I saw this puzzle caddy in the December 2013 issue of Woodworker’s Journal and thought of Grandma Jackie right away. She and her friend Jane like to put together puzzles while staying on the Gulf Coast in the winters. The side slide in trays hold the loose pieces which make it portable so it doesn’t tie up the dining room table in their apartment.
I started by cutting out the top, bottom and side trays from 5mm plywood. The article recommended 1/4 inch Baltic Birch, but I just made a trip to the Home Improvement store to get the more readily available 5mm plywood. In picking out the plywood, pay attention to the back as well as the face of the sheet. I didn’t, and thus incurred some extra work. Here I am gluing on 5mm oak strips on the ends of the top (where the trays slide in). They used tape in the article but I used hand clamps on the end of my the extension table of my table saw. The clamps kept the faces flush and together.
I wanted to dress up the ends of the Tray fronts so I cut small end caps from some bloodwood I had left over from another project. It worked quite well gluing both ends at the same time by using bench dogs and my tail vise.
Before gluing together the main carcase, I worked on the side trays so I could try their fit in the case before the top obstructed my view. Here you can see a bottom view of the main pieces of a tray. Notice the rabbet in the side pieces and the dados in the front and back.
I glued up the trays in two steps. First I glued the rabbeted side pieces on. The front and backs are not glued yet, they are just in place to ensure the sides are positioned correctly. In the background you can see the main case with the center support (I used popular) in place. It provides the main structural integrity of the case, supports the top and maintains a consistent space between the top and bottom. I ran screws from the bottom up into it, to keep the bottom from bowing. At case assembly time the top was glued to it and weighted until the glue dried.
The main case is glued up here. Be careful not to exert too much clamping pressure with the end clamps, or the top and bottom plywood pieces bow.
Here you can see the top and bottom of the two trays. Notice the small pieces glued to the plywood on the top and bottom. These space out the front edge of the tray to engage the top and bottom of the case. The one on the bottom is placed to the rear just for the picture – it needs to be the same thickness as the rear. It is actually placed against the tray front. They prevent the top and bottom of the case from flexing in both the open and closed positions. Also notice the places I have filled voids in the bottom of the plywood with Durham’s Rock Hard Putty, and the rare-earth magnet in-bedded in the bottom side of the rear of the tray. The rear tray magnets engage four other magnets placed at the front and rear center openings of the case, to keep the trays either open or closed.
Before applying oil to the trays, I masked the oak and painted the bottoms to cover the knots and areas I filled. Paint first! then finish the trim. Excess oil can just be wiped off the painted surface and leave no residue.
I used Watco Fruitwood Dannish Oil to finish the red oak trim. In retrospect I would have used the “Natural” tone instead to make the plywood of the top and side trays lighter.
Here is the Puzzle Caddy in use. When sizing the caddy be sure and consider the size puzzles you will be using. I wish I would have made this one about a 1/4 inch bigger top to bottom. You can refer to Puzzle Size Comparison