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How to Hang a Large Puzzle
There are a lot of things to consider when hanging a puzzle, and I will touch on a few of my preferred methods here and let you know what I have found to work best. First off, for smaller puzzles (1500 pieces and below), all I do is flip them over (Very carefully! We sandwich the puzzle together with foam board or cardboard, so they don't splatter on the ground!) and get some clear packing tape or duct tape and tape the back of the puzzle. This works great because it is designed to work with the fibers on boxes, and a puzzle is no different. Plus, it's cheap and available anywhere. The only thing you need to make sure of though, is that you work all the tape onto the puzzle back with your hand. Then when you go to hang it up, just grab a couple thumb tacks and push it into the intersection of four pieces, and your good. If it is sagging down a bit in the middle, just grab another tack. Generally, I will hang it first with the thumb tacks and stand back and make sure I like where it is, and make sure it is level to its surroundings. Then I will get some small nails, like the ones that come with the picture hanging hooks and put these where the thumb tacks were just because I’m not a big fan of big ol’ pieces of plastic sticking out of my puzzles.
Larger puzzles, however, have to have a lot more pre-planning done before you can comfortably hang up something that took months to complete. Any puzzle that exceeds four feet in length needs to be carefully thought out when it comes to how and where to hang it. A couple of things you have to look at are the completed weight, and the type of fasteners you’re going to use to hang it. One of our puzzles that we hung up was the Life puzzle. This beast was 24,000 pieces and measured 14 feet long, and five feet tall. This guy was a bit too much for a couple of thumb tacks.
One of the first things I did after finding a wall big enough to hold this beast was to get a roll of blue painters’ tape. This is the best thing you can use for any layout projects you have. Next walk over to your fridge and grab a magnet and a pen. If you have a stud finder, you can use that as well, but I have found a magnet never lets me down. We need to find the structural portions of our wall because we don’t want to risk thumb tacks or small nails pulling out of the wall, so for larger scale puzzles we want to use screws. So, go over to your wall and start dragging the magnet across the drywall until it sticks to something. This will tell you where all your studs are in your wall, because all the drywall in your house is hung with either screws or nails which are both magnetic. Now tear off a little piece of tape and make a mark in the wall where you hit a nail. Go straight up and down from that mark until you have three or four marks. Now move over 16 or 24 inches and do the same for that stud. Once you have the area laid out for your size puzzle, you can start to figure out where you need the breaks in your puzzle to be.
It's best to have at least two studs supporting any one section of puzzle. The 14-foot puzzle we hung; I broke into four sections. If you are hanging a puzzle that is only four or five feet long, you don’t need to make any breaks at all, and you can hang it all in one piece.
The next thing we need to consider is what and how are we going to mount our puzzle to all those tape marks on the wall. My preferred method is to use double sided sticky tape and a piece of 1/8" plywood. Amazon has a good variety of tape to choose from, and any hardware store will have the plywood. It is also referred to as door skin.
Before we get to involved in where to break your puzzle, lets focus on just the act of physically hanging up any puzzle. Let’s say your puzzle happens to be four-foot-long and three-foot-tall. Nice round numbers. The first thing you need to decide is, do you want a border around puzzle, or do you want it to look like it is just floating there. If you want it to look like it is just floating there, then you will need to cut your door skin a little under 3'x4'. If you are going to put a frame around it then you will have to add the frame width to your dimensions. I personally use 2 1/2" crown molding to frame everything in, so I needed to add 2" to all four sides of my puzzle. I didn’t add 2 1/2 inches because I want to make sure the door skin is hidden behind the molding. So, for our 3'x4' puzzle, I would cut the door skin to 3'-4"x 4'-4".
Now that we have our actual dimensions, let’s go back over to our wall. First, we need to find the center of our area. Everything will be measured and built off the center. If your puzzle center isn't on a stud, just grab another piece of tape and make sure to label it as a center mark. Now you can take your tape and make a mark as wide as your puzzle. For this puzzle, we will go 2'-2" From center in both directions. Now mark at the finished height of your puzzle on all three of your tape pieces. Far left, center and far right. Now that you have your height and width laid out, make sure the stud pieces of tape extend out past the height of your puzzle, that way when you’re holding this thing against the wall, you can see your marks.
Back to the puzzle. Sweep off your floor area that is as big as your puzzle, so you can flip it over face down. I don’t recommend doing it on tile because tile is not a very flat surface. The garage floor is always a good place because it is nice and flat. Flip your puzzle over and lay it face down on the floor. Grab your double-sided tape and carefully make straight runs of tape across the entire length of your puzzle making sure not to overlap the previous strip. Make sure to leave the backing piece on until later. Once you have the whole puzzle taped, work the tape into the puzzle really good with your hands. Just rub back and forth over every bit of your puzzle. This is super important because if your tape isn’t stuck to your pieces really good, they could fall out. Now grab your blue tape again and make a couple marks 2" off the edge of your puzzle, three or four per side should be enough. Now we are going to dry fit our door skin. It’s easier to test fit it now, then to get it stuck onto something and find out you have a problem. If all your marks are lining up good, the go ahead and peel off all your tape backing. It’s best to use two people for this part. Stand your door skin straight up and down on your marks, making sure you’re on your height mark as well as your side offset mark. Very carefully lower the door skin onto your puzzle and massage it all over to make sure it is well adhered to the door skin. Now flip it over and lay it back down and work the whole puzzle making sure everything is properly bonded. While it is face up on the floor, go ahead and make your center mark on the door skin at the top.
Time to hang it. For this all you’re going to need are a hand full of drywall screws and a level. Hold your puzzle on your center mark piece of tape. If that happened to also land on a stud, put a screw in. If not, put a level on the top of the puzzle, not on the edge of the board. We do that just in case the board moved when we were laying it down, or our cut was a little off. With your center marks on and the puzzle level, go ahead a put a screw in at least two studs. Stand back and take a quick look at everything just to make sure your happy with the placement. If you are, put one screw in every stud. Now that it’s all hung, remove all your tape marks from the wall. If some are half under the door skin, just get a razor knife and cut it flush with the door skin. Don’t worry about all the tape you buried behind the puzzle; nobody will ever notice. Now all you have to do is trim it out with your crown molding to hide the door skin, and you’re done.
If you decided you did not want to use a border, no sweat. Instead of cutting your door skin 2" over-sized, you are going to cut it 1/4" undersized. That way you can’t see it at all. The whole taping part will be the same, as well as your test fitting. Just lay your board on the back of the puzzle, and if you have your 1/4" reveal all the way around, your good. Pull your tape backing and very carefully stand in straight up and down on the back until you are on your marks, and carefully lay it down. Once you have it flipped over, and are sure everything is well secured, take a piece of blue tape on the back side sticking up about a half inch, and mark your center. Take your board over to your wall and hold it up exactly where it is going to go. Wherever a stud lines up with your puzzle, gently remove just that border piece. A little bit of the puzzle paper will be left on the tape, but that OK. Once you have all four, or six pieces out, hold the puzzle back on the center mark. With the puzzle level, have someone put a screw in the door skin at the first two studs on the top. Stand back and double check that your happy with everything. If you are, go ahead and put the remaining screws in. Once all the screws are in get some Elmer’s glue and glue all the pieces back in. Pull or cut all your layout tape and you’re done.
Now that you can see the process, let’s get back to the bigger puzzles. The only thing that is going to make your long puzzle any different is that you are going to have to break your puzzle into sections to hang it. No big deal, just a little more layout. For my puzzle that was 14' long, it came in four quadrants, so it worked out cherry. As far as your door skin goes, you know you need 2" over on the top and bottom, and 2"hanging over the outside. That leaves one side to figure out. Generally, you would think to just measure to the edge and call it good, but you can’t do that here. Remember how a puzzle goes together, the pieces have to mesh. If you have your board flush with the splice side, you will never get the two sections together. You have to hold off the splice edge the depth of the puzzle profile to make sure when you hang up the corresponding sections that they will mesh properly and not hang up on the backing. I stayed off the splice edge about 3/8" on all the quadrants. I also cut three, 1/2" strips of door skin that were 5' long. You will also need to stop your tape 3/8" short on your splice edge. Being that your splices are the critical dimension, start there when putting your door skin on. If you miss your measurement somehow, you can always cut extra off the puzzle edge easier then you can on the splice side. For your center sections, just measure the width of your puzzle and deduct 3/4", 3/8" per side, and get your 2"overhang on the top and bottom. Test fit and run with it. Once you have all your pieces laminated to the door skin, grab the three 1/2" pieces you cut and put a piece of tape on all three together, and just cut them apart from each other.
Just like the other puzzle, make sure that you have your center mark on both the wall and the puzzle, and that your stud layout tape is slightly above your finished elevation. Now hang your center piece. Make sure to measure everything three times, and check for level off of your puzzle, not your door skin. If you are happy with everything on your first piece, put at least one screw in each stud at the top and bottom. Now take one of your 1/2" pieces and put the sticky tape on the wall side, not the puzzle side at the connection. This will provide the support for the splice without interfering with the meshing of the pieces. Once you have that in, continue hanging the rest of the puzzle the same way until you’re done. Make sure to get your entire splice meshed before screwing off your next piece though.
All that you have to do now is trim it out with your crown molding and sit back and admire your puzzle. The most important thing to keep in mind though is your initial layout. Once you start, it’s hard to pull stuff back off the wall to change anything, so measure, measure, measure and then measure one more time just to make sure. Don’t be afraid to have 300 pieces of tape all over the wall. That’s why you use tape, if you don’t like something, pull the tape off and start over. Never mark directly on your wall. You want to be able to remove any evidence of layout when you’re all done, not touching up paint because you left a bunch of sharpie marks all over your wall.