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I want to make a Soma Cube (a kind of puzzle, which you can read about here) for my kids (and myself).

But I’m having a hard time making accurate wooden cubes from 1-inch x 1-inch wood sticks. I tried using a miter saw but there is too much error. I know it is possible to buy inexpensive wood cubes, but I am interested in finding out how people can make them at home, especially with hand tools.

Mark Frauenfelder

Mark Frauenfelder is the editor-in-chief of Make magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.


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Comments

  1. Greg Krynen says:

    Make the cubes a little larger on the cut then sand them to a perfect 1 inch

    1. exactly :) a standing belt sander is best for this . 

    2. exactly :) a standing belt sander is best for this . 

  2. Greg Krynen says:

    Make the cubes a little larger on the cut then sand them to a perfect 1 inch

  3. Anonymous says:

    Japanese saw or nokogiri ?They have very thin blades and cut on the pull stroke so I hear they make very accurate cuts. 

    1. gerd says:

      Yes good advice!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Japanese saw or nokogiri ?They have very thin blades and cut on the pull stroke so I hear they make very accurate cuts. 

  5. Haven’t tried this but it should work.  Use a hand plane with a shooting board.  Rough cut your wood with a miter saw just over one inch.  Set the depth fence on the shooting board for one inch .  Set your block in place and plane down even with the shooting board.  Repeat for each side.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I would make them with a manual miter saw.  Not the cheap plastic or metal box one either, but a good solid one.  you should be able to get very close and make up the difference with just a little light sanding.  Use a stop block and move it around on a couple of test pieces until you get it just right.  I have an old stanley miter box from the late 1800s or early 1900s and I can get within about 1/16th or 1/32nd of repeatability.  I think if my saw was sharper I would definitely say more line 1/32ns or 1/64th.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I would make them with a manual miter saw.  Not the cheap plastic or metal box one either, but a good solid one.  you should be able to get very close and make up the difference with just a little light sanding.  Use a stop block and move it around on a couple of test pieces until you get it just right.  I have an old stanley miter box from the late 1800s or early 1900s and I can get within about 1/16th or 1/32nd of repeatability.  I think if my saw was sharper I would definitely say more line 1/32ns or 1/64th.

  8. David Bell says:

    First, understand that dimensional lumber is only made to *nominal* sizes.
    You can buy 1×1 stock, and it should be square cross-section, but it will not be 1″.
    Most likely it will be about 3/4″ square…
    All you really need is consistent sized blocks, equal in 3 dimensions.
    Use a cut off piece of 1×1 as a gauge to mark one standard length on the stock piece, plus maybe a millimeter.
    Use that miter saw or miter block with a pull saw as suggested, then sand to exact length.

  9. David Bell says:

    First, understand that dimensional lumber is only made to *nominal* sizes.
    You can buy 1×1 stock, and it should be square cross-section, but it will not be 1″.
    Most likely it will be about 3/4″ square…
    All you really need is consistent sized blocks, equal in 3 dimensions.
    Use a cut off piece of 1×1 as a gauge to mark one standard length on the stock piece, plus maybe a millimeter.
    Use that miter saw or miter block with a pull saw as suggested, then sand to exact length.

  10. martian_bob says:

    A planer will get your stock to 1″x1″, then set your miter saw with a stop-block. Cut one, make sure it’s perfect, adjust if slightly off.

  11. martian_bob says:

    A planer will get your stock to 1″x1″, then set your miter saw with a stop-block. Cut one, make sure it’s perfect, adjust if slightly off.

  12. Andrew Fogarty says:

    Place a stopper block in the miter box to form a jig, limiting trimmed length to 1 inch. If the “blank” cannot extend beyond a certain distance then the blocks should be near identical when trimmed. It makes sense that the stopper block should be firmly secured. However, that could do the trick.

  13. Andrew Fogarty says:

    Place a stopper block in the miter box to form a jig, limiting trimmed length to 1 inch. If the “blank” cannot extend beyond a certain distance then the blocks should be near identical when trimmed. It makes sense that the stopper block should be firmly secured. However, that could do the trick.

    1. And make sure you don’t get sawdust build-up between your material and stop-block.  No sanding required if you have a good blade and your setup is true.

    2. eagleapex says:

      I like this, but using a chop saw. Clamp a stop in place, cut, clear, move stock, repeat.

  14. Jeff Worley says:

    What if you don’t cut discrete blocks?  Would you find it any easier to cut out the polycube shapes and then “slot” the divisions between cubes in with a square and a backsaw?

  15. Jeff Worley says:

    What if you don’t cut discrete blocks?  Would you find it any easier to cut out the polycube shapes and then “slot” the divisions between cubes in with a square and a backsaw?

  16. James B says:

    Using any of the good advice already suggested, make the blocks as close as you can to square, and slightly over sized.  Then find a dead-on right angle like a jointer table and fence, put some sandpaper in the corner, and sand two sides at once, working your way around the sides until you are perfect.  Set a sliding square to your final size and use it as a gauge for repeatability. 

    Be careful about using a stop block on the miter saw on a piece this small, if the loose piece catches the blade it can come flying off of the saw blade pretty fast.  Let the saw spin-down before you lift the blade out of the cut.

  17. James B says:

    Using any of the good advice already suggested, make the blocks as close as you can to square, and slightly over sized.  Then find a dead-on right angle like a jointer table and fence, put some sandpaper in the corner, and sand two sides at once, working your way around the sides until you are perfect.  Set a sliding square to your final size and use it as a gauge for repeatability. 

    Be careful about using a stop block on the miter saw on a piece this small, if the loose piece catches the blade it can come flying off of the saw blade pretty fast.  Let the saw spin-down before you lift the blade out of the cut.

  18. Jake von Slatt says:

    Table saw, a good old fashion table saw. Plus it’s dangerous!

    1. Art Mulder says:

      No it isn’t.  Use a sliding crosscut jig and it’s as safe as anything.
      http://www.wordsnwood.com/2002/j.sled2/

      Use a fence to rip the piece into long 1×1 boards.
      Then clamp a stop block and make the cuts.
      Watch for sawdust buildup – blow it out after every cut or two.

    2. Art Mulder says:

      No it isn’t.  Use a sliding crosscut jig and it’s as safe as anything.
      http://www.wordsnwood.com/2002/j.sled2/

      Use a fence to rip the piece into long 1×1 boards.
      Then clamp a stop block and make the cuts.
      Watch for sawdust buildup – blow it out after every cut or two.

  19. First, get a good try square.
    Adjust the miter saw with it (tilt and angle). Don’t use the predefined marking.

    Mark by hand, with an exacto, where you want to cut the wood. Use the diagonal the be sure that the line are perpendicular and parallel.

    Use a clamp to secure the block. Cut and let a little bit of wood for error.
    Turn 90 degree and recut. Do it 3 time, so you have less error on your cuts, as you have four of them.

    Make sure the diagonal is always 1″ 13/32.

  20. Joe Turner says:

    I agree that if you are looking for exact 1″ cuts you need to make sure that you get the correct size wood, but if you are looking for a tool to make Very clean cuts then do a Google search for “Miniature Table Saw”. These are made for exact cuts within high tolerances.  

  21. Turn it so you are cutting at the same place than before, top to front.

    Not side to side.

  22. I don’t understand the purpose of this post.

  23. Addidis says:

    The problem is  what is eaten up by the saw. Take a chop saw and a clamp, Make a few cuts till the curf doesnt interfere , and make sure your stop block that you clam to the saw table is moved with each adjustment. After a few adjustments you will find the perfect place to have the stop block , be careful not to smack the stock against the stop block as it will move it and or compress the wood and give you error.  This is how you do it if you have perfectly 1x1xX stock .

    1. Addidis says:

      PS cut slowly and you wont get so much of that freying on the ends.

  24. Easy, get your 2×2 stock then set up your rip fence on your table saw. cut it down to a true 1×1. then without resetting the fence, place your stock on your table saw miter gauge for a straight cut and slice off 1″ lengths. that will give you a 1x1x1. Then have a sandwich and marvel at how clever you are.

    1. John Mercer says:

      by using the miter gauge with the fence set the same your are setting your selfup for a kick back and flying pieces. Run your stock then take two pieces set them between the blade and the fence lock down the fence set one piece at the back edge of the fence behind the front of the blade clam that to the fence then use your miter guage press your piece against the stop block hold the piece tight to the miter guage make your cut the piece wont be traped between the fence and blade and wont kick back at you

    2. John Mercer says:

      by using the miter gauge with the fence set the same your are setting your selfup for a kick back and flying pieces. Run your stock then take two pieces set them between the blade and the fence lock down the fence set one piece at the back edge of the fence behind the front of the blade clam that to the fence then use your miter guage press your piece against the stop block hold the piece tight to the miter guage make your cut the piece wont be traped between the fence and blade and wont kick back at you

  25. Chris Holden says:

    What about a table router? Set the fence/guide just over 1″ from the cutting head, then run some rough cut timer along the guide. You should get one smooth side – turn through 90 degrees and run along again so you’ve two smooth and two rough sides. Adjust the fence to exactly 1″ and smooth off the other two sides. This should give you perfectly square and smooth “rods”. Cut lengths off the end just over 1″ in size and sand down to the correct size. 

  26. Anonymous says:

    odds are your miter saw is not perfectly square.  the blade may not be perfectly parallell to the direction of travel either.  (try a slow a karate chop bending from the elbow, then bend your wrist a bit, and you’ll see the difference in how it’ll cut less than square, and how there are a lot of things to go off square) 

    you can try to square up the saw, but it’s finicky work.  easier will be to temporarily square up the fence.

    take a longer bit of stock that is as straight and parallel as possible, (sight down it for twist, bowing, square stock should be parallel enough)  and make a cut through it a few inches from the end.    keeping track of the orientation of the two pieces take them off the saw, and flip one of the cut edges around (so one side against the fence is now in line with the other piece that was opposite the fence)  now press that reassembled piece of wood against the straight edge.  odds are you’ll see a V at one side or the other this will show you if you need to increase or decrease the angle vs the saw.  depending on how many ways it’s not parallel this may be a multi-step issue.

    take some blue painters tape and stick down a layer on the side that you’ll feed from on the edge that will shim out the stock as appropriate.  you will want several layers of decreasing length (e.g. 6″ then 4″ then 2″ to make the fence smoothish, and press each layer on firmly.  torn edges will be smoother than cut.  repeat the check cuts until it’s square. 

    once you’ve got it square you’re going to put in a stop block, which ideally is made from your least square end.  put the longer point away from the fence and clamp it firmly in place (with some fussing fo the clamp) as close to your exact measurement as possible.  trial and error again, but if you’re super close but a little long, the painters tape will shim again.  

    push the work gently into the stop block, and make your cut.  back up the stock, remove the piece, and rotate the stock 1/4 turn before sliding it back to the stop block and making your next cut.  the rotation will shift any remaining error into 2 different directions bringing the next piece a little bit less trapezoidal and a little more squarish. 

    now that you’ve got a number of these little guys, fit them all together in a with cut edges “up” flat format, clamp them “well enough” as a big group  on a flat surface, discarding any that clearly show a significantly non square side (remember the V gap?) and using a flat sanding block, sand the top surface until it’s uniform.  rotate all of your little blocks 180 vertically (top now bottom) and repeat the sanding.  you shoudl now have 2 reasonably parallel sides of uniform thickness.  take a few out from various places in the mass of them and rotate them, putting them back in to determine if the cut sides are the same as the stock sides.  if not figure out which way you need to move things to sand, and do so.  you could do that with a plane, but if you don’t know the above stuff odds are it’ll be significantly harder to accomplish.  remember to rotate the bits or flip them over regularly so as to reduce errors  you’re introducing. 

    1. Addidis says:

      Great explanation. I worked in a mill, clearly you have some experience too.

  27. Easily done on chop saw or miter saw;  simply stick a chunk of the 1×1 wood into the miter box or on the chap saw, wedged against the blade.  Then clamp a stop to the miter box or chop saws fence such that the wood is wedged between blade and clamped stop.   Stick in a piece of 1×1 long wise against the stop and chop/saw away.

    I’ve done this and it produces a consistent result.  Check after the first cut to make sure your “depth” is equivalent to the width/heigh of the wood.

    Should be good enough for government work.

    I.e. what Andrew F. said w/some additional details on how to achieve the same cut distance as the width/height.

  28. lmgreco says:

    Surprised no one has suggested: Table saw + Cross-cut Sled + Stop Block

  29. lmgreco says:

    Surprised no one has suggested: Table saw + Cross-cut Sled + Stop Block

  30. lmgreco says:

    Surprised no one has suggested: Table saw + Cross-cut Sled + Stop Block

  31. Carl Morris says:

    Read “Geometric Puzzle Design” by Stuart Coffin, here’s a link to a picture of the cover:

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmorris32839/2255479709/

    The Flickr set contains images of puzzles I made from the book, the corner block puzzles are made from 1″ cubes.

        — Carl

  32. aaron snyder says:

    so no one asked what kind of tolerance are you trying to hold? within a 32nd or a few thousandths +- .005.   a planer and a square chop saw with a fine tooth blade will do fine but a table saw, again with a fine tooth blade, would be my personal choice.  safer than having a 1″ block flung about by a chop saw when it wedges against the stop. been there. for hand tools i would grab a small flush cut pull saw, a good square and some practice.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Depending on my mood and how many I needed, I’d either use a chop saw or tablesaw.  After spending time getting the chop saw dead square, I’d use double-stick tape to hold some 1/4″ MDF to the fence and deck to make a zero clearance path for the blade.  This reduces the tear-out on the back side of the of the cut significantly.  Then clamp a stop block (chamfered on the edges to keep dust from throwing off accuracy) and cut cut cut.  Otherwise I would use my tablesaw with my crosscutting setup – approx 2″x4″x5′ jointed and planed board attached to two mitre slot squares (one running in each slot).  Clamp a stop to the board and cut.  In either case a fresh crosscut blade helps a lot.

  34. haqn says:

    Idea: sawdust, woodglue, and a cubical mold.  To make the mold cut a bunch of squares out of thin plywood or even thick cardboard, then duct tape it neatly into a cube that can be folded/unfolded to remove contents.  Assumption is that duct tape won’t stick to woodglue.  I personally don’t like synthetic glue … too toxic for my liking.  I would make some casein glue.  Which is even less likely to stick to duct tape.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Use your planer to get your stock 1″ , tape your stock to table with double sided tape. Insert a solid wood cutting compression bit in the router , download the pattern and watch your cnc make blocks all day long……   Don’t have a CNC router , no worries build your own many simple and easy plans available open source on the web….

  36. Anonymous says:

    Use your planer to get your stock 1″ , tape your stock to table with double sided tape. Insert a solid wood cutting compression bit in the router , download the pattern and watch your cnc make blocks all day long……   Don’t have a CNC router , no worries build your own many simple and easy plans available open source on the web….

  37. Anonymous says:

    Use your planer to get your stock 1″ , tape your stock to table with double sided tape. Insert a solid wood cutting compression bit in the router , download the pattern and watch your cnc make blocks all day long……   Don’t have a CNC router , no worries build your own many simple and easy plans available open source on the web….