The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

GarE Maxton

Added to museum: 6/23/09

Unusual machined metal 3D puzzles that are both challenging and beautiful

GarE Maxton disassembles one of his larger puzzlesó"The Intimidator." (Click on photo for a slightly larger image.)

A lifelong passion turns into a second career

GarE (Pronounced like "Gary") Maxton was born in 1954. During high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he took a couple of summer school art courses where he learned welding. Subsequently, he purchased his first welding setup and built a shop in his parent's garage. He sold his first large art piece, Automation I in 1974 while exhibiting simultaneously at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair and the University of Michigan Artists and Craftsmanís Guild Fair. He graduated from the Western Michigan University Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1977. His real estate business, Maxton Ltd. was incorporated in January, 1981 and it was successful enough that he was able to retire in 2000 at age 46.  He purchased a micro-mill that same year and started learning the process of machining, starting his own web site at in 2002 called Maxton's Art Gallery to sell his puzzle sculptures. Since then, his second career has been making and selling his machined metal puzzles.

These are not ordinary puzzles, but very complicated 3-dimensional metal works of art. Each piece must fit with precision and also look attractive when assembled. It takes an unusual set of talents to be able to conceive, design, produce, finish and assemble the multiple precision pieces to make these puzzles. His puzzle called Conundrum III, for example, is a 3-inch cube when assembled and is made up of 54 individual pieces made from 20 different metals. Since the setup for machining each piece is intensive (in other words, expensive) it is not practical to make just one, so he typically does a limited production run of ten or more sculptures that are then offered for sale through his web site to art and puzzle aficionados around the world.

The metals used in his sculptures range from common to exotic to precious. They include brass, aluminum, cast iron, neodynium iron, stainless steel, steel, magnesium, titanium, copper, pewter, tin, zinc, aluminum bronze, white brass (Babbitt metal), bearing bronze, silicon bronze, Monel, tungsten, Inconel (a very difficult to machine space-age metal used in jet engines), silver bullion, 24K gold and various forms of Makume Gane and on one occasion even Damascus steel. Following is Mr. Maxtonís description of the process he uses to make his limited edition puzzles.

This 54-piece puzzle called Conundrum III is about 3" on a side and is for the serious puzzle solver. How would you even begin to take it apart, much less put it back together? The pieces of various kinds of metal are not painted, although some can have a patina applied. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

The making of Conundrum III

Creating metal sculptures with interlocking pieces involves a multi-step process. Although this precision work is very time consuming, it would be astronomically priced without current CNC milling technology.

The first step is to create a rough model. Creating one out of metal on a prototyping mill can take me up to a year per sculpture, so other materials are often substituted to expedite the task. I generally work hands-on until I create something that pleases me. I donít derive any satisfaction from designing sculptures on a computer, so I rarely use them for this purpose.

I make a fully functional, finished puzzle sculpture in my prototype shop. This can take several months. It involves taking each piece of the rough model and writing a CNC program to cut that part from one of numerous metals. All the parts closely match the rough model I have already created; any mistakes that may have been overlooked in the design of the model are fixed at this point.

The next step is to draw each piece of the sculpture in .STL file format. (An .STL file is a stereo lithography format used for doing 3D drawings in a 3D CAD program.) The purpose of this step is to create working drawings so I can have the rough pieces quoted and subsequently made by a third party in some volume. If I didnít outsource this step, I could produce about 20 finished sculptures a year. Although outsourcing uses large, efficient equipment, the process is very expensive and generally accounts for an outlay of up to 50% of the retail price of any one of my sculptures. Outsourced CNC costs are too high for just on part at a time, so at a minimum I must run 10-20 of each part in any production run.

When the rough pieces come to me from outside sources they need to be finished. Any final cuts must be made on my CNC equipment. Then all flat exterior surfaces must be carefully sanded to remove the extensive minor scratches from milling without altering the piece dimensions significantly; the edges may be rounded or beveled to give the pieces a nice feel and then the parts are fit together and further sanded where necessary until the fit is just right. For, fully rounded sculptures I use tumblers to aid the finishing process especially if the pieces are severely scratched. My final surface finishes are brushed, patina'd and occasionally polished. The patina'd surface by far offers a more stable finish as it is less likely to tarnish or show scratches after handling. The mirror polished sculptures offer the most stunning color display. As a final step, the finished parts of each puzzle sculpture are waxed for protection and then reassembled to confirm an excellent fit and appearance.

Iím having a lot of fun making these geometric puzzles so much so, in fact, that Iím reluctant to spend a lot of time away from my shop. You may have noticed I donítí set up exhibits in art fairs. Long ago, I remember sitting at the Ann Arbor Art Fair for a couple of 10-hour days.......that was enough for me. This time around I only want to do the FUN part; that is, designing and producing the art work. If you want to see more, youíll have to peruse my detailed web site or come and visit my shop.

I enjoy direct marketing my work over the internet. I get interesting e-mails from people all over the world and have shipped sculptures as far as Europe, Asia and Australia. Before the internet age, I would never in a lifetime have been able to represent my work in such a wide marketplace. As the clarity of color monitors improves, these types of transactions will only get easier. By the time I retire for the second time, I expect to have contacts all over the world!

óGarE Maxton

If you would like to learn more about Mr. Maxtonís puzzles or inquire about placing an order for one of your own, his contact information and availability of individual pieces can be found on his web site at

Here are several examples of GarE Maxton's work:

(Click any photo for a larger image.)

Shown here are all 54 pieces of the assembled and unassembled Conundrum III puzzle. How would you start putting it back together? Only 10 of these puzzles were produced.

Hidden in the center of Conundrum III is a 1" cube that can be of a precious metal like 24K gold or pure silver. An alternative is a copper box that can provide a hiding space for a small object of your choice.


A simpler 3" puzzle cube called Conundrum I that has only a dozen pieces. Twenty-five of these 12-element puzzles were produced, but this puzzle is now sold out.

Conundrum II is a challenging 21-piece puzzle sculpture composed of elements made from Aluminum Bronze, Cast Iron, Copper, Aluminum, Titanium, Bearing Bronze, Stainless Steel, Steel, Tungsten, Silver (or Gold), Magnesium and Brass, totaling a dozen different metals. Only 10 were made of this sold out edition.

This Labyrinth puzzle is a provocative contemporary desktop sculpture designed after Mr. Maxton was introduced to the concept of a Japanese puzzle box. To open this colorful vault you must discover the special sequence of sliding metal panels, but in addition to what is expected, with this unique all metal sculpture, after the top is opened it breaks down into 42 separate metal pieces. The Labyrinth also provides a secret hiding place containing a sizable storage area. A 5 inch cube, this desktop heavyweight tops 30 pounds. It is one of only 5 produced and the edition is sold out. 1 of the 5 produced had a hidden pop-up handle (sculpture on left).

This 17-piece Mini-Conundrum stands alone or can form the basis for the X2 version shown below.
Mini-Conundrum X2 is an extremely difficult 44-element assembly using all 17 pieces of the smaller Mini-Conundrum 2" cube sculpture plus 27 new additional pieces. This somewhat larger cube (2.5") is composed of a dozen or more different metals. The solver can start with a Mini-Conundrum and then upgrade to an X2 at a later date. The second photo shows the original Mini-Conundrum plus the additional 27 pieces that are required to make up the X2 version.
This Micro-Conundrum is shown with highly polished finishes. The 1-inch square puzzle contains 6 interlocking pieces made from five different metals. Offered in 4 different variations, Micro-Conundrum is at the small end of a complete set of colorful multi-metal cubes from 1 to 5 inches by GarE Maxton.
The Micro-Conundrum X2 adds 4 additional pieces to the Micro-Conundrum shown above creating a slightly larger 1.25" cube. The Micro-Conundrum X3 which will be released in 2009 adds another 5 additional pieces to the Micro-Conundrum X2 and becomes a 1.5" cube.
Mr. Maxton doesn't just make cube puzzles. In Pyramid I, one of the pieces is also a secret key for the optional 1.5" miniature central vault. The sculpture is composed of 6 different metals in 17 different shapes. For added coloration and complexity, some of the pieces are composed of 2 different metals dowel-pinned permanently together.
Symmetry I is a sleek and elegant coffee table sculpture composed of 20 aluminum and brass elements forming a contemporary 4-inch cube. In addition to GarE's standard patina finishes, the Symmetry series sculptures are also offered in a brushed metal finish. The sculpture/puzzle is shown here on one of the optional display bases available.
Symmetry II offers a towering desktop puzzle composed of 40 aluminum and brass elements. This 8-inch tall desktop monolith weighs just under 20 pounds. Only 25 were produced.

There is also a simpler, less expensive Symmetry III version that includes 8 elements that make up a 4" cube with somewhat open sides. The second photo shows an alternate assembly of Symmetry III.

Though not a puzzle, this functional 3-piece pen chest is a good way to display a fine writing instrument.
Like the pen chest above, the ring chest is simply an elegant way to protect and display a cherished ring. The pen and ring chests are not limited in quantities.
Made as a larger indoor display, this puzzle Cross consists of over 200 pieces of interlocking aluminum and brass. It offers a much larger dimension to GarE's usual intricate metal work. It stands 28 inches tall and weighs just under 100 pounds!
"The Intimidator"


GarE has done complex (Conundrum III), Religious (Cross), precious (gold and silver) and now "Intimidating" puzzles with his introduction of the INTIMIDATOR. He notes, "This design is by far my most complex metal sculpture and it's both mentally and physically intimidating, thus the name. For those challenged by Micro-Conundrum, I suggest giving this sculpture a wide berth. This design expands the limits of what is considered possible for a puzzle; it's a puzzle with an intimidating function.

In June 2009, starting with a few extra parts from my Labyrinth sculpture, I began working night and day creating this sculpture. It grew to eight inches tall, four inches deep and five inches wide; there's a lot of volume to fill with interlocking parts and assembly of this puzzle is extremely difficult; you'll need a lot of time on your hands. Physically, it tips the scale at over 40 pounds."

As part of the 125-piece puzzle, hidden inside are all the parts needed to assemble a firing .45 caliber muzzle loading pistol. (A Federal firearms stamp was obtained for the prototype and will be supplied with each puzzle purchased.) If the puzzle itself wasn't intimidating enough, the pistol and ammunition hidden within certainly give further credence to the name. The pistol with laser sight was inspired by the James Bond movie, The man with the Golden Gun. See a video of the disassembly of this massive puzzle plus a firing of the pistol at Much more detail and links to other videos are available on GarE's site at Like his other puzzles, this will be produced as a very limited edition. If you are interested in an "Intimidating" puzzle, go to his web site and get your reservation in soon.

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