How to Make Japanese Puzzle Boxes

Written by jack ori
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How to Make Japanese Puzzle Boxes
Intricate locking puzzle boxes call for attention to detail. (marquèterie de bois. image by Blue Moon from

Japanese puzzle boxes are intricate boxes containing small, moving pieces. The pieces must be moved in a certain order to open the box. According to Randal Gatewood, a puzzle box builder, making your own puzzle boxes requires knowledge of tools and attention to detail.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 2 pieces of 1/2" thick cherry wood, 2" x 4"
  • 2 pieces of 1/4" thick cherry wood, 3 1/4" x 11"
  • Mitre saw
  • Router
  • 2 pieces of 1/2" thick cherry wood, 2" x 11 3/4"
  • Wood glue
  • 1 piece of 1/2" thick cherry wood, 1/2" x 4"
  • Chisel
  • 2 pieces of 1/2" thick Cocobolo wood, 11 1/4" x 1/2"
  • 2 pieces of 1/2" thick Cocobolo wood, 3 1/2" x 1/2"
  • 4 pieces of 1/2" thick birch wood, 1/2" x 1/2"
  • Sander
  • Wax
  • 1 piece of 1/8" thick cherry wood, 7/16" x 1"

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  1. 1

    Cut the sides of the box out of the first four pieces of cherry wood listed. Cut them to size with the mitre saw if they are not already the right size. Cut the ends of the pieces at a 45-degree angle.

  2. 2

    Use the shorter side of each of these pieces as the inside. Cut a 1/8" x 1/8" groove on the inside of each piece with the router. The groove should be about 1/8" from the bottom of each piece. Make a matching groove on the top of each piece, except for one of the end pieces. This groove holds the lid in the finished box. Cut the top of the piece that does not have a top groove so that this piece is only 1 3/4" high.

  3. 3

    Rout a space for the locking mechanism on the short end of the piece you just cut. Cut this space to a depth of 1/4".

  4. 4

    Take one of the 3 1/4" x 11" pieces of cherry wood to use as a base. Rout a lip around this piece of wood, 1/8" deep and 1/8" from the edge. Repeat with the other 3 1/4" x 11" piece of cherry wood, which will be used as the lid.

  5. 5

    Glue the sides and ends of the box around the base, putting glue into the bottom groove to ensure the base is securely fastened. Clamp and let dry overnight.

  6. 6

    Choose one end of the lid to be the lock end. Rout a groove 1/2" wide and 3/16" deep on this end of the lid. When the lock end is pointed away from you, the groove should be 1 1/2" from the left side of the wood and 1 1/4" from the right side. Cut a niche slightly to the left of the groove of the same depth. The niche should be 1/2" wide and 1/8" away from the lock end of the lid.

  7. 7

    Cut the ends of the remaining piece of cherry wood to size with the mitre saw, cutting at a 45-degree angle, to make the lid end. Rout a lip on the underside that is 1/8" deep and 1/8" wide. Make a niche to the left of the lip. The niche should be 1/4" from the inside edge and 1" from the left of the lid end and 1 1/4" from the right.

  8. 8

    Use a 14-degree dovetail router bit to rout a groove in the bottom of the box. The groove should be about 1 1/4" from the bottom of the box to a depth of 1/4". Chisel the ends of the groove to a width of 1/2".

  9. 9

    Cut all the Cocobolo wood to size with a table saw. The wood should be wedge shaped.

  10. 10

    Sand the box, making the corners round. Glue all the Cocobolo wood into the grooves except the wood at the locking end of the box. Glue three of the birch pieces into the wider grooves at the corners, leaving the one that is at the right end of the locking groove out for now.

  11. 11

    Slide the final strip into place and glue the birch piece to it, being careful not to get glue anywhere other than these two pieces. Let the glue dry overnight. Remove the strip, wax the groove and replace the strip.

  12. 12

    Cut the remaining piece of cherry wood to make the locking mechanism. Glue the locking mechanism to the inside edge of the sliding piece of Cocobolo, making sure not to get glue anywhere else. Let it dry overnight.

  13. 13

    Sand the box.

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