Puzzlefriend’s Weblog

Print your own micro-cubes

Posted on: April 3, 2009

I love making and collecting interlocking 3D puzzles. They have traditionally been made from wood and can look quite beautiful as sculptures, as well as being great fun to try and solve.

There are, however, some problems with using wood.

  • For simple puzzles, wood is an excellent material to practice on
  • For more complex puzzles a high degree of craftsmanship is required to make puzzles that look good and work well
  • Wood is naturally hygroscopic and changes in size with the humidity; this can make puzzles looser and tighter at different times of the year
  • Professionally made wooden puzzles can be very expensive – I recently paid about $50 for a professionally made wooden cube I had designed

That’s why I started experimenting with 3D printing as a way of producing high-quality puzzles at affordable prices.

Printed puzzles are never going to be as cheap as mass-produced versions because of economies of scale but for small-scale production of unusual and complex puzzles there is real potential. They will never be as aesthetically pleasing as wooden puzzles but puzzles are primarily there to be played with – as the best puzzle resource on the Internet puts it, Puzzle Will Be Played ….

One type of 3D printing involves a process known as selective laser sintering (SLS) of powdered plastic. The resulting white plastic pieces are accurate to a tenth of a millimetre, strong and resilient. The  Shapeways 3D printing service charges flat rate of $1.68 per cm³ which makes it very easy to adjust the size of the puzzle to reach a compromise between cost and usability.

The shop is now fully open at Shapeways Shops with a range puzzles from the unique Steady State Cube at $25 to the World’s Smallest Puzzle at $2.





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