Care & Feeding of Hakone Puzzle Boxes

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Wood moves. It expands and contracts with changes in humidity. The wood acts like a sponge absorbing moisture from the air and expanding as humidity rises, and shrinking as humidity decreases. Movement is greatest across the grain (tangential movement), and least with the grain (lateral movement). Some wood species are more stable than others. Mahogany moves very little, oak moves quite a bit.
The amount of movement is also related to how the board was cut from the log. Wood that has been “quartersawn” is the most stable, and will expand and contract without warping. Plane sawn wood is prone to warping, and “cupping”, and other deformations if it dries out too fast. Warping and other deformation happens when the humidity changes too rapidly. Slow change in humidity will result in the wood shrinking or expanding, but not deforming. That’s why air dried lumber is usually of better quality (and more expensive) than kiln dried wood.
Japanese puzzle boxes are often made from a variety of cedar. Cedar is light weight and easy to work but is not known for its stability. There is a risk that the boxes offered on this page may dry out and become too loose in winter (when humidity drops), and expand and become too tight in summer (when humidity rises).
This is normal for these boxes, and we cannot guarantee that your box will remain stable. We store our inventory of Japanese Puzzle Boxes in a humidity controlled environment, and we check each box for proper operation - you'll find our inspection tag inside each one. Here’s what some puzzle collectors have told us they do to keep their boxes working properly.
* Keep your boxes away from direct sunlight and away from heat sources like radiators and
     heat vents, and other heat sources like the top of televisions or other electrical devices.
* Keep your boxes in a glass display case or china cabinet with a glass of water or a damp
* Keep your boxes in “Zip Lock” plastic bags.
* Use a humidifier in your home in winter and an air conditioner in summer to keep the humidity
     in your home at a moderate level - not too dry, and not too damp.
If your Japanese Puzzle Box does become too loose or too tight, don’t despair. If you wait until the season changes the box may restore itself to its original condition. If it has dried out DON’T wet it - if it has swelled DON’T dry it in an oven. Remember, fast changes will deform wood.

Fingernails are very damaging to the finish of Hakone Puzzle Boxes.
  * Use the gripper pad we supply to move the sliding keys, or
  * Use rubber finger tips, or
  * Use a big soft rubber eraser.

Japanese puzzle boxes have a hard lacquer finish and do not need to be waxed, but if you find you want to additional luster to your box you may wax it as follows: Use a quality furniture or woodworking wax applied by hand, not sprayed. Apply sparingly and only to lacquered outside portions of the box. Keep in mind that waxing it will make the surfaces slippery, which you may not find desirable.
Do not use oil, as it can seep into working parts and collect dust, gumming things up later.

One last comment - Always store your box in the closed position. A day or two open is okay, but longer may affect how the lid rests on the box.


A mechanical puzzle is a self-contained object, composed of one or more parts, which involves a problem for one person to solve by manipulation using logic, reasoning, insight, luck, and/or dexterity.” - Jerry Slocum

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