One of the latest projects I’ve been working on was the puzzle box from Hellraiser. In uni I was working in the construction department for a month and we had to choose a personal project to be made out of wood. I chose this because of its relation to some LARP related plot that had me inspired, but I knew from the start it was going to be bloody hard to make it fit together (no matter which way it’s turned) and not have too big gaps or anything. The planning stage took a while.
In the end, I decided to make two separate blocks, and carve each half out of one of the blocks. The material I used was 18mm birch plywood – absolutely gorgeous ply such that I was sad I’d be painting it after!
The overall size of the box had to be a multiple of 18mm so that the box could be a cube, so I decided on 8 layers = 144mm. This turned out to be a tad too big for it to look right and I cut it down a bit in the end, but the idea was sound!
So first of all I cut out 16 squares 144 x 144 of the birch ply for the two separate blocks. In order for the two to fit together, each block had to have the circle cut out of one half, so I thought it would be easier to only glue (PVA and clamp overnight) each half block together first before trying to drill the centre piece out.
Cutting the circle out of half of the cube was an absolute nightmare. Using the 65mm hole saw (pictured) was the easiest way to do it but cutting through the solid block took a lot of effort and my arm was really sore from the vibrations in the end. It was slow going and the wood started smoking at various points, but in the end it worked very neatly and I cut the circular hole through two of the halves.
When I had the two halves with holes out the centre, it was time to glue the full cubes together, 1 hole half with a solid half. Again, PVA glue and clamps, making sure for a good coverage and to make sure that with lots of glue that the blocks didn’t shift and end up out of alignment.
After leaving it overnight to set, I took the clamps off and start to cut out the different sections for the puzzle box. I knew I wanted it to be a solid block rather than cutting them out individually, so getting the angles right was really important. The angles on each of the cuts had to be 22.5 degrees each (so 0, 22.5, 45, 67.5, 90 etc) so that they would be the same on both sides and would ensure that the two blocks would fit together (in theory). I cut out the lines on the bandsaw, creating a jig to hold the block in position to push through the saw because I didn’t trust my steady hand. The jig just consisted of a piece of scrap ply with other scraps screwed down around the box so that it couldn’t move angled at 22.5. (As shown below).
The two boxes would have to fit together neatly (but not too tightly) so I decided to make the cuts on opposite sides of the lines I had marked. Essentially, cutting on the scrap side of each section to minimise the gap between the two sides. This meant that the saw-blade width wouldn’t end up leaving too much of a gap between the segments. In the end, this turned out to be a bit of a curse, because the blocks ended up too tight and re-cutting them to take off a mm or so was a pain, especially considering our band-saw blade was really old and we were waiting on a new one. If I was doing it again, I’d just cut on the lines – adding paint at the end makes the gaps smaller too and I hadn’t any trouble with them when it was all painted up anyway.
As pictured below, when I’d made all of the cuts, I carefully took a chisel and snapped off the ‘waste’ segments ONLY ON THE HALF WHERE THE HOLE WAS CUT. The layers of ply made it relatively easy to snap them safely, but even then a couple of the ones I wanted to keep broke (Easy fixed with PVA and clamping overnight though!)
Then, to get rid of the waste segments joined at the centre still, I used the band saw again, making lots of little cuts to take out the waste, and then lots of little cuts to shape the inside into a circle so that the slots would fit into each other.
It required lots and lots of sanding with a finger belt sander and more cutting with the bandsaw, but eventually the two halves merged into one and the thing started to take shape.
As you can see, there are some gaps that are bigger than others, but as I said before, I’d do it slightly differently if I did it again, allowing for the gap rather than trying to eliminate it. In the end the paint thickened it up enough that the gaps are barely noticable anyway.
After the thing fit together (no matter which orientation it was put in) it was time to make it prettier. Firstly, using the linisher I curved the edges to make them round (keeping it together whilst sanding it) and then I swapped them around to make sure that it was even no matter which orientation.
At this stage I also decided to cut an extra little hole out of the centre of the block on both sides, to make a little compartment that I can keep (very) small things in. Just because, really. I did it using a forstner bit about 40mm inside the 65mm hole.
Then it was time to paint it! I’d gone back into the props department by the time I finished it, all ready to start painting it up. Firstly, I had to do a LOT of sanding, to get rid of the grain and the evidence of the lamination of layers of ply so that when I painted it you couldn’t see the lines. This took a while and it was nearly impossible to get it perfect on the inside even with the use of the little belt sander. Still, when it was passable, I primed it with a mix of white primer and PVA glue (the Scenic art department tells me that the addition of PVA glue does something to seal the wood which is best and I trust them…)
After a few layers of priming, I did more sanding, and then more priming. Eventually it looked pretty smoothe and I was able to start painting it. Again, the scenic art department advised me to go with a fairly orangey looking colour, as that would give depth to the woodgrain effect. I took them at their word and painted the thing bright orange.
Then, to turn it into a nice dark woodgrain I mixed up a dark brown and did a woodgrain with some home made grainers that would be able to fit in between all the little segments. I made the grainers by taking 2 paint brushes (or pencils or pens or whatever) and gluing a small square of plastazote around one end with the grains carved into it before gluing. Hopefully the picture will show you what I mean, but then as I’ve explained before, I coat the box with some reasonably thick dark brown paint and scrape one of these grainers across it, rolling it as I rock in order to get the wood grain effect. Because of the brightness of the orange, when the woodgrain effect was done I put a darker wash on it which subdued the orange and brought the colours together, leaving it like this:
Then the hard part – doing the gold.
There were many options for this, from just painting it on with gold paint, to painting it on with gold powder mixed with shellac, to cutting out some gold card and sticking it on, but in the end I decided that I wanted to try using gold leaf. To use the gold leaf, I had to paint on the adhesive, let it dry for about 20 minutes, then press the gold on, press/ rub it very firmly and then peel it off.
First of all, to do the intricate details, the paintbrush had to be very small and precise, and I decided to freehand it, despite afterwards deciding to clean up some of the lines with some masking tape to repaint them.
Leaving the damned glue to dry for 20 minutes sucked, because I’m really impatient, and a few times I was stupid and put the gold leaf gold-down and had to try and peel it off after I realised that the gold really had to be facing out the way for it to work… But in the end, the effect was really nice and shiny. I did 2 coats on the big sections to make them more solid, but the rest turned out alright as well. Like I said, I went over a couple of the big straight lines with some masking tape, more glue and then more gold to straighten them out, and if I was doing it again I’d use masking tape more to make it neater.
Then, when it was all done and painted up I coated it with Bona Mega which is normally used on wooden flooring so you know it’s tough enough to protect it. It also gave the whole thing a super shine which I’m not sure I wanted, but it looks good none the less and didn’t take away the shininess of the gold leaf like the other things I tried did, (I tried spray varnish, Transparent FEV and glaze and all of them made the shiny dull).
And that’s how Hellraiser came to my house 🙂 Any questions let me know.