Learn How-To Make a Puzzle Cut Shelf

Learn How-To Make a Puzzle Cut Shelf

Don’t make a shelf. Make an AWESOME shelf! Make a shelf that people feel obliged to stare at. The kind of shelf that is manly enough to hold your lady’s lingerie magazines while maintaining an unwavering look of masculinity!

There are a lot of ways how-to make a shelf and a lot of reasons to make a shelf. But how many shelves are made for the sake of having a shelf? How often is the shelf the center of attention and the object on the shelf, just a thing that needs a place? In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to make a shelf that steals the show. No more squared off edges, no more flat surfaces, and certainly no adjustable brackets! This shelf is here to stay!

Log Night Stand Side Table

Aspen Night Stand with drawer and puzzle cut shelf.

Obviously, the first step is to measure for the length of the shelf boards. Make sure you’re measurement is long enough to cover any knots or other curves in each log. The puzzle cut shelf really relies on shapely boards to create it’s awesomeness so find boards that have as much shapely action as possible. Once you find your boards, cut them to length.

If they aren’t already planed, send them through enough times to get them down to about ¾”. You don’t want them too thin because they do contribute to the structure of the table.

Place the boards on the table and sort through them and decide which boards to match up. I’m building two tables so I need three boards for each shelf. I want to put the shapely boards on the outside and the plain board on the inside. You’ll see why as we progress.

Once you have your outside boards chosen, set them in place one at a time and use a contour tool to trace the shape of the leg onto the board. Line the contour tool up parallel to the board and trace the back side of it. Push it straight into the leg. The further you push it into the leg, the deeper your cutout is going to be. When you have it on as far as you want, pull it straight back and realign it with the line you drew. Carefully trace the contour onto the board. Repeat this on the second leg – and be careful to not move the board during this entire process. Repeat all of this on the other outside board.

Using the band saw, I’m going to cut along each line on each board. Take your time with this so your fit is as perfect as possible. Once you have the grooves cut out, fit the board in it’s place on the table. If it isn’t a perfect fit, mark where you need to trim, and take it back to the band saw. Do this as many times as necessary to get a fit that you’re happy with.

Next, I’m going to cut the inside edge of each outside board. This is the natural edge I’ll be using as the pattern when I cut the center-board. Simply follow along with the natural shape of the board, only trimming off the naturally beveled portion.

Choose one outside board and trace the natural edge onto the center board. Take the center board to the saw and – taking your time – cut along the line. It’s going to be much harder to make corrections with this cut so be sure to go as slow as you need to in order to stay on the line.

Place the outside board that you used as a pattern, and the center board, in place on the table. Then put the other outside board in place, overlapping the center board. Trace it’s natural edge onto the center board and again, take it to the saw and carefully cut along the line.

Now that all three pieces fit together like a puzzle, put them in place and trace the outside edge of the support logs underneath the overhang of the boards. Do this at both ends. Take all three boards to the saw and make your cuts on those lines.

Time to bevel the edges. You can use a router table for this, or do what I’m doing and use the band saw with the platform set at a 45 degree angle. Bevel each top edge except the outside, natural edge of each outside board. You want your bevel to be no more than about half the thickness of the board.

Next step is to sand the boards. First use 80 grit sandpaper followed by 120 grit. When sanding the edges of the boards, DO NOT SAND THE EDGES THAT FIT AGAINST ANOTHER BOARD! Only sand the bevels smooth. If you sand the edge that fits to another board, it won’t fit right anymore.

Before you attach the boards to the table, sand off any pencil marks on the supporting logs.

To attach the boards, first you’ll need to drill pilot holes and the counter sink. I use ½” dowels as my plugs to bury the screws so I’m going to first drill my counter sink using a 7/16” drill bit. I’ll then drill all the way through using a very small diameter bit appropriate for the screws I’m using.

Once your holes have been drilled, put the boards back in place – make sure all of your edges line up nicely. If they don’t, use the sander to make adjustments. I’m now going to fasten the boards in place using 1 ¼” screws.

When all the screws are in, fill each hole with wood glue and insert the dowel plugs in each hole. Use a hammer to make sure they’re in all the way. Lastly, use 80 grit sand paper to sand the plugs smooth, followed by 120 grit sand paper to finish the area.

Click on the video below to view – Learn How-to Make a Puzzle Cut Shelf

And that is the Puzzle Cut Shelf in all it’s glory! This shelf will work for coffee tables, night stands, side tables, and you can apply this same puzzle cut technique to make panels on the sides of dressers, inside door frames, or as a table top.

Thanks so much for reading this tutorial on how-to make a Puzzle Cut Shelf for log furniture! I hope you found it helpful! Please leave comments or questions and I’ll personally answer them!


Scott Shaeffer, Owner/Operator

San Juan Carpentry


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