Caring for Puzzles

The puzzles produced at cubicdissection are extremely precise, with tolerances measured by thousandths of an inch. While joinery, dimensioning and other strategies are used to minimize the risk that a puzzle will be damaged by wood movement, it's impossible for us to guarantee against unless the puzzle is properly stored and cared for. Understanding how wood reacts to its environment is essential for any serious collector.

Wood moves; it expands and contracts with changes in humidity like a sponge. As humidity rises it absorbs moisture and expands. When humidity decreases, it shrinks again. Movement is greatest across the grain (tangential movement), and least with the grain (lateral movement). Some wood species are more stable than others, but they all move at least a little.

The amount of movement is also related to how the board was cut from the log. Wood that has been “quartersawn” is the most stable, and will generally expand and contract without warping. Plane sawn wood is prone to warping, “cupping”, and other deformations...especially if it dries out too fast. Warping and other deformation happens when the humidity changes too rapidly. Slow change in humidity will result in the wood shrinking or expanding, but not deforming. That’s why air dried lumber is usually of better quality (and more expensive) than kiln dried wood.

Here is what you can do to protect your collection.

  • Keep your puzzles away from direct sunlight and heat sources like radiators and heat vents.
  • Keep your puzzles in a glass display case or china cabinet with a glass of water or a damp sponge to promote stable humidity conditions.
  • Keep especially valued puzzles in ziplock bags.
  • Use a humidifier during the winter and an air conditioner in summer to keep humidity at a moderate level.
  • If your puzzle does become too loose or too tight, don’t despair. Waiting until the season changes will likely cause the puzzle to restore itself to its original condition.
  • If it has dried out DON’T wet it; if it has swelled DON’T dry it in an oven. Remember, fast changes will deform wood.