Speed. Accuracy. Repeatability.

These are all words that any professional craftsman will know.  When it comes to making puzzles, these do apply only they seem to apply a lot more.  I used to need to measure to 1/16" of maybe 1/32".  Now, puzzles wouldn't work with that kind of error.

I've been getting by with my current tool and jig setup, but I realize it's time to look at some new methods of work.  As I investigate new tools and methods, I find myself looking more and more at what are normally considered metal working, or engineering tools.  As I see what they can do, I'm kinda left wondering why these aren't more prevalent for woodworking.

First up is a need to build a new sled for the table saw.  Most sleds are used to large piece cutting.  Puzzles require the cutting of small pieces, very accurately and often in large quantities.  Fortunately, this isn't something I have to invent.  There is a great sled design from Lee Krasnow over on Instructables What I like about this sled is the ability to adjust cuts in 1/1000" increments, and easier method of squaring the fence to the blade and the huge variety of hold downs.  A lot of error creeps in when trying to hold things with your fingers - plus you often get uncomfortably close to the blade (a big no-no) and none of have the strength to continue holding pieces for hours on end.  I've been slowly getting the materials I need before I start the build.  I'll do some blogs and videos on that.

Second up may be the addition of an X/Y Cross Slide table to the drill press.  These tables make the repeatable drilling of accurately spaced holes much easier.  I'm still researching tables, and their quality seems to be all of the place (along with their cost).  This one, from Grizzly, will let you see what one looks like. The hand wheels let you move the table in the X and Y directions very accurately and the T-Slots allow for very secure work holding.  Some of these tables can be hooked up to Digital Read Outs (DRO) for really accurate and easy positioning.  As well, I've seen people motoring them and using an Arduino to control positioning.  Note, you don't want to try milling on a drill press - the spindle just isn't designed for those lateral forces.

Then comes the big one - CNC.  There are a lot of good options for the home shop these days.  A CNC is a computer controlled mill (usually a router) or even a laser, on a system of rails that let it move in X, Y, and Z coordinates.  These will require some level of computer experience to create the drawing and design a cut plan.  However, they can do an amazing amount of things - from carving, lettering, engraving to accurate parts cutting and some models even let you switch to a laser for engraving.  There are semi-DIY versions like the X-Carve and Shapeoko and then there are ready to go machines like Piranha or Shark and even big systems like a ShopBot.  It's still a fast growing area and one I'm just beginning to explore.  If interested, do a lot of homework, try to get hands on.  If there is a maker space near you, they might even have classes or demos.

One last item I'm somewhat interested in is a mill/drill.  Like this one, from Jet, they are part drill press and part mill.  They can work on a variety of materials and, being mills, are designed to work to very high levels of accuracy.  I don't know much about these yet, so research is in order.  Prices vary, and the one thing I see is that they are heavy (at least with respect to woodworking equipment).  Mills have been generally just for metal working, but they have a great deal of features.

So, that's my musing for the day.  Now, I'm still buried under around 2' of snow.  I also have the next 3 "Button" boxes approaching the finish line.  Plus, I've been looking at examples of Karakuri boxes to learn new techniques.  I've also been spending time with a pencil and paper working out new puzzles.  My inventory levels are nearly depleted, so I really have to get busy.  But, this part of the winter is always the hardest time to work, what with snow removal, heating, and an often busy schedule from the day job.  Don't worry, more products and ideas will keep coming!