2 Easy Scroll Saw Projects – 3D Word Blocks & Wrap-Around Puzzles

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As woodworkers and makers, we constantly feel the need to outdo ourselves. But not every project has to be complex and challenging. Sometimes you just need a quick fix that high fives your pleasure receptors with a dollop of dopamine and a pinch of “Ya’ done good there, kiddo!” If you’re looking for easy gifts, items for the next craft show, or just something cool for the shelf, here are two simple scroll saw projects you can knock out in a single weekend: a 3D word block and a unique wrap-around puzzle.

2 Easy Scroll Saw Projects – Woodworking Fun For The Kids, Too

Since scroll saws are probably the safest pixie powered saws in existence, these projects can be a great way to get the kids involved in the workshop (with adult supervision, of course). While some tools can legitimately lop a digit in the blink of an eye, that’s just not going to happen here. Yes, it is possible to get a minor cut; but you’d have to try rather hard and for quite a while to lose a finger. And with the extra fine toothed blades I used, quick blade contact usually won’t even break the skin.


Block Party – May I Have A Word With You?

Happy birthday 3D word block
This one is made of sweetgum. The color variations are natural to the wood, not a finishing error.

Let’s start off with the Word Block. This is a perfect gift item because it’s so highly customizable. The examples shown are just the tip of the iceberg.

3D word blocks
Some of the many 3D word blocks I’ve made. Most of these are Western red cedar from the home center.

I generally prefer to use medium density woods with a square cross section of 7/8” to 1-1/4”. Some great choices are walnut, mahogany, butternut, sweetgum, soft maple, poplar, and so on. Softer woods – such as spruce, pine or cedar – also work, but expect some tearout on the back side.

As far as length goes, it’s really only limited by the depth of your saw’s throat. Mine usually range from about 3 to 7-1/2 inches.

Making Your Own 3D Word Block Patterns

3D word block layout
If you need more help getting to this point, see our carved wooden sign project.

Layout is done much like the Carved Wooden Sign project we featured a couple years ago. I make my word block patterns with Microsoft Paint.

To get you started, you can CLICK HERE to download patterns for all of the word blocks seen in this post.

Here’s a quick rundown of the process: Use an easy-to-read, bold font and write your text in two lines. Add wide borders and stack them vertically, as shown. For strength, it’s generally best if the characters span two borders. The end borders should be at least 3/16” thick.

3D word block layout, step 2
Stack the two blocks of text as shown. The thin red line indicates where to fold and helps position the text blocks without overlap.
Year added to 3D word block
You can also add some simple clip art or half height characters into the mix. Here, I included the year “2018”.
Lighten the color
Once you’re satisfied with the layout, switch to a light gray color and use the “fill with color” tool to lighten the image. This makes it a lot easier to follow the edges with the saw blade. Otherwise, the black blade tends to get visually lost in the black ink.

Resize the image as needed and print it out.

Attach The Pattern To Your 3D Word Block Blank

Creased for ease of application.
Crease the pattern before applying glue.

Cut out your paper pattern and crease it along the dividing line. Then lay it face down and spray the back with medium tack spray glue, such as Loctite middleweight bonding. For easier removal later, give the glue 30 seconds or so to tack up before sticking it to the blank.

Applying the 3D word block pattern.
Start by sticking one end of the crease to the corner of the blank then follow through to the other end. Then press the faces in place.

Once the pattern sticks to the faces of the blank, you may not be able to reposition it. Be sure to first align the crease along the corner of the wood and you’ll get perfect positioning every time.

3D word block ready to be drilled..
Pattern attached to my blank.

Drill The Blade Access Holes

Drilling for blade access.
Drill access holes in every segment that will be cut out.

The next step is to drill holes so the scroll saw blade can be threaded through the workpiece (this is best done with a drill press). Select a drill bit large enough for your blade to pass through.

Drill bit selection.
This is the largest drill bit I can use.

It’s worth noting that you can – if you really have to – cut this project with a coping saw (or jeweler’s saw), but it’s not going to be easy to keep your cuts perpendicular. I mention this mainly to point out that the pin end blades required by most coping saws (and lower end scroll saws) are going to impose a larger hole requirement. So keep that in mind when laying out your pattern; don’t make any areas too small for your blade.

Back side of the word block.
Drill the access holes go all the way through the wood.

There will likely be raised mounds on the back sides, where the drill exits the wood. Be sure to sand these smooth so the workpiece sits flat and doesn’t rock.

Sanding the bottom.
Sand the drill bit exit holes flat before moving on the scroll saw. For convenience, I’m using my Sand-Flee.

The Dead C (And Other Letters Too) Scroller

3D word block
The cut out 3D word block.

Before I started cutting, I realized that the font I chose (Times New Roman) – even when bolded – has some cross bars that are too thin. So I went through and thickened them up a bit. Same with the points at the tops of the “A’s”

Widen any thin areas.
I used a pencil to widen some areas that were a little too thin for my liking.

You’ve Got Your Words Cut Out For You

Cutting the first face.
It doesn’t matter which face you start with. Just choose one and clear away all the waste material.

There are no special blade requirements for this project, though I would recommend a flat (not spiral) blade. Also, a thinner, higher TPI (teeth per inch) blade is preferable to a chunky, coarse blade. I used a #3, 40.5 TPI flat blade, which seems to be ideal. A fine blade cuts slower, but produces a smoother cut. A coarser blade will cut faster, but leave a rough finish that can be a real pain to deal with.

There exist file-like “blades” for use in a scroll saw. But they won’t reach every crevice and can get you into trouble on a project like this. It’s best to use a fine blade and take your time.

2-Faced Blockhead! – 3D Word Block

Cutting the second face.
Cut all of one face then move on to the other.

Be sure to clear away any loose debris that’s floating around inside before starting on the second face.

Slow and steady.
Be careful when cutting around thin areas and characters that don’t span from border to border, like these “floating” numbers.
Clear out the loops first.
Since these thin, half height numbers are especially fragile, remove the material inside the 8’s loops before cutting around the outside.

Now I’ve Cut My ABC’s – Next Time Won’t You Scroll With Me?

Be creative!
Think outside of the block. Cutting out this jack ‘o’ lantern mouth gives a whole different look than cutting around it would have.

To garnish this wooden word salad, give your 3D word block a little sanding (and maybe clean up some internal bits with needle files, as needed). Only the outside surfaces need be smooth to the touch. So don’t waste too much time honing the innards. Slightly round over the outside edges and corners and use a finish of your choosing. Clear spray lacquer works well on these.


A Slightly Puzzling “Jigsaw” Puzzle

Wrap-around puzzles.
An easy-to-make puzzle with a wrap-around design.

The idea of cutting puzzles on the scroll saw is far from new. Pretty much every hand made wooden “jigsaw” puzzle is actually a scroll saw or coping saw puzzle (and the cardboard ones are press cut with dies). In fact – unless you prefer your pieces ridiculously sloppy and loose – a jigsaw is a poor puzzle making tool. Save, perhaps, for puzzles having really large, jumbo sized pieces.

One end fits the other.
One end perfectly mates with the other. Imagine the puzzle wrapped around a cylinder, forming a ring.

For this project, I threw in an experimental twist to add interest. But if you prefer traditional, straight edges, then, by all means, make your puzzle that way.

We Are Living In A Material World – And I Am A Material… Guy

Underlayment plywood.
Both sides of this underlayment plywood have fairly consistent – albeit, slightly different – grain. But the difference will be hidden with paint.

I’m all about using up scraps whenever possible. I’m what you might call cheap “frugal”. So I grabbed some 3/16” underlayment plywood cut-offs left over from last year’s fireplace wall art project. My pieces happened to be 16-1/2” x 4-1/2”. Yours can be whatever size you’d like.

Any thin, quality plywood will do the job. I used this underlayment material because the grain is smooth and consistent. There are no knots, swirls or other obvious features that will give clues as to which piece goes where.

Painted on both sides.
Once painted, both sides look identical; a nice bonus for puzzles with so few pieces.

The two faces of this plywood are different colors and have slightly different textures. But once they’re sanded and painted, it will be nearly impossible to tell the tops from the bottoms. In other words, it’s the perfect material for this project.

Laying Out Your Wrap-Around Scroll Saw Puzzle

Wrap-around puzzle layout.
No need for formulaic precision. This is neither rocket surgery nor brain science. Heck, I’m not even a surgical scientist; yet I managed to lay out two puzzles in only a few minutes each!

Give both faces a quick sanding then lay out your pieces. Don’t agonize over this step. Just zig, zag, and generally mimic the curves and interlocking tabs of a traditional jigsaw puzzle. For reference, my pieces range in width from about 1-1/4” to 2-1/2”.

Blank spaces at the ends.
Leave about 3″ of blank space on one end of the material and 1″ or so on the other.

Blade 1’er – Cutting Your Wrap-Awound Weplicant

Spiral blade
A spiral blade cuts in all directions and really excels at making curves in thin material. Photo – Rockler.com

I’d recommend a #1 spiral blade. If all you have is a #2 or #3 (which are thicker), fine. But the thicker the blade, the larger the gaps between pieces will be. If instead you use a flat blade, keep in mind that it may limit the length of your workpiece (due to the saw’s throat capacity). With a spiral blade in your scroll saw, you don’t have to turn the workpiece as you cut; so that shouldn’t be an issue.

Cut this end first.
Start cutting from the end having the larger blank area.

The first piece you cut loose should be the 3” blank segment. Set this end aside until you reach the last cut line. Work your way down the puzzle, one piece at a time.

Cutting the wrap-around puzzle.
Work your way down the puzzle, cutting every line except the very last one.

No End In Sight – Making The Critical Cut

Stack the ends.
Stack the remaining piece (the shorter end with one cut line remaining) on top of the first piece you cut off (the 3 inch blank segment).

The trick to getting perfectly matched ends is to stack the pieces and cut them at the same time. The “end” result is that it will be impossible to discern the original ends from any other neighboring pieces in the puzzle.

To make the final cut, stack the two ends and tape them together. How far they overlap will determine the width of the last piece (that “last” puzzle piece will come from the 3” blank section we cut off at the beginning).

Taped together for stack cutting.
Tape the pieces together so that nothing moves while you make this last cut.
Stack cutting.
Making the final cut.
The end is nigh.
The end is nigh.

Wrapping Your Head Around The Wrap-Around Scroll Saw Puzzle

To clarify what’s going on, let’s look at the ends from the other puzzle.

Cut ends.
Here are the end pieces (of the other puzzle I made) after the final cut; still stacked, but untaped.
Once they are unstacked, you can see what’s going on.
The new end pieces.
Toss away the straight edged scraps, swap sides and you have two “end” pieces that fit perfectly into the puzzle (and each other). And now, there are no true ends, as the puzzle can be “shifted” to any position along the loop.

Clean And Finish Your Puzzle

Use a thin sanding sponge to round over all the edges, removing the harsh, splintery corners.
Comparison: before and after.
See how much nicer they look compared to the unsanded pieces?

Spend some time sanding all of the edges – on the tops and bottoms – before painting. I’ll be honest; this step will take longer than you want it to. I developed hand cramps and an active hate for life before getting through both puzzles. But then I got done and I was glad I did it; it makes a huge difference in both the appearance and feel of the pieces. Well worth the effort!

Painting The Wrap-Around Scroll Saw Puzzle

Spray paint
My puzzles are colored with Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X.

NOTE: The paints and lacquer I used should be non-toxic and inert once cured, but paint selection is something you’ll have to determine for yourself. If you’re making a puzzle for a child and have concerns about the finishes you use, select paints that are specifically labeled as safe for children’s toys. Also, of course, make sure the parts are age appropriate with respect to size; don’t give an infant something they might choke on.

Painting is optional, of course. I gave my puzzles enough thin coats to make the top and bottom faces look exactly alike. Allow enough drying time between coats (refer to the product label for minimum re-coat times). If a lot of coats are needed, do a few at the recommended re-coat intervals then allow the day or two required to fully cure before spraying any more.

A smidgen of color.
A good paint job will make the tops and bottoms indistinguishable from each other. If the puzzle is for a younger child, you may opt to paint only the top – or make the top and bottom different colors – to keep the difficulty at an appropriate skill level.

You may be tempted to just blast it with one extra heavy coat and call it a day. Trust me; you don’t want to make that mistake. I’ve done that before and it took nearly two stinkin’ months to dry! Layering thin coats is the only way to go.

Nice Aesthetic! – All That Junk Inside Your Puzzle Trunk

Clear coat.
A few coats of clear spray lacquer and these pieces were ready to go.

You may have noticed that I painted the puzzles in their assembled state. That’s because I wanted to keep the mating edges free of paint buildup.

The finished pieces.
Ain’t they purdy?

After the spray paint was fully cured, I went back with a small brush and hand painted all of the edges with black acrylic. Finally, I spread the pieces out and finished it all off with a few coats of clear spray lacquer.

Wrap-around puzzles.
I chose to paint my pieces all the same color. Get creative and make it your own. For even more confusion, try making different pieces different colors, with different colors on the back.

This scroll saw project was actually more of a proof of concept exercise. But I see potential in the idea, so I thought I’d share. Even with only 17-18 pieces running in a linear track, it will probably take you a little longer to assemble than you’d think. And if you add more pieces along the short axis (breaking the long pieces into two or more shorter pieces) you can make it even trickier, especially for kids.

Now Get Out Into Your Shop And Make Something Cool!

Finished scroll saw projects.
If you’re observant, you’ll notice that my finished puzzles have more pieces than the layout I showed earlier. Can you figure out how I added pieces? Hint: I added material.

And finally, we’ll leave you with one last puzzle to solve on your own: The puzzles shown here wrap in only one direction, along the “X” axis. But see if you can apply what you’ve learned to make a puzzle that wraps in both the X and Y directions. Perhaps start off with 25 pieces (a 5×5 grid). Can you do it?

Photo of author

About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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