How to Sort a Puzzle

How do you sort?

Seriously? I can’t tell you how you should do it! Whichever way works for you is how you should sort. Or not. You may be a scrabbler who likes to root around through the box to find pieces, or someone who doesn’t sort at all and just lays them all out. Whichever way works best – that’s what you should do.

I dislike posts that tell you how you should assemble, sort, or work on your puzzle; it’s not my place to tell you how to do something. Everyone has their own way that works, and for them that is the perfect way to do it. But if you’re just starting out and looking for suggestions I’ll tell you how I do it and maybe something might work for you.

I use a strainer (shown above) to get rid of puzzle dust as I’m sorting. I dump the pieces into it while it’s sitting in the box, and as I grab them to lay out on trays most of the dust falls to the bottom and out into the box. Cookie sheets from the dollar store that I’ve lined with paper are my trays where I lay out the pieces.


I use plastic containers to hold pieces that I pull out to work on after the edges are assembled, but I let the puzzle tell me which pieces/sections to pull out. It could be a pattern, a color, or pieces with words – it all depends on which puzzle I’m assembling. Sometimes I go into the sorting with an idea of what I’m going to pull, but that usually changes a bit once I’ve put a few handfuls of pieces on the tray and see what I’m working with. Whichever pieces I don’t pull I lay out on the trays. I’m a bit OCD, so they’re laid out in orderly rows so that I can compare shapes and colors when I’m looking for a piece.

Most of the time I pull out the edges as I’m sorting, so when I’m done I have the edge to assemble, and also the sections that have been sorted into containers to begin working on once the edge is put together. Sometimes with a shaped or wooden puzzle the edges aren’t easy to find or assemble, so that isn’t where I start. The puzzle leads me in both the sorting and assembly, so each time is different – that’s part of the fun of jigsaw puzzles!

Sorting isn’t something I actually enjoy doing, but I find that in the end it helps me and works best for the way I puzzle. Many people don’t sort at all, so you have to find the way that works for you. You may be a sorter, a scrabbler, or a lay them all out kind of person – you just have to figure out which one. 

A sorter, a scrabbler, a lay them all out-er, or something else altogether; which one are you?

Happy puzzling!

12 thoughts on “How to Sort a Puzzle

  1. Deb

    As a new follower I was going to ask if you had any sorting tips. I’m a lay-er out-er but when you’re working with so many pieces it’s hard on the back being bent over a table. Sorting would probably allow me to sit a little more. I’m doing a 750 pc Ceaco mushroom puzzle and doing a little sorting would have helped as there is little variance between the pcs.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope this post helped some Deb. I know for me I can’t “see” the pieces if they’re all over the place, and sorting into smaller sections helps me immensely. There is a lot less standing and bending over the table, that’s for sure! 🙂


  2. robinheat

    I really like your thoughts and philosophy. My mantra, especially when working on a puzzle with someone else, has been, “There’s no wrong way to puzzle.”

    I like sorting some sections, but it’s my least favorite part of puzzling. Once I have some sections done, I like running my hands through the box and placing ones that stick out to me. My roommate likes picking up individual pieces and studying the box to see where it goes. I prefer figuring it out from the pieces themselves, but I look at the picture sometimes if I need to.

    What puzzle is that? I like the colors on the pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a lay them all out-er! I’m too lazy to sort (unless I absolutely have to), and orderly rows is not something you’ll ever see on my table, although I think it looks awsome 🙂 It is interesting how many ways there are to puzzle, and there is no one strategy that’s right for every puzzle, even with the same puzzler.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Betty Hilliard

    My puzzle partner drives me crazy! We begin by sorting colors into trays. Then HE takes each tray (eg, red color tray) and re-sorts into trays of one, two, three, four knobs, resulting in four trays of red pieces with different shapes. I often don’t know the exact shape I’m looking for and wind up searching all four trays for a piece that may or may not fit. Should I just grin and bear it?

    Liked by 1 person

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