Try, Try again

I had cut all three puzzles that @m_raynsford designed (way back when), and when done with them I did what I always do with old toys: Gave it to my wife.

She likes to put the random 3D prints or laser cuts I produce in her office, and since she regularly sees students and staff it serves as a conversation piece. I figured it stopped there, and most likely people got annoyed by it at some point.

But, apparently not. There is an event on campus next week, and her group requested one of the puzzles as a present for the keynote speaker. Problem is that the speaker has to go on an airplane afterward, and losing tiny pieces in your luggage is not so cool.

So, today I attempted to create a case for the puzzles. So far, I haven’t quite figured it out. But I sure learned a ton along the way. Monday I get back to work and can try my latest hairbrained ideas to see if they pan out any better.

I did not document the full build. Need to develop that as a habit. But I realized massive uncut videos aren’t ideal, so I need to work on my skills piecing together short design documentation videos with only highlight reels. Knowing of this need has stopped me from doing my amateur hour stuff.

Anyhow… Sharing what I learned, and mildly hoping for advice before the end of the weekend for more random things to try out.

First attempt: Acrylic shopping bag!

There is a huge border around the puzzle itself because there will be a custom engraving saying what the event was and thanking the speaker. She likes Jane Austen, so behind the puzzle pieces is a short quote, and on the back of the whole thing is a long quote.

The idea was to be easy to transport (hence the handles) and also pretty on a coffee table, where you can enjoy the quote on the back and inscription on the front without forcing yourself to actually solve the puzzle as well.

In the image you can see the side piece of acrylic which I already bent. It would go on something like this:

How did I bend the acrylic? Well, glad you asked!

A few slices of cardboard make for a perfect shape upon which to heat gun bend my acrylic

You do have to wait quite a while for proper cooling unfortunately

But victory in the end!

Sadly, my attempts to bond acrylic to acrylic were less productive, and when I resorted to clamping… I found a flaw in the design:

I could make a new one, but if I broke the handle easily in my shop, it would absolutely break in luggage a well.

So, I suck at bonding acrylic, and handles are out of the question. Time to simplify

This one… nearly worked. I was too impatient in bending down one of the larger sides and cracked the connection along the midline. After that, I kind of rush jobbed through the remainder, didn’t get nice clean corners, or a flat bottom, and left the sides hanging loose:

If I stuck with this design approach, it would function for keeping the puzzle safe through the airport (we would wrap it with a ribbon to hold the puzzle inside). And I can make the whole thing a LITTLE bigger so that the puzzle sits all the way in the plastic. Maybe try one more time to bond acrylic to acrylic so the side flaps don’t swing free too.

But, I am inclined to go with some squares larger than the puzzle itself, and then heat-mold them to drop around the puzzle. Do one on top and one on bottom. Then to start the puzzle you simply lift the top plastic away, and you are ready to go. I don’t have to worry about acrylic bonding at all that way. And it should even look nice on a coffee table.


Hey great write up! I really like your conversational style.

And good luck! you are soo close.


Nice work and write-up! What about a slide on cover?(rather than encasing all of it, only cover the top/puzzle side then curved edges would slide over it)? Where do you get your acrylic?


Very good lesson in a custom build.
Title says ‘Project inspiration - failed’. Like Edison, you haven’t failed, you just found ways that don’t work!
failure leads to understanding. Understanding failure leads to success

Great idea for a commemorative gift! With artistic engraving, looks to me like something that could just as well be displayed on the wall as art! Just slip it out of the case/frame, and play with the puzzle. I’m sure the product will be treasured!

Memory is trying to tell me you built that laser? I like the 'forge logo on it!


I hadn’t thought of a 2 piece slide.

The first thing which comes to mind with that would be how fragile the side cover part would be.

I picked up my acrylic at the local home renovation type store ( Building Supply), your local Do It Best Center). Sadly that is about all we have around here, though I haven’t tried the local sign makers to see if they would sell some stock. Forgot about them until just now.

@printolaser - Yes, it is a constructed laser, based loosely on the Lasersaur designs, but distilled to only the absolute requirements, and those only as large as the budget I gave my students allowed. It wasn’t me who built it, but rather 4 junior/senior physics students, and an ECE major friend they looped in for a bit of the programming on the control board.

Amusingly, right in the middle of these trials and tribulations the project lead and his ECE friend showed up ready to finally make the laser capable of doing raster, and even incorporating a camera functionality inspired by me showing them Glowforge.

I had to refuse upgrades :sob: I need to get this and a bunch of small plaques done by Wednesday, and cannot risk losing functionality. But… this time next week I may finally be able to raster properly!


Cool project for the students! From my perception of you on the forum, I’ll bet you derive great enjoyment from watching the gears of these young minds turn…


At this point in time, I just like to see lasers doing laser stuff, no matter what the outcome. It is all the same to me. Thanks for posting. Might have to get that heat gun sooner than I would have otherwise.


Nice! And yeah, sometimes the materials tell you that your brilliant ideas aren’t practical quite yet.

Make two that are 3 sided. One slides into the other and the puzzle slides into the inner one.

So it’s just making 2 of what you’ve already made. The second one needs to be sized up a bit but shouldn’t be too much bigger so there’s still a nice friction fit. Each is as sturdy as your current box and together they’d be super strong. I’d make the second one a bit shorter than the inner one so you can grip the bottom one to pull it out of the top one.

Could work. So far the main issue is just the really small height of the puzzle. Bending tiny yet long sections of acrylic is proving to be a serious nuisance.

I thought to go with something like the iPhone box:

Where you have a snug fit piece underneath and on all four sides, and then another piece on top which is large enough to fit over puzzle and the bottom half of the case.

This ought to work, and avoid the need to bond acrylic segments (I can leave the corners exposed no problems). But getting a 5mm by 240mm leg of acrylic to flop down at ninety degrees is resulting mostly in the main 240x240 section of acrylic buckling.

I was going to build a plate to hold that larger segment of acrylic flat, but blew a breaker. The breaker box is behind locked doors I don’t have a key for, so no more playing until Monday.


extension cord?


This is also where a heat gun or a really constricted heat source is a good idea. (I have been using one of those quartz space heaters remounted, with a sort of aluminum-sheet mask/reflector over it that has about a 1x10" slit.)


I could. But I had homework to do anyway, so being forced to stop playing was a good thing.


My Harbor Freight coupons yielded a cheap, simple, starter heat gun for $10.
It hasn’t had much use yet; but I’m happy to have it. I’m sure that by about February I’ll go get a nicer one; but for $10, I’ve got an upgrade from the blow dryer.


In addition to the heat gun, some good metal is advisable. Maybe a C channel, not sure.

The problem with the heat gun is that it applies heat to a rather small area. But many times you want to bend a long section.

With PVC pipes, you get some conduit, and just blow the heat gun in there. The whole pipe warms up, and you pull out a limp noodle after a fair while to bend how you will.

With this acrylic… I cannot figure out what would work best. Maybe just a large plate of metal, lay acrylic on top and blow heat gun from beneath. Maybe a C channel, lay the acrylic inside and blow like I would with PVC…

But something to make the heat gun cover a larger area is advisable. I kinda wish I had my wife’s oscillating heater, but cranked up to obscene output levels. So possibly I could whip together a servo controlled fanning solution for the heat gun to simulate that, then I would be able to walk away while it applies heat evenly along a larger object.

Oh, and get some really good heat resistant gloves, in case you have to / want to hold something by hand while it heats.


Sound advice.
With the heavy welding gloves, several times after welding I absentmindedly picked up the work to examine it - And quickly discovered why the gloves are loose fit… So you can sling them off! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


What would happen to the acrylic if you built a simple jig and threw the whole thing in the oven at the lowest temp (or whatever temp needed to increase the malleability)?


If anyone will be doing a lot of work with acrylic, there are lots of DIY bending machine instructions. Here’s one. I don’t know the cost of all the components. Yet :grin:


Should work. But I haven’t built myself a jig yet, and the oven is back at home.

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Possibly nothing. But, at 300C which gives a nice slump there are gases given off that in an enclosed space can result in fire, fire!:scream:

Heating it in a home oven is seriously warned against by plastics manufacturer. Course they could be just covering their butts…but a heat gun works fine for most things you can fit in your GF although patience to let it heat up is recommended.