Kumiki is a Japanese word that means "to
join wood together." In Japan, the word kumiki refers to several
different varieties of wood craft. For our purposes, a kumiki is "a
3-dimensional wooden interlocking solid puzzle made in a familiar shape."
Wooden interlocking figural puzzles made in Germany are mentioned in the
classic book, Professor Hoffmann's Puzzles Old and New of 1893. Although
Japanese artists may not have been the first to make this puzzle craft
form, they have fully developed the interlocking figural puzzles now
known as kumiki to the highest degree.
Traditional Japanese craftsmen did not use nails in building
construction because nailed wooden joints were easily compromised during
earthquakes. They developed ingenious methods of interlocking wood
joinery that would stand up to earthquakes. Even today, books are
available on the unique, traditional wood joinery of Japanese craftsman.
Kumiki puzzles utilize the concept of notched joinery to make
interesting looking and working puzzles.
Tsunetaro Yamanaka (1874-1954) was the first craftsman to develop the
figural wooden interlocking puzzles known as kumiki. He designed and
constructed puzzles that resembled buildings and vehicles, not just
abstract shapes like spheres and cubes. His descendants continued to
carry on the tradition, still creating new puzzles including animal
shapes. Today, Tadaaki Yamanaka, great grandson of Tsunetaro, continues
his great grandfather's work. The "Robot" kumiki is an example of one of
his newer designs (1993).
There are four different kumiki design techniques: oshi, mawashi, kendon
and sayubiki. The first means push, these puzzles have a key piece which
has to be pushed out. Puzzles based on the mawashi principle have a
piece which has to be twisted in order to solve the puzzle. In kendon
puzzles you have to remove a piece by moving up and down or from left to
right. With sayubiki two key pieces have to be removed simultaneously.
The key piece is always skillfully hidden.
Most kumiki puzzles are made from Japanese ho wood and are unfinished,
but we have quite a few deluxe kumiki which are extra large and dyed. Ho
wood is also known as Boku or Japanese Magnolia - "Magnolia Hypoleuca."
To learn more about interlocking solid puzzles read the books of Jerry
Slocum, Puzzle Collector and noted author of books about Mechanical
Because they are so inexpensive, kumiki puzzles are perfectly suited for
beginning puzzle collectors - especially children.