Pocket-size Tangram Puzzle

issues-ssw30-New-Lead-TangramClever puzzle-in-a-box provides a portable distraction

By Carl Hird-Rutter

Tangram puzzles, which the Chinese also call the Seven Boards of Cunning, can create an amazing number of designs using just seven tiles. This project includes two sets of tiles; you can play alone, creating even more intricate designs or play against an opponent, each using one set. The simple rules require you to use all seven tiles, and each tile must touch another tile.

The project is built in five 1/8″-thick layers, and it can easily be made in an evening. Cut the pieces to the rough size listed in the materials list. Sand all of the wood surfaces with progressively finer grits of sandpaper up to 220-grit. Permanently attach the front and back patterns to their respective blanks (see sidebar). Attach the puzzle drawer pattern to one of the blanks. Use masking tape or invisible tape to prepare a stack with the puzzle drawer pattern blank and two remaining blanks. Cut all three layers of the drawer section at the same time.

Cut the sliding drawer section. Use a reverse-tooth blade. Start on the outside edge, and cut around the perimeter of the drawer (the blue section). Remove the grey shaded pieces to allow the drawer to slide in and out of the stack. Separate the stack. Set the bottom blank aside.

Cut the puzzle pieces. Re-stack the top two pieces. Drill a blade-entry hole in the innermost corner of the square tile. Cut along the lines to free all of the tiles. Make sure all of the corners remain sharp. Carefully place the pieces in order to make it easier to place them back inside the tray.

Cut the top and bottom pieces. Use a regular-tooth blade. The upturned teeth on a reverse-tooth blade will lift the pattern from the wood. Cut outside the line on everything but the finger access notches. The finishing cut will be done once the project is assembled.

Assemble the drawer. Apply wood glue sparingly to the bottom of the two pieces that hold the tiles. Place these pieces on top of the drawer bottom. Once the pieces are aligned, clamp them in place, and allow them to dry. Remove any excess glue that spills into the drawer.

Assemble the drawer sides. Apply wood glue sparingly to the bottom of all three drawer side pieces (the yellow sections). Lay the bottom piece pattern side down and align the three layers on top. Clamp the four layers in place and allow to dry. Remove any glue that squeezes out into the drawer area.

Dry fit the drawer. Sand the edges and bottom layer of the drawer. The drawer must be slightly thinner than the drawer sides. Fit the top layer in place and re-test the drawer, sanding again if needed. With the drawer in place, glue and clamp the top piece on the assembly. Note: the drawer protrudes from the case.

Finish the puzzle. Trim the sides of the box and the end of the drawer. Reduce the thickness of the tiles by running them along a sheet of 220-grit sandpaper on a sheet of glass. Do not round the corners. Put the tiles in position, and close the drawer.

Attaching the front and back patterns

The easiest way to attach the permanent patterns is to print them on a clear label, but over time, the adhesive may weaken. You can  print the front and back designs on ordinary paper or vellum, and apply a thin, even coat of spray adhesive to both the paper and the wood. Wait a few seconds until the adhesive is tacky, and press the pattern onto the wood. Découpage is another technique. Apply a sealer such as Mod Podge to the back of the pattern, position it on the blank, and cover it with an additional coat of Mod Podge.

I recommend using dark T-shirt transfers. Read the instructions as each brand is different. Place the transfer image-side-up onto the wood. Apply even pressure, and heat it with a clothes iron for 45-60 seconds to release the transfer from the backing paper. A medium setting on the iron works best. Dark T-shirt transfer paper is available at office supply and craft stores.


Tip: Painting the Project

To keep the two sets of tiles separate, paint one set. Use acrylic paint and wipe off the excess so there is no buildup. If you apply too much paint, the drawer will not close properly. Sand any paint on the sides or bottom of the tiles.

• 5 each 1/8″ x 3″x 41/2″ Baltic birch plywood
• Sandpaper, assorted grits up to 220-grit
• Spray adhesive (to attach drawer pattern)
• Large size clear label, dark T-shirt transfers, or découpage sealer, (to permanently attach the top and bottom patterns)
• Wood glue
• Acrylic craft paint
• Masking tape or invisible tape

• #5 reverse-tooth and #5 regular-tooth blades or blades of choice
• Drill press with 1/16″-dia. bit
• Clamps, small assorted

CLICK HERE to download the Pocket-Size Tangram Puzzle Pattern.