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What is the best way to build a jigsaw puzzle? There is no right or wrong answer, but this does not mean that people don’t have strong opinions. Despite the variation in methods the same challenges beset puzzlers regardless of method.  Some obstacles are keeping all the puzzle pieces together, having an undisturbed workspace, storing the work in progress, and sorting the pieces. Over the years of building traditional jigsaw puzzles, one indispensable tool we have found is the puzzle tray.   Here are some of the ways we have found to use puzzle trays in our puzzling, but we are interested in getting your ideas as well.


  • AS A PUZZLE TRAY: the first use of a puzzle tray is a sturdy surface on which to build your jigsaw puzzle. Some get a larger tray than the dimensions of the jigsaw puzzle they are making; this provides room around the puzzle border for working with loose pieces. If you’re worried about not knowing the size of the puzzle border, you can use a marker and draw the puzzle size on the board.


  • AS A SORTING SURFACE: One common step is to sort the pieces by color or shape. Being able to share the sorted pieces makes building the puzzle as a team easier. The mobility of a puzzle tray makes it ideal for a sorting surface that can be passed between people. It is even a great assist when one is working alone.


  • TO STORE: Some like to separate their pieces into containers. We suggest getting a 5 or 6 pack of flat, square storage containers at the grocery store. Double-sided tape or glue the containers on a puzzle tray to sort the pieces into them. Since they have lids, you can close them and protect loose tiles. Like we stated above, it also makes them portable.


  • THE MULTIPLE TRAY APPROACH: using two or three puzzle trays works very well. Have the jigsaw puzzle being assembled on one tray, then use a second tray to hold your sorting containers or as your sorting surface.  It may seem to take up room, but when it comes time to pause, place one tray on top of the other to keep the loose pieces safe and protect puzzle in progress.



These are a few ideas we have found that have made building jigsaw puzzles more efficient, productive, and fun. We look forward to your comments on using puzzle trays or other accessories to help you do puzzles.



  • Deborah Lockwood

    We buy sheets of foam board at the dollar store, cut off 1 inch strips and glue those ro the edges. That helps prevent pieces from falling off. We have an assortment of these in different sizes. They are easy to pass around and store.

  • Maxine S.

    My son gifted me a sorting box set and a desk lamp for Mother’s Day. I love having the sorting trays when doing a puzzle and the lamp is perfect when examining individual puzzle pieces. He also chose three Dowdle puzzles as a pre-holiday gift! We love rotating puzzles in our family so everyone gets a chance to complete the puzzles.

  • Patti

    I’m horrible at estimating measurements. So the tray helps me know if I need to find more edges or sort out a few ‘not really’ edges. My cat is still a problem. I have the Zion National Park puzzle and am missing a piece right in the center of the Great White Throne! She was sleeping on top of the unfinished puzzle and I don’t know where the piece flew off to when she jumped up upon being caught. Love love love these puzzles.

  • Kathy Jackson

    We use two trays, one to sort, one to assemble. We LOVE our Dowdle puzzles and have about 2 dozen so far! For a challenge, we don’t look at the picture while working a puzzle. In fact, I choose a puzzle and give my hubby a bag of pieces. He has no idea what he’s working on and uses clues in the puzzle to figure it out! So much fun that way!

  • Daniel Mulkey

    We use a set of 12 orange cafeteria-style food trays to hold the individual pieces, and then a 30″ × 48″ × 1/4" plywood sheet painted white on which to build the puzzle.

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