How to Make 3 Simple Hardware Store Puzzles




About: My name is Troy. I'm a Mechatronics graduate studying Mechanical Engineering. I like to make things and spend time outdoors (especially SCUBA diving). I am a Community Manager for Instructables.

I've made my fair share of puzzles over the years, but most take expensive tools and costly materials to make. For this project, I pushed myself to find and build puzzles that could be made from inexpensive off the shelf parts and that don't need any fancy tools to make or solve. If you have a love for puzzles and a lack of tools, these simple-to-make puzzles are for you.

Step 1: Ringleader

This is a simple puzzle to build but is the most difficult of the three to solve. It features four rings bound by paracord. Can you build and solve it without needing to cut and replace any of the paracord?

Step 2: Tools and Materials



  • Lighter
  • Scissors

Step 3: Prepare Paracord

Cut the paracord into four 9 in. lengths and remove the inner core of the paracord. The core can be discarded as it's not needed for the puzzle.

Step 4: Melt Ends

Melt one end of the paracord and pinch to a point with your fingers. It's best to wet your fingers before doing this as melted nylon can stick to your fingers and burn. Melt and pinch a little at a time.

On the other end, open the paracord a little bit and melt just the edges of the cord. This end needs to be open but melted to prevent fraying.

Step 5: Create Loop

Feed the first end through the metal ring and into the opening of the second end. Similar to how a snake would eat it's own tail.

The inner melted end needs to pass though the inside of the paracord once and should meet the opening again while inside the paracord. You should be able to feel it under the cord at the visible end. Once at this location, verify that the loop is small enough that a ring will not pass through it. If a ring passes through it, you need to make your loop smaller.

Step 6: Fuse Paracord

Fuse the exposed end to the body of the paracord by melting it with a lighter. This will prevent the paracord from coming apart in the future.

Repeat these steps with three more rings.

Step 7: Solution

The solution to this puzzle is not easy. It's actually so difficult that I cannot accurately describe how to do it. The video linked here is how I discovered how to assemble and disassemble the puzzle. The steps on how to reassemble the puzzle (where you will be starting from) start at timestamp 3:21.

Step 8: Nut and Bolt

The Nut and Bolt puzzle has a simple objective of assembling the nut and bolt together. With the nut on the wrong side of the bolt, solving this will surely make you scratch your head.

Step 9: Tools and Materials



Step 10: Drill Hole Through Bolt

Clamp the bolt in a vise and drill a 1/4 in. hole through the center. This should be done slowly and as straight as possible. A drill press or lathe can also be used. Using cutting fluid will aid in drilling and will reduce the stress on your drill bit.

Step 11: Paracord

Cut the paracord to roughly 24 in. in length and remove the core of the paracord. Melt the ends of the paracord in the same manner as done in step 4 above.

Step 12: String Puzzle Together

String the nut and bolt on the paracord and then place both ends through the washer. String the paracord through the ring as shown above.

Step 13: Fuse Paracord

Feed the closed end into the open end of the paracord about 1 - 2 in. Fuse the exposed end to the body of the paracord by melting it with a lighter. This will prevent the paracord from coming apart in the future.

Step 14: Solution

To solve this puzzle:

  • Grasp under the loop as shown on the ring
  • Slide that loop through the washer
  • Move the closest object through the loop (nut in this picture)
  • Pull the loop back through the washer
  • Grasping the loop with your left hand and the nut and bolt with your right hand, rotate the entire paracord counter-clockwise until the loop has move back through the washer
  • Once the loop is on the other side of the washer, pass the nut through the loop and pull the paracord tight by the ring
  • Twist the nut onto the bolt

To solve in reverse, follow the exact same steps, no reverse order needed.

Step 15: Ring and Spring

This deceptively simple Ring and Spring puzzle shouldn't make you scratch you head for too long. It can be assembled from off the shelf parts. The following steps were only taken to make the spring more presentable and pleasant to hold.

Step 16: Tools and Materials


Tools (optional)

  • Sand Paper
  • Disc Sander
  • Buffing Wheel

Step 17: Flatten End

The end of the spring as it came originally was sharp and not enjoyable to handle. I fixed this by grinding it flat on my homemade Disc Sander.

Step 18: Sand and Finish

I used increasingly fine sandpaper to remove the dull look of the spring.

Once sanded up to 600 grit, I turned to my buffing wheel to really make it shine.

Step 19: Solution

The solution to this puzzle is quite easy. From the assembled version of the puzzle, rotate the ring clockwise by 90 degrees. The ring will now easily lift off the spring and slide off the end. To put the puzzle back together, simply slide the ring back on and rotate the ring counter-clockwise back into the original position.



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    20 Discussions


    4 weeks ago

    OK, I successfully made the "Ringleader" puzzle and it looks just like your picture, but the problem is that your solution only uses "2 colors of paracord" and I used "4 colors" as in your photo so I am having a very hard time following your "solution" - the last half of the video in actually "putting it together for the first time". I do fine until 5:02 on your video and "tucking the blue cord through 3 loops" fails after many tries. Do you maybe have another video and/or clearer instructions?
    Thanks for the great puzzle, but please help me to solve it.
    Merry Christmas, Jim Walker

    1 reply

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    I completely agree that it's a difficult puzzle to solve. I actually didn't make that video as I mentioned in the instructable "It's actually so difficult that I cannot accurately describe how to do it." I don't have a video that I've made myself, but a quick google search for 'Ringleader Puzzle Solution" will bring a lot of results that may help.


    Question 6 weeks ago

    This is well put together, but can you show or explain more on how to fuse the paracord? That seems to be fundamental to the main puzzle (Ringleader), but not well explained. I've also fused paracord, but it never turns out looking like that! Like someone else asked, is there a trick to this?

    1 answer

    6 weeks ago on Step 13

    Nice puzzle! I finally did figure out how to do it. Now I'm make some for myself and Christmas gifts. I have hit a snag however. "Fusing" the chord together is not going well. It's very similar to trying to shove a wet noodle into another. I have removed the inner chord from the paracord. I have heated one end and melted it to a point. I can only insert it about 3/8" into the other end. I have tried everything I know to fuse them together(matches, heat gun, etc) and it does not provide a reliable attachment. If I heat more of the pointed end it becomes rigid and will certainly cause problems entering and exiting the bolt.
    Your connections look nice and clean. Mine turn black when I heat them up. Any suggestions?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Sorry I didn't explain this more clearly. You aren't pushing the paracord as much as bunching it up as much as possible then pulling it from the fused end that inside the outer shell. The trick to heating it and making it look nice comes with practice and all I can say is less it more. Heat it a little at a time then immediately press it down. You want to melt it but not burn it.

    I hope that helps!


    6 weeks ago

    great puzzles, I'm debating for the nut and bolt one if I should just 3d print all of it? it would be cool either way.


    7 weeks ago

    Great puzzles !


    2 months ago

    nice work overall. voted for it, looks like a lot of fun to be had with not too much work for it ^^
    one question/request though: can you make more clear what state one has to get the rings and loops puzzle into to consider it solved? i didn't watch the solution video as i plan on making it myself, and from the text alone i can only figure that it has to be disassembled into four seperate ring-loop that correct?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    That is correct! Solved would be to have it separated into the four rings and loops.


    2 months ago

    I like your puzzles but I have a doubt.
    In Ringleader, should not the loops have a size that makes it impossible to pass the rings through them?
    "Once at this location, verify that the loop is small enough that a ring will not pass through it. If a ring passes through it, you need to make your loop smaller."
    In your solution you are always passing rings through loops...?!?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    The loop is indeed too small to pass over the ring. If it could, the puzzle would be much simpler and not much of a puzzle at all. In the solution, the loop passes around the ring but not over it.


    2 months ago on Step 7

    Wow, what a stupendous puzzle! Many thanks for both sets of instructions. What a cracker of a cracker gift on Christmas day....!
    I'm no lover of paracord (being a ropemaker of usually natural materials & traditional techniques) but in this case, can't imagine much else would be so ideal. Both flexible and stretchy enough to work with no joining lumps & bumps.
    Congratulations on discovering & explaining it.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 months ago

    A long splice carried to its limit (a single strand wrapped three times twisted and two half times spliced would be one possible way with natural fibre. seems like a lot of work though.


    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you for such a wonderful complement! I must say that figuring out a technique to fuse the paracord with a strong joint was half the challenge of building these puzzles.


    2 months ago

    That ring puzzle is crazy easy to make but cant beleive the solve on it is that involved just as hard getting it back together again


    2 months ago

    awesome...i love your puzzles!


    2 months ago

    This is great to see how to create this kind of puzzles with limited hardware. Thanks for sharing !


    2 months ago on Step 19

    These are cool. I did not read the solutions as I look forward to making and solving these. I also look forward to sharing with my kids. Thank you for sharing.