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What is a Guerrilla Style Puzzle Box?

By on Apr 23, 2014 in ~Blog Posts~ | 2 comments



Alternate Definition: “Referring to actions or activities performed in an impromptu way, often without authorization”, …yup that sounds about right.

Guerrilla Style Puzzle Boxes is a new concept to come onto the scene within the specialized niche of puzzle box building.

What we are talking about here is the retrofitting and makeover of existing boxes into intriguing mechanical puzzle boxes. Whether they are made from wood, cardboard, plastic or metal each one can be carefully transformed into working mechanical puzzle boxes using various found materials as well as fabricated wood parts. If you take a look around, you will find many previously under-used, under-appreciated boxes just looking for an opportunity to be revived into something beautiful and purposeful.

As a puzzle box designer I divide boxes into three basic groups.  Cigar Boxes which simply refers to the empty cigar boxes found in your Fathers and Grandfathers closet (and who knows, maybe your Mom’s too?). The second style is lovingly referred to as Vintage Boxes which relates to all other boxes with the most interesting specimens being those that are antiques or themed in nature. Some of the older metal boxes for example come with a intact unfinished wooden liner which allows for easy glue adhesion of mechanical parts to the interior space. The third style are the Book Boxes which is a specific theme within the Vintage Box category but is worthy of its own classification as there are plenty of collectors that desire this style of puzzle box. Book boxes are usually wooden in nature and are designed to look like faux books.

There are a few inherent challenges and limits to building Guerrilla style puzzle boxes as opposed to building a puzzle box from scratch. We will discuss a few of these qualities here. The most obvious restriction is that the builder can only work with that which is given. When starting from scratch the builder has an opportunity to mess with how a box functions as an extension of how a particular mechanism is designed to function, however, typically a Guerrilla type puzzle box however in most cases refers to a relatively simple opening and closing of a lid or drawer.

As a Metagrobologist I acknowledge that there are four different ways in that box lids naturally function. There are lids that hinge, pivot, slide and lids that simply lift off, and for each unique lid style there is a locking system to suite each situation. Hinged lids can also come with different parameters as well, usually being that they can have different amounts of “headroom” within the inside of the lid.

One of the biggest challenges to be faced is that these types of boxes are already completely assembled (and finished). When you build a puzzle box from scratch it is common to leave the bottom off so that the mechanism can be tweaked until working perfectly. With Guerrilla style puzzle box making this advantage is absent. It is totally possible when working on a Vintage/Cigar/Book puzzle box that you can inadvertently lock them shut during the assembly process with some designs. This is where I learned the valuable lesson of always checking that the parts function properly before the glue sets permanently (which is an approximate 2-3 minute window btw).

Most wood cigar boxes have an unfinished interior which makes for easy construction.  The other cigar box types are covered on the outside with colourful paper designs. Glue does not stick to these glossy papers and will need to have small sections cut out so that small parts can be glued permanently in place to the bare wood.

There is one more simple classification to understand.  There are essentially two kinds of puzzle boxes, each with further sub-categories. These are mechanical locking systems that are either completely hidden internal  mechanisms with no external parts or holes to access. The other designs are those that require manipulation of external parts like levers, dials or switches. The second style is typically easier to produce without accidental lock-ups.  For the sake of simplicity, I simple refer them to as either an “Inny” or an “Outy”.

I find that there is great personal satisfaction in turning an otherwise “nice” little box into something with far more interest and pizzazz.  It’s the Mystery by Design that intrigues us as craftsmen and makes us only salivate for more.




  1. Really like the concept here. I have old pieces that are screaming for a makeover! One of them is made teen wood. I don’t know my woods that well, will this type of wood cause me problems? Thanks


    July 30, 2014

    • Hi, no problems here. Teak is a great material to work with. Good Luck!


      July 31, 2014

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