest Puzzles

If you are looking for small independent manufacturers :
 try Etsy for unique wooden puzzles
where you can also find CraftHub wooden puzzles.

For kids wooden jigsaw puzzles – the market leaders are Melissa & Doug wooden puzzles.

Are Wooden Puzzles worth it?

Wooden jigsaw puzzles are the super deluxe option.
High-quality pieces that come in fantastic intricate shapes (whimsies) which don’t bend or split.

However, they are much more expensive, and price for all of us is a significant factor.
If you can justify the cost, a hand-cut or laser-cut wooden jigsaw puzzle will be a treasure which can be passed down through the generations!

The best Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle companies include Liberty, Wentworth, Artifact and Nautilus wooden puzzles – remember to check out their 30-45% Discounted Sale whilst it lasts!

If you liked this article, find out my thoughts on

The Best Christmas Puzzles
The Most Interesting Jigsaw Puzzle for Adults,
a Perfect Puzzle for Grandpa
How to become a Jigsaw Puzzle Artist
and a visit to a Jigsaw Festival!

 

Some Wooden Puzzles for the Kids too!

Geoff Lee