Wood craftspeople are generally known for handcrafted furniture and other wooden objects, but here’s an American wood craftsman who’s most renowned for crafting wooden puzzle boxes exclusively. He’s Kagen Sound. In fact, he’s the only one of a non-Japanese origin who’s a member of the exclusive Karakuri Creation Group, the world’s only puzzle box guild.
Kagen Sound, who grew up in Colorado, USA, was formerly Kagen Schaefer, but changed his last name to Sound, along with his wife Megan. The word ‘Sound’ connotes a person being ‘sound of character’ and an object being ‘structurally sound’. This is what they wanted their work to be identified with.
From his school days, Kagen developed an interest in mathematics, which helped him in drawing elaborate mazes. It was his first-grade classmate who first introduced him to puzzle boxes. So captivated was he of these boxes that he was already designing his own puzzle boxes by the time he was in middle school.
Kagen went on to earn a degree in mathematics from Colorado College and started his career as a teaching assistant in the same college. On the side, he was also assisting the woodworking studio of the college’s art department. By this time, it was quite evident to him that his heart lay in crafting wood.
Kagen pursued his hobby in the right earnest and soon got recognition when his work ‘Block Box’ won the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition in 2002. However, the feather in his cap was creating the Pipe Organ Desk for the film director Darren Aronofsky. He made this piece out of the most exotic woods that included South African pink ivory, guayacan, and Bastogne walnut, one of the most prized woods in the world. It took him four years to design and build this Desk at the cost of about $10,000. This desk has a secret compartment and is riddled with complex puzzles. This work was published in ‘Fine Woodworking magazine’ and gained him celebrity attention.
Kagen has won many more awards and recognitions for his works. He is known to have won more awards at the annual International Puzzle Party than any other designer. He was also conferred with a lifetime achievement award, the Sam Loyd Award, in 2009 awarded by the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors.
Kagen has his woodshop in Ironton Studios and Galleries in Denver, Colorado, USA. His works are up for sale, the latest being ‘The Rune Cube’. He enjoys a following of over 124,000 fans on Instagram alone.