Wednesday, July 17, 2019

To Bevel or Not to Bevel, That is the Question

Cereal by Ken Irvine
Would you like a bevel with your puzzle, sir?  If you were given the option of receiving a puzzle with or without the pieces being beveled, what would your answer be?  I’m glad that when I buy puzzles, the decision has already been made for me.  However, when I make my own puzzles, I’m stuck with having to make the decision myself.

When I first started to make puzzles, to compare the overall effect of a puzzle with and without beveled edges, I made 2 copies of my puzzle, Cereal.   One with beveling and one without.  After seeing both versions, my wife informed me that I will be making all future puzzles with beveled pieces.  In the end, I still don’t have to make the decision.

There are certain advantages for a newbie woodworker, like myself, in beveling the pieces:
  1. If you are gluing multiple pieces together in a corner jig, excess glue that may get squeezed out forms beads in the beveled area instead of having the piece get glued to another adjacent piece.  Once the beads have dried, they can be cut off.

  2. Without the bevels, near perfect tolerances are required to allow pieces to slide past each other without catching on the edges.  The bevel helps guide and move the pieces to avoid catching.

  3. My wife thinks that it looks awesome!  This makes the prior 2 bullets, moot points.
So how does one get those nice bevels?  There are many ways to bevel depending on how fancy you would like them:
    Beveling Jig for Sander
  • Sandpaper – For small bevels, some craftsman simply use sandpaper. Sometimes a small V shaped jig is used to orient the pieces at 45o to the sandpaper.
  • Sander – For speedy beveling, a 45o V shaped jig can be created to use on a sander.  This is what I use.  It is very safe and very fast.  I can bevel all 12 edges of a piece in seconds.  I do the 4 sides going with the grain before I do the 8 edges across the grain.  I somehow convinced myself that this was the best way to avoid tearout at the ends, but that is my own best guess.  The jig can be moved closer or further away from the sander to determine how much of a bevel is provided.  The downside of using a sander is that bevels end up with sanding marks but they are uniform and it looks like a texture has been provided.  We’ll call this a feature instead of a problem.  
  • Table Saw – Some craftsmen create a 45o V shaped jig that sits right on the table saw with the blade just poking up into the jig.  Since only a little bit of the blade is located at the bottom of the jig, it is also very safe as well as fast.  The blade can be raised or lowered to adjust the depth of the bevel.  However, the bevel can’t be any wider than the kerf of the saw blade, i.e., the width of the cutting area of the blade.
  • Router – When thinking about creating bevels, the router may have been your first thought since that is one of its main functions.  In fact, all of the previous techniques are limited to providing a 45o flat edge bevel, while the router can give you all sorts of fancy bevels.  You can identify the craftsman level puzzles from Mr. Puzzle by their distinctive beveling on the ends of the pieces. 
Exolution Cubes I-IV by Andrew Crowell
Exolution Cubes I-IV by Andrew Crowell
Super Bevel
Super Bevel
In addition to adding a finishing touch to the puzzle, the bevel can also impact a puzzle design.  Adding beveling to the pieces can introduce intended or unintended rotations to a puzzle.  Many designs have succumbed to the unintentional rotation blight.  The term legal rotations has been used to describe rotations that can be accomplished without beveling.  Of course, many great Turning Interlocking Cubes (TIC) puzzles have been developed that require beveling to accomplish required rotations and if you bevel deep enough, there is a whole other level of geometric shapes that can be explored.  It is no longer a simple cubic dissection world.

Although this post reads like a pro bevel advertisement, I also like seamless puzzles without beveling as well, like the puzzles made by Andrew Crowell.  They are very attractive and I have a hard time envisioning what they would look like with bevels.

Cereal Pieces by Ken Irvine


  1. There is also more than one way to bevel! If you 3D print pieces using BurrTools, the beveling will be quite different. Basically, BurrTools will bevel each piece, whereas woodworkers will bevel each cuboid, then glue the cuboids together to make each piece. The look is different, and I imagine it can affect piece movement as well.

    There are often multiple ways to decompose a piece into cuboids, so even wood puzzles can be beveled differently.

    1. Thank you for adding those points George. Amazing things can be done with 3D printing that would be impracticable with woodworking.

  2. Hi
    I prefer also bevelled pieces, but I bevell the cubes different, sometime only a small bevelling for a smoother grip and sometimes a stronger bevelling for a nice few, f. e for cubes which have on the outside ling pieces, f.e. theJerusalem Cube by Phillip Dubois

  3. Thanks for this. I too have made puzzle with and without bevels/chamfers. My wife agrees with your wife -- and who am I to argue with either of these ladies! -- so my latest effort has beveled edges too. The third point carries the day! -Tyler.