Wooden Puzzles vs. Cardboard Puzzles

People all across the globe enjoy puzzling as a fun family activity, while many others prefer solving them solo. With various puzzles available on the market, puzzling tastes have certainly evolved over the years. You may wonder what distinguishes wooden puzzles from their cardboard counterparts and if one is better than the other. The material choice can help define an unparalleled puzzling experience.

While cardboard puzzles are much cheaper to buy, many puzzlers still prefer wooden jigsaws for their supreme quality. Wooden puzzles are different from cardboard puzzles in many ways. Additionally, the two have their own benefits. One fun fact about wooden and cardboard puzzles is that puzzle makers switched from wood to cardboard to meet supply and demand requirements. Cardboard is much cheaper and easier to work with, after all.

Understanding the history and evolution of jigsaw puzzles can help you better understand the difference between wooden and cardboard puzzles. A dissected map of Europe made by cutting interlocking wooden pieces at the boundaries is widely accepted as the first jigsaw puzzle. While it was created to teach geography, people started doing a puzzle as a pastime. The popularization resulted in increased demand that was difficult to meet with wooden puzzles. Eventually, puzzle makers found a way to use cardboard for creating jigsaw puzzles.

Table of contents


The Origin of Jigsaws

A cartographer and engraver from London, John Spilsbury, invented the first jigsaw puzzle. He created and published a dissected map in 1766 to help children learn geography more easily.

The creation of the first wooden puzzle involved using a marquetry saw to cut a piece of wood into interlocking pieces. It was a wooden map of Europe that was cut along the boundaries and mounted on another piece of wood.

Spilsbury continued constructing more dissected maps once he started seeing significant results among students who used his pieces to learn geography. It soon became a business venture as the wealthy communities began using these puzzles as a family activity.

These puzzles especially started gaining popularity during the Great Depression. They offered an inexpensive form of entertainment for families who could not afford to spend money on other forms of entertainment. The rise in popularity and demand resulted in the introduction of a new puzzle-making technique, the "die cut.”

Using Wood to Make the Earliest Jigsaw Puzzles

The first jigsaw puzzles, or “dissected maps,” were made with hygroscopic wood. The best forms of wood do not warp, regardless of how much time passes. The simple reason why the wood stays in good condition is its reaction to the changes in the environment. Simply put, it expands or contracts with changes in humidity and heat levels.

The wood’s fibers orient toward a particular direction during the growing stages of a tree’s life. Studying the growth rings on a piece of wood is possible to determine the wood's grain. Since trees grow in a circular pattern, their grain regularity significantly depends on the style and method of cutting the board.

In simpler terms, the grain regularity may be uneven in the case of a tangible cut. Meanwhile, even grain distribution ensures that the wood will react to environmental changes. As such, proper wood reactions prevent the wood from warping.

Wooden Puzzles

Jigsaws popularized among the upper class at a fast rate. Wooden puzzles were commonplace during the time. However, cutting wood with manual labor was not easy. The tools had changed from marquetry saws to fretsaws, but more was needed.

A new tool was introduced to the industry in 1987- the laser cutter. The use of laser cutters resulted in a dramatic growth in the wooden puzzle production. To date, puzzle manufacturers use laser-cutting techniques to produce excellent wooden jigsaws.

Puzzle brands do not need hours of labor from skilled puzzle crafters. That said, a buoyant puzzle market uses traditional methods and manual wood-cutting techniques to produce wooden puzzles.

Nevertheless, wooden jigsaws have a certain charm and hint of nostalgia attached to them. Additionally, these puzzles carry a personality, given their heavy weight and association with past eras. Today, many avid puzzlers prefer wooden puzzles in their puzzle collection to reminisce about the old times.

On the other hand, parents get wooden puzzles to improve their visual-spatial reasoning and increase cognitive function. Wooden puzzles are solid and sturdy, meaning they do not break easily. Additionally, the pieces are safe for children as children cannot swallow and choke on wooden puzzles.

Cardboard Puzzles

Jigsaws became a trendy pastime, with more people solving these puzzles with friends and family. Puzzling is a fun and engaging activity, after all. Using saws to cut through pieces of wood was a time and labor-consuming task, which made it challenging to align supply with demand.

While wood is a more sturdy material choice, it hindered the growth of the puzzle industry. Therefore, puzzle makers switched to cardboard in the late 1800s. Soon, cardboard became the more preferred material for jigsaws, though still considered a lesser-quality option. Nonetheless, cardboard puzzles make mass production much more manageable and efficient.

Cardboard jigsaws became popular in the 1930s, though the quality was pretty dubious. In collaboration with Tower Press, the famous vintage puzzle brand Waddingtons started using and perfecting the dye-cutting technique to produce better-quality cardboard puzzles. Due to this reason, puzzlers know they can trust any puzzle with the name Waddington or Tower Press.

These puzzles became the classic choice for jigsaws, also contributing to the speedy popularization of jigsaws in the twentieth century. It is a cheap material for printing pictures and cutting into interlocking puzzle pieces. Additionally, they are lightweight- a quality that makes it easier to put many tiles together at the same time.

Puzzle manufacturers today are finding better ways to provide appealing substitutes for wooden jigsaws.

Factors to Consider When Buying Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaws can be expensive, whether you are buying cardboard or wooden puzzles. Therefore, it is critical to keep a few essential factors in mind. You want to make sure your purchase is worth the price, after all.

The following factors can help you determine whether a jigsaw puzzle is excellent and worth your money. That said, you need to have a sensitive hand and a keen eye when handling new puzzles in a puzzle shop.


The most commonly available jigsaws in the market are made with cardboard. However, some rare options include rubber, acrylic, and wooden puzzles.

Regardless of what your puzzle is made of, you can check the quality of the material by folding, dropping, and putting pressure. You may also want to feel the puzzle’s texture.


The images on a jigsaw puzzle are often artists’ inspirations. They may be based on an artwork, movie, TV show, cartoon character, etc. The pictures fall under the “design” category, which can be extravagant or minimalist.

Regardless of the design type, the placement of the image determines the quality of the puzzle. Ideally, you want to judge the drawing regarding the particular media or canvas (cardboard, paper, acrylic, wood, etc.).

You want to observe the printing thoroughly, checking the orientation and alignment. A puzzle that catches your eye first in a puzzle store is usually the best in design quality.


Puzzling is all about putting together separate interlocking pieces to complete a picture. Therefore, the quality of the cut can significantly affect your experience doing the puzzle alone or with friends.

Make sure to check the cut quality when looking at your potential puzzle options for purchase. If you are an avid puzzler, you will agree that puzzles with good cuts evoke a unique feeling when you fit the puzzle pieces.

Ideally, the pieces should fit precisely in the empty spaces when solving a jigsaw. In other words, excess trimmings and small spaces should not be a problem at all. The puzzle pieces should be easy to interlock, giving a “clicking” feeling.


Today, various types of jigsaws are available in different shapes. While all jigsaw puzzle shapes are unique, you can group them into two basic types: ribbon and irregular. Often, the die, material, and complexity determine the shape of puzzle pieces.

That said, the shape is not separated from the quality of the cut. When purchasing a wooden or cardboard puzzle, make sure to check the cut quality and shape together. A sharp die gives the best quality puzzle cut. On the other hand, a dull die affects the quality of the cut and shape.

Nevertheless, remember that puzzle shapes do not have a standard form, so it is unnecessary to compare puzzles based on their shape.


Like the shape, puzzles come in various sizes, including small, regular, large, and huge. The size of the jigsaw puzzle pieces directly influences the puzzle’s difficulty level. Additionally, different puzzle sizes are appropriate for people of varying age groups.

For example, large puzzles are excellent for small children experiencing physical and mental growth and development. This puzzle size especially helps with improving dexterity in young kids. On the other hand, small and regular puzzle sizes are best suited for adult puzzlers, whereas huge puzzles are good for all age groups.


The thickness should be appropriate for the material choice; it is one of the most apparent indicators of a good puzzle. This factor also relates to the puzzle's resilience to pressure and to fold. The puzzle pieces increase in sturdiness when thicker materials are used.


Thickness and weight are related characteristics, with the weight increasing with the thickness of the material. The thicker material used for a puzzle, the heavier it will be.

That said, puzzles should not be too heavy. Ideally, jigsaw puzzles should weigh around two grams. Two grams is heavy enough to prevent paper and cardboard, and puzzles from being flown by a light breeze.

Image Glare

Image glare refers to how light reflects on cardboard or wooden puzzle pieces. It is one of the most critical factors to look for when purchasing jigsaws. You would not like any sort of discomfort when solving puzzles, would you?

Besides causing a lot of discomfort, light reflection can lessen your ability to notice small details when solving puzzles. Of course, it does not cause extreme harm to your eyes. However, a low-quality image glare can directly affect your overall puzzling experience.

Difficulty Level

Last but not least, you should assess the various difficulty levels when buying a puzzle. Not forgetting, many factors, such as the number of pieces, design, and shape, go hand in hand with a puzzle’s difficulty level.

Bottom Line

Puzzling is a fun activity for individuals and groups, popular among families and friends. Besides, it has multiple benefits for psychological health. Puzzling is an excellent brain exercise that engages both sides of the brain to improve cognitive function. Similarly, assembling a puzzle enhances visual-spatial reasoning while it aids dexterity in children.

Depending on various factors, different types of jigsaws are available in the market. If you love puzzling, you may have wondered if wooden or cardboard puzzles are better. Learning about the history of jigsaws can help you understand the importance of the two puzzle materials. In summary, wooden puzzles are sturdier, whereas cardboard ones are cheaper and easier to produce. 

7 Things to Know About Vintage Jig Saw Puzzles

Seven things to know about vintage jigsaw puzzles. From the most popular themes to vintage jigsaw puzzle composition.


What Are 1 to 1, 2 to 2 ,And 3 to 3 Puzzles?

1 to 1, 2 to 2, and 3 to 3 puzzles are taxing, although, on the surface, they may appear simple. Connect six boxes without crossing the lines. Learn more here.


How to Value Vintage Jigsaw Puzzles

Vintage jigsaw puzzles are a great way to add a touch of art and nostalgia to your home. Here is a helpful guide on how to value them.


About Us

Puzzle Seek is about all things puzzles and games. So, if you seek a missing piece, a little history or a little fun we know you will find it here.


Puzzle Seek is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Puzzle Seek also participates in affiliate programs with Clickbank, ShareASale, Cj and other sites. We are compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

About Puzzle SeekContact UsAll Blog PostsPrivacy PolicyTerms of Service

© 2022 Copyright Puzzle Seek