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What Different Types of Jigsaw Puzzle Are There?

So you think a jigsaw is a jigsaw – think again! No doubt you already know that the subject matter varies enormously (from Star Wars to country cottages) but read on to discover more about the numerous different sorts of jigsaw puzzle.

New Cardboard Jigsaws

These are the backbone of the current jigsaw market – no self-respecting bookshop or toyshop is without them. The diversity of both the subject matter and the degree of difficulty is enormous. Present day manufacturers and retailers deserve to be complimented on their ability to provide wonderful entertainment value.

The jigsaw to the right is one of the W.H. Smith Exclusive Collection puzzles. There are several different manufacturers of puzzle and literally thousands of images to choose from – and often for under £10.00 each..

Old Cardboard Jigsaws

Cardboard puzzles started appearing in the 1930’s but these were of very dubious quality. Waddingtons perfected the dye cutting processes in the 1950’s and along with Tower Press (manufacturing for Boots, British Home Stores, Woolworths and W.H. Smith) they dominated the field for 40 years thereafter. You can rely on the quality of any puzzle bearing the Waddington or Tower Press name but remember that when you buy one from a car boot sale you can never be sure all the pieces are there until you have completed it.

WH Smith jigsaw puzzle

Modern Wooden Jigsaws

In 1987 a new tool was added to the jigsaw cutters armoury – the laser cutter. This dramatically speeded up the production process and excellent quality wooden puzzles are now produced without the need for hours of work by skilled craftsmen. A downside to the technology is that the machinery required costs anything up to £100,000.

There is still a buoyant market for wooden jigsaws cut in the traditional manner and several skilled cutters have full order books. True jigsaw aficionados will tell you that puzzles cut in this way fit a little more tightly together than laser cut ones and then there is the added charm in the knowledge that each puzzle is truly unique.

The beautiful hand-cut puzzle on the right was made by Sara White – a delightful Oxfordshire lady. It contains 1,050 pieces including 34 whimsies in the form of recognisable dogs.

Floor Jigsaws

A child’s first introduction to jigsaws is likely to be a ‘Floor puzzle’. This usually takes the form of huge, thick pieces that are colorful enough to attract and retain the interest of the toddler and at the same time durable enough to withstand impact from small feet and bottoms.

sara White jigsaw puzzle

Educational Jigsaws

There was once a very well meaning nursery school teacher who insisted that every child fit a piece of the school jigsaw in place before he or she went home each night. The story goes that the jigsaw was finished in record time but none of the children ever did a jigsaw again! If jigsaws are to work as a teaching aid they must first and foremost be FUN – education happens with jigsaws but maybe it’s best to keep this at the subliminal level.

Jigsaws that feature maps, famous people and identification of plants and animals all make good subjects for children to learn whilst at the same time enjoying themselves.

Three Dimensional Jigsaws

Three-dimensional puzzles are enjoyed by the small band of people who fall into the category of ‘Hobby constructors’. Some people love them and others hate them. Try a 3D by all means but if you can, borrow one before you buy one.

Fiendishly Difficult Modern Jigsaws

These basically come in two different guises – a great quantity of pieces and/or an extremely repetitious design, like a plate of beans. Likewise their uses are twofold: firstly for extreme jigsaw enthusiasts who feel they need to do just one and secondly as presents for people you hate!

Old Wooden Jigsaws

Until the advent of the laser cutter (see above) all wooden puzzles were cut using either hand-held, treadle or electric saws. It is interesting to note that the puzzle cutters did not work to a definite pattern for each jigsaw, rather they relied upon their own skill to ensure a variety of shapes and sizes for individual pieces. The cut and quality of these old wooden puzzles varies enormously and it is advisable to spend a little time researching the subject before buying any expensive ones. Tom Tyler’s book ‘The English Jigsaw Puzzle’ (ISBN 0903685566) would be a good place to start.

Keeping it together

Jigthings Limited, Herons Way, Wragg Marsh, Spalding, Lincs, PE12 6HH