From a craft to art

Randy Crossman is president of Yankee Woodworking and The Vermont Sleigh Co. of Mendon, Vt., and has been building furniture and reproductions of 19th-century children’s sleighs along with his business partner, Bruce Marston, since 1995. For the last 20 years, Crossman has also been cutting puzzles as a hobby, but about two years ago the hobby developed into a legitimate part of his woodworking business.

“I’ve gone back to cutting puzzles and it’s kind of a passion,” says Crossman, owner of XMan Puzzles. “It started out as a hobby, and just like most other woodworkers, you start tinkering around and then you realize you can do more and more. Basically, what I’ve been trying to do is move it from a craft to art.”

Crossman cuts several types of puzzles, but recently received the licensing rights from Curtis Publishing to produce the Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman magazine covers in puzzle form.

“I have the exclusive rights to seven silhouettes that I use in all of the Norman Rockwell puzzles,” he explains. “All seven of those silhouettes appear in any one of his 321 covers. The puzzles are 11" x 14-1/2" and each has about 400 pieces.”

Curtis prints the covers for Crossman, who uses a spray adhesive to apply the covers onto 5-ply walnut plywood, which he says costs about $120 a sheet.

“I use a Hegner scroll saw and use a couple different blades. I use Pegas blades for the interlocking line cuts and when I get to a silhouette I’ll use an O’Brien blade. When you’re cutting an interlocking line and when you come up to a silhouette piece, because of the detail, I have to go to a much finer blade.

“I’ll do a circular line drawing of any of the Rockwell covers, so all of those puzzles will emanate out from a circle with a circular cut pattern and they’ll have those seven silhouettes specifically spaced in there. I cut those interlocking lines freehand.”

Since XMan Puzzles are deliberately patterned as opposed to randomly cut, Crossman says he can’t afford to make a mistake because with the type of interlock he is using, the mistake will be obvious, “the eye will go right at it.”

“I like the process of designing something new, and you can design these lines on paper, but you have no clue as to what it is going to look like until you actually finish this thing,” he says. “It takes me three to four days to get everything set up and cut. I probably have about 20 hours into a puzzle.”

His Saturday Evening Post puzzles with the seven exclusive Rockwell silhouettes are priced at $1,250 and come in a cherry Shaker box. Puzzles without the silhouettes cost $850 each.