How to Systematically Complete a 1,000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle

By Vita Ruvolo-Wilkes
To avoid losing pieces, work on small sections at a time.

You don’t have to be a genius to put together a large jigsaw puzzle; all you need is patience and a plan. According to the American Jigsaw Puzzle Society, the first puzzle was made in 1760; puzzling didn't catch on, however, until 1820. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll astound yourself at how addictive puzzling can become. In fact, don’t be surprised if you end up dedicating a table exclusively to puzzles and have one going all the time.

Setting up

Choose a table you do not need for any other purpose. Pick one large enough to accommodate the dimensions of the puzzle with room around the perimeter to lay out the pans.

Carefully transfer all the puzzle pieces by the handful from the box to the largest pan. Do not pour the pieces out; any paper shavings will also end up on the tray.

Spread the pieces out in the pan. Pick out all those with at least one straight side and place them on the table, right side up.

Look at the picture on the box and mentally sort out three dominant sections, colors or patterns. Pull out those pieces and group them accordingly in each of the three other pans. Flip all the pieces picture side up and spread them out.

Building the frame

Check to see that you have four pans with all pieces facing up and a pile of straight pieces on the table. Place all the trays to the side and make ample room for the frame.

Turn all the straight-edged pieces face up. Sort them by color. Check the picture on the box for which color patterns will make up the top, bottom and sides.

Work on one frame section at a time when matching pieces. Use color shades as well as shapes; watch for pieces that have unusually large, small or oddly shaped locking parts. Match these anomalies first.

Check to ensure the pieces interlock properly. Never force a link because it looks like it will fit. Identify the four corner pieces and lay them in place using the picture as a guide.

Completing the puzzle

Choose a pan with which to work and leave the others aside. Break down the pieces from this pan into batches. Separate them out by shade of color, pattern or any other aspect that distinguishes certain groups of pieces.

Take one of these subgroups out of the pan and place in the center of the frame. Don’t try to fit these pieces yet.

Interlock pieces until you've used all the pieces in that group. When finished, go back to the pan and take out another batch that have similar coloring to each other. Repeat in this manner until you've emptied the tray.

Choose another tray and pull out a subgroup of pieces. Assemble as before. Repeat these steps for the remaining pieces.

Carefully connect all the sections to complete the puzzle.

Tip

When choosing a puzzle, find one with crisp lines and discernible details in a variety of colors. Avoid landscapes with large amounts of sky, water or grass. Limit the number of pieces you work with at one time to avoid dropping and losing them. Don’t work on the edge of the table so you won’t inadvertently knock pieces off with your elbows.

Warning

If your puzzle has pieces that can link with a number of other pieces, pack it up and find another one made by a different company. For less frustration, each mating piece should be unique and fit into only one piece.

About the Author

Vita Ruvolo-Wilkes was first published in 1977. She worked as a certified aerobics and exercise instructor. Upon graduating from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, she worked for the VA Medical Center. As a physician assistant, Ruvolo-Wilkes designed specialized diets for her patients' conditions and has written a monthly health column in the "Montford Newsletter."