How I Work a 1,000 Piece Puzzle & Answering Your Puzzle Board Questions

Lately, I have gotten quite a few questions about the puzzle board that I always use whenever I work a puzzle. We will soon be moving into the autumn and winter seasons when we tend to spend more time inside, so I thought this might be a good time to answer some of those questions since puzzles are such a great cold-weather pastime.

This is the puzzle board I use.  I love doing puzzles on it so much, I’ve purchased it twice: once for my home and another one to use (along with my grandsons) when I’m visiting family in Ohio. My daughter-in-love has shared how they love using it throughout the year, which makes me so happy to know. This board is available here: Puzzle Board.)

Puzzle Board Cover


One question I received recently was where do you place all the puzzle pieces when working a puzzle. That depends on so many things like your preferred way of doing a puzzle, as well as the size of the puzzle itself. I’ll share how I typically work a puzzle and hopefully that will help or give you some ideas in case you end up purchasing a puzzle board at some point.

I almost always buy 1,000-piece puzzles. Occasionally I’ll buy a 500-piece puzzle if I really love the image and it’s only available in the 500-pc size. In the past, all the 1,000-pc puzzles I purchased measured around 26 inches wide x 20 inches tall, once completed. That is probably the size of the puzzle in this photo below. Puzzle manufacturers are getting smart and figuring out that we prefer larger size pieces when working a puzzle. The benefit of a puzzle with bigger size pieces is the pieces are easier to see, hold, and manipulate. Plus, when the puzzle is completed, the puzzle itself is much easier to view because there’s more surface that isn’t cut up with lines.

The Cat Library Puzzle on Puzzle Board


For example, I loved doing this Alice in Wonderland puzzle.


But the pieces were so small that once it was completed, it was hard to really see and enjoy the full image.

Alice in Wonderland Puzzle


Another benefit to working puzzles with larger pieces is when completed, the puzzle really fills out the entire board as seen in this photo below. White Mountain has started making almost all their puzzles with the “Larger” size pieces, so if you are buying one of their puzzles, look for that designation in the description. Once completed, a puzzle like the one below is around 30 inches wide and 24 inches tall. I love “large-piece” puzzles and how they fill out the whole board. I will often stand to do parts of the puzzle which feels great if you’ve been sitting a lot.

Tilting, Slanting Puzzle Board, Easy on the Back


Another feature I love about this puzzle board is if you’re working on a puzzle but need to temporarily stop and use the table surface for something else, you can close up the board up by placing the lid over your puzzle. Then it can be stored away until you’re ready to work on it again.


So, let’s talk more about what to do with the puzzle pieces when you’re actually working a puzzle, especially one of the puzzles with the larger pieces. When I’m working on a puzzle, I usually take a moment to really look over the image I’ll be putting together. I take note of the large blocks of color or sections that I think will be easy to spot when I start sorting through the pieces. Then I normally sit down at my desk here in the office and while watching a video online or listening to a book on Audible, I’ll sort out all the edge pieces into a large puzzle sorting tray.

Home Office with Pottery Barn Bedford Furniture


A few months back I discovered these extra big trays and I love them! They easily hold a 1,000 piece puzzle, even the puzzles with the large size pieces. (Large sorting trays are available here: Large Sorting Trays.)



I typically sort out all the edge pieces into one tray, and as I sort, if I come across other very distinctive pieces that I recognize, I will often sort those out into other trays. Let’s take this puzzle below as an example: I started off by finding and placing all the edge pieces into one of the puzzle sorting trays. As was I going through all the pieces to find the edge pieces, I came across pieces of the bright green birdcage and I pulled those aside into another smaller puzzle tray. I kept coming across pieces of the red chair–those pieces really stood out. So I pulled those pieces aside into another tray. I also came across pieces of the beautiful, stained glass window, the moon, and the striped window seat cushion, so those were pulled out and placed into other trays.


From there, the first thing I do is place all the edge pieces onto the blank, empty puzzle board–then I assemble those together to create the”frame” of my puzzle. I’m not sure if anyone else starts a puzzle that way, but that’s how I like to start all my puzzles–by creating the frame of the puzzle with all the edge pieces.

With this particular puzzle, once I had the frame assembled, I took the tray that contained all the red chair pieces and placed all those pieces onto the board and started putting the chair together. Once I had the chair mostly together, I scanned back through all the pieces that remained in the other trays, looking for any additional red, chair pieces that I had missed the first time through. I always find more pieces when I do that.

Next, I’ll pick another element in the puzzle to work on. It could be the birdcage or the stained glass window. Again, whatever element in the puzzle that I choose to work on next (like the birdcage) I’ll place all those pieces onto the board which is mostly blank since it only contains the frame of the puzzle and the red chair, and I’ll get busy putting that part together. So that’s how I work a puzzle–doing various elements/sections of the puzzle that I’ve sorted out while looking for all the edge pieces.


When I did this puzzle below, after I got the edge pieces/frame of the puzzle assembled, I sorted out all the sky pieces and started working across the very top of the puzzle, putting the sky together. Next, I started along the bottom, putting the greenish section of water together.


A puzzle like this may look hard, but as you begin working on it, you will discover that there are a lot of hints/clues that help you find the pieces you need. For example, the sky isn’t all the same shade of blue, though, at first glance, it may seem that way. There are sections with hints of pink and purple so that helps a lot in finding where they go. Same for the water, some areas are more green while others have hints of pink or black. So you quickly start to realize what pieces you’re looking for as you work the puzzle.

If I’m not super busy with other things, I can do a 1,000-piece puzzle in 2 to 2-1/2 days. If I’m busy, it will take me a day or two longer. I have a hard time stopping once I start a puzzle. I will sometimes stay up until 2 a.m. working on a puzzle until I’m bleary-eyed. Then I’m off to bed and usually back up around 8 a.m., wishing I had not stayed up so late. lol Doing a great puzzle can be a little like reading a really good book. It’s hard to stop when you’re really into it and enjoying it! (When I finished putting together the puzzle below, that piece that was missing in the water was still missing. I eventually found it…seems like it was under my desk. So annoying when that happens but such a relief when it’s found!


So, in summary, answering the question, where do you put all the puzzle pieces, I sort out the edge pieces into a tray, then place them on the board where they get assembled. During the process of finding all the edge pieces, I will have spotted and sorted out some of the individual images/things in the puzzle, like the checkered floor and the constellation ceiling in this puzzle below.

So once the frame of the puzzle is in place, I start working on other elements of the puzzle, like the ceiling or the flooring. As I look for additional ceiling or flooring pieces, I inevitably trip across more elements/parts that I recognize, like the globes or the green chair. I will sort those out, placing those pieces either in a sorting tray or on the puzzle board to assemble them next. What eventually happens is all these individual elements that I’ve put together, start connecting and overlapping, and before I know it, the puzzle is well on its way to being done. After you do a few puzzles, you will develop your own favorite way of doing them.

Bookstore Puzzle, Beautiful


This puzzle was a favorite, I always love bookstore or library puzzles!


Here’s how it was looking midway in. It looks like I started on the books/cash register on the right and at some point ended up working the tabletop in the center of the room.

Tilting Puzzle Board


This is another set of sorting trays that I have and like.


I recently purchased these below, finding that I prefer a white background when sorting through pieces. It’s just easier to see the pieces, as opposed to sorting them in colorful trays. (Trays below are available here: Puzzle Sorting Trays.)


If I’m working on a really small element in a puzzle, like say the boat or the dog in the puzzle below, I may sort those pieces into a small tray since there won’t be that many. The sky was definitely sorted out into a large tray because it’s a significant part of the puzzle, thus there would have been a lot of sky pieces.


These are the lights I use on my board every single time I do a puzzle here at home. They clip right onto the top of my puzzle board and make such a difference! You may have noticed them in the photo of the puzzle of the library with the constellation ceiling I shared earlier in this post. I have two and they are awesome at helping me clearly see the board when working on a puzzle. I love that they have 3 settings from low to medium to high. I usually work a puzzle with them on medium but occasionally bump them up to high. They swivel easily so I can point them wherever I need them. They are available here: Clip-on Lights.


Clip-on lLight great for reading, studying, working puzzles or crafts


Over the years, I’ve gotten super picky about the puzzles I buy. I won’t do a puzzle just to be doing a puzzle. I have to really love the picture/image that I’m putting together because I’ve discovered that makes the process a million times more fun. And addictive! lol (This puzzle is available here: Beach Cottage Puzzle.)


I’ve been doing a lot of beach-themed puzzles this summer, especially those that feature wonderful beach homes. (This puzzle is available here: Island Homes.)


Here’s another one I did this summer featuring a beautiful conservatory and a gorgeous garden. These puzzles I’m sharing look so much better in person than they are coming across in my photos. It’s hard to photograph a puzzle and capture all the true colors. If I turn on the tole chandelier in my office, it puts a big, white, glaring spot onto the puzzle and you can’t see that section of the puzzle at all. So I have to take pictures with just lamp lighting, which isn’t the greatest. So please keep in mind that these puzzles look much better in person than in photos.


Do you see the kitty asleep in the chair and the one out in the garden? Love this scene sooo much! This puzzle is available here: Tea in the Conservatory.


Please let me know if you have any questions. I’ve linked some of my favorite puzzles below, hopefully, these are all still available. (Click any image to see more about that particular puzzle.)



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  1. Hi Susan,

    I’ve been following you for years. Just love your blog.
    I have never done puzzles, but you have peaked my interest. Probably a dumb question, but what do you do with all the puzzles once they are completed?


    • Thanks, Elaine–appreciate that so much! I have preserved a few, but I try to keep myself from doing that too often or I’d end up wanting to save them all and never be able to work them again. lol You can see how I preserve the ones I do want to save in this previous post:
      Typically, when I finish a puzzle, I will leave it on my puzzle board for a few days just to enjoy looking at it here in the office. After a few days, if I still can’t bring myself to take it apart, starting from the top, I’ll gently peel it up from the board and carry it in one whole big piece into the upstairs family room just down the hall from my office where I’ll lay it on the floor over in a corner. Usually, by the time I start another puzzle, I’m finally ready to take it apart and put it back in its box to do again another time. I’ve put a few of my puzzles together more than once so I save all the ones I truly love. If it’s a puzzle I don’t think I’ll ever want to do again, I donate it to my local Goodwill, but since I’m so picky now about which ones I buy, I end up keeping most of them to do again. The fun is really in the “doing.”

  2. Excluding the board and sorting trays, I approach puzzles the same way; I assemble distinctive parts while joining the edge pieces. You’ve done some beautiful puzzles above!

  3. I love to do puzzles, but what do you do with all your finish puzzles?

  4. Susan, I will have to get the larger size trays. I sort in the same way that you do so I think that those could be helpful. Your favorite bookstore puzzle is also one of my favorites. I loved the Santorini probably because I hope to visit there some day. We have the Nancy Drew in common. Around Thanksgiving I always have to start a Christmas themed puzzle. I love how absorbing it is to work on a puzzle and have nothing else on my mind other connecting those little pieces together.

    • Yeah, I really do love the big trays. They are a bit too large to hold for very long, but they are great for spreading out an entire 1000 piece puzzle for going through it to look for specific pieces. I still use my small trays for holding particular elements of a puzzle since those are lighter/smaller and easier to work from if the board is getting filled up.
      I so agree! They are such stress-reducers! I get completely lost in the puzzle and book I’m listening to and the world and all my troubles disappear. 🙂

  5. Oh, my, Susan, I admire your puzzle dedication so much. It looks like a wonderful hobby, but I probably would never have the heart to dismantle them after all the effort involved, and my house would be covered in completed puzzles all around the place! You have intrigued me, though, and I am contemplating ordering one for those months after the holidays when I feel bored after all the chaos. (Hopefully, Covid will not be an issue and the holidays can be celebrated with minimal changes). Thank you once again for all the great ideas you share.

    • They are so much fun, you may get hooked, Rosie! lol I try to not start one when I have a lot of other stuff I need to be doing because I don’t want to stop once I start. Yes, I hope the holidays are much more normal this year!

  6. Susan, I have a question. When you put a section together – say, the green birdcage – and it turns out to be a little off from where it needs to be, is it difficult to slide it up or down or left/right on the felt? I just ordered the Reader’s Paradise puzzle a few days ago for my sister’s 87th b’day. She works 3-4 half days a week at a used book store and LOVES it. It gets her out of the house, she enjoys chatting with co-workers, and makes a little extra spending money. I’m sure she will enjoy doing this puzzle.

    • Oh, I bet she will love it! It’s one of my faves!
      Normally, I don’t have any problems sliding sections around. The only time it can be a pain is when I’m doing a puzzle that’s not the best quality and the pieces are super loose and don’t fit tightly together. Puzzles by Ravensburger, White Mountain, Buffalo and some of the other good name brands hold tightly together and slide across the board with no problem. If I do start sliding a section over and it tries to come apart, I just break it apart into smaller sections to move it.
      The only puzzles that I don’t like doing on the puzzle board are those that have the smooth backing with letters on the back. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across a puzzle like that, I just started seeing those on Amazon in the last year or so. They are normally very inexpensive, usually, around $9 or something like that and they often have the most beautiful pictures. So I’m always drawn to them! I’ve bought a few and when I initially start doing the puzzle, the pieces are constantly sliding down the puzzle board due to the smooth backs. Drives me nuts! Once you get about 1/2 the puzzle done, it’s less frustrating since there’s not really anywhere for the pieces to slide any more. But in the beginning, they are frustrating puzzles to do on a slanted board. I try to avoid those puzzles, but again, they often have the most beautiful pictures/scenes. So just try to avoid buying the smooth-backed puzzles with the lettering on the back and you should be fine. Most puzzles do not have the smooth backs. If they do have it, you’ll be able to see it in the pictures at Amazon.

  7. Cyndi Raines says

    I have only worked a 500 piece puzzle as that is as big as my card table and I like that I move through it pretty quickly. I won’t use my dinning room table as I want to keep my tablescape in place, haha. I too, start with the edge and sort pieces as well. I have used all my cereal bowls and smaller candy dishes as I don’t have any sorting trays yet, but think I should purchase a set, so I can have cereal in the morning when doing a puzzle. Lol. You have made some lovely puzzles and I agree I only do puzzles that have awesome scenes that I love. Also, once it is together, I leave it to admire for a few days and yes, it is always hard to take a part. I always take a picture of it to be able to look back on it. A great way to pass time, but still work your brain. I think I am going to have to give myself an early Christmas present and purchase the slanted board to help save my back. Thanks Susan!

    • I’ve started doing that, too–taking a few photos. It’s a little less painful to take them apart that way. lol
      I’m sure you’ll love it, Cyndi! It spoils you quickly and you’ll never want to do one on a flat table again. Saves the back!

  8. Hi Susan, I, too, have a puzzle obsession. It started when I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now 42! Some of my puzzles date back to the 70’s. I always get teased about how many I have, but when the pandemic hit, I was a puzzle lending library. My favorites are the Charles Wysocki puzzles and I have been known to start with the bottom row and do one row at a time until I reach the top! I know, it’s crazy. But I look at doing puzzles as a form of meditation. I blissfully don’t think about anything while doing a puzzle!

    • Wow, that’s amazing! I’m not sure I could do a puzzle that way but it would be fun to try…a challenge! That’s so nice that you were able to share your puzzles during this past crazy year! They really are a form of meditation–that’s a great way to describe it!

  9. Thank you for answering our questions regarding the way you do puzzles. It was helpful to know you use sorting trays.

  10. Looks like you have puzzle assembly down to a science Susan! I love your puzzle set up and organization. Yes, I always do the frame first too and like you I separate unique pieces and work on them, etc…Puzzling is so much fun, especially if you have an amazing picture to put together. All of yours are awesome! Hugs, Brenda

  11. What a fun post. Susan, I was especially struck by the water in that puzzle with the boat and the colorful houses in the background. That must be an actual photo, because that water is so realistic looking. If an artist could paint like that .. wow.

    All the puzzles are so pretty and you pick the style I would pick as well. Pretty and cozy. It would be hard to choose a favorite (luckily, I don’t have to.)

    Thanks for the tip on that light. I could use that for some fine work I do. It’s currently unavailable (probably due to your recommendation) but I’ll put it on my wish list to keep track of it. I haven’t done a lot of puzzling yet, but like you said, particularly for autumn and winter it seems a very pleasant past time. Thanks for all the good info.

    • I think some of the puzzles are designed from actual photographs. Hope the light came back in stock, Pam! I really do like them. I keep waiting for one of the bulbs to burn out because I’ve used them for so many years, but not one has burned out yet. Amazing how long they last!

  12. Hi, Susan,

    Thanks for all the details about puzzle “equipment” and how you do puzzles. Question: If a person can’t afford the puzzle board you recommend, do you think a puzzle mat would be a good alternative? It has to lay flat, of course, but at least it can be used to pick up the puzzle if desired and to store it without having the puzzle come apart.

    Do you have any experience with a puzzle mat? Here’s a link to an example:

    Thanks in advance for your input.


    • I’ve never used a puzzle mat but that looks like a great alternative. The reviews look good, too. A puzzle mat won’t necessarily help with less strain on the back (which is what a puzzle board does) but it does look like a great way to store a puzzle away temporarily when you need the surface for another purpose.

      • Thanks for replying. I found out that my father-in-law, who is in his late 80s, has started doing puzzles and really enjoys it, and I’d really love to get him a puzzle board. But so far he’s doing only 300-piece puzzles, so a puzzle board like you have would be overkill; I would need to find a smaller one. Have you ever come across one? I think it’s a terrific idea–just too big for what he is currently able to do. The puzzle sorting trays are a great idea, also.

        • I don’t think I’ve come across a smaller one but someone should definitely consider making a smaller one. That would be great for smaller puzzles! Maureen, if I come across one while shopping online, I will def let you know.

  13. How can I find the stained glass puzzle?

    • Sarah, are you looking for the library puzzle with the room overlooking the moonlit city and the stainglass piece hanging in the window? It was no longer available when I wrote this post. I just looked at the info from where I ordered it on Amazon back in January 2021 and the puzzle is by a company named Huadada and I think it is called “Moonlit Leisure Time.” Try searching for Huadada online and hopefully they still make that particular puzzle.

    • I just did a Google search and the only place I found it was on eBay here: Moonlit Leisure Time.

      • thanks! I have searched for this and could not find. Ordered immediately. By the way, I so identify with your column. Travel, purchases, home, etc. And just a suggestion – due to health I can no longer travel. I’m so thankful for the memories I have – get out there and go!

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