Hi Lumber Jock Buddies!
I thought it might be interesting for those wanting to dabble a bit with veneers, especially in the creation of Marquetry ... to pass along some (what I hope are) simple steps to follow, using a simple method I learned many years ago at the hands of a Latvian Master.
By now you are all familiar with Shipwright’s fabulous Marquetry, and incredible cutting skill using his hand built Chevalet!! I hope Paul won’t mind me bringing his talents into my blog :) ... but he has also blogged the varied ways in which Marquetry can be approached, which I have found interesting and very informative. It might help to brush up a bit by reading them again … especially ’Marquetry Cutting Styles #3’. This ‘Classic Style’ is quite similar to the ’Window Method’ I’m about to explain … but with a slightly different twist.
For the beginner, there’s no need for any fancy tools other than a pen-sized Exacto knife, sharp pencil, a piece of cardboard, tracing paper, a cutting board, low-tac masking tape, glue & sawdust, a paint scraper, some weighty books, a design … and of course a variety of veneers.
That’s how I started off creating Marquetry pictures ... although my slightly arthritic hands have been spoiled since the introduction of my Excalibur scroll saw into the workshop. We’ve been through thick and thin … literally!! over these past 30 years!!
However … long before I was able to afford that beauty, I managed to cut my very first commissioned piece on an old electric Singer sewing machine! The jewellers blade replaced the sewing needle, and a foot peddle gave me very basic speed control. Sorry about the photo. It was taken BDC … Before Digital Cameras!! Many of the photos I’ll slip into this blog are from the past, so the fine cutting lines are not very visible. That may be a good thing!!
I don’t have a Marquetry design on the go right now, so just quickly set this up (mainly for Lumber Jock Stefang), as Mike has expressed an interest in this Window Method … and after going into a great wordy explanation of how it ‘works’, I’m thinking pictures are worth a thousand words! ... and may be easier to follow. Stefang has been doing a wonderful blog … and now would be a good time to check out his beautiful Marquetry Dragon!! Actually I think Mike is well beyond what my blog has to offer!
You start, of course by drawing up a design … make it simple! Now I have to explain, for those actually reading this and not just looking at the pictures! This whole blog idea started off just wanting to show how cutting through a pad or stack of veneers can be done without too much prep-work, and still produce crisp, sharp points without breakage. I wasn’t thinking design at all, so just went ahead with a free-hand cut. Then decided that an explanation of the ‘Window Method’ would be helpful. Yikes! Like I said … make it simple until you feel ready to spread your wings. Because I started off “bass-ackwards’, my sample is more complicated than it needed to be!!!!
The Window Method of cutting can be used whether producing one Marquetry design … or cutting multiples. Here is a sample of my stock on hand, ready to use. Pads of 4, 6, 8, 12 and 24 veneers have been formed and used throughout the years, with boxes of them ready to use whenever I am.
As you can see … each individual pad holds the same type of veneer, with the grains running in the same direction. For the purpose of this blog, I quickly grabbed a pad of poplar. The top veneer has darkened with age, but you’ll soon see the green veneer appear. As stated previously I just as quickly free-formed the cut with no actual design in mind. This pad is held together with masking tape … thicker ones are stapled together (and clearly marked where the staples are!).
I’m too wordy … look at the pictures!!
Okay … now don’t expect to cut something like this right away! Actually … go ahead, because it’s easy to free-form cut without a line to follow. Play around turning corners, and as you become more confident, turn tighter corners. Stop the scroll saw mid-way through cutting … then start up again. You’ll quickly learn how much firmness is needed to hold that pad of veneers in place while the machine is running! I’ve been playing for years. Even play needs practice!!
Because I started this tutorial (and I say that loosely because Teacher-I-Am-Not!) all wrong … I’ll now put that piece just cut into an (after the fact) drawn design.
When you’ve decided upon your design, transfer it to cardboard with tracing paper. This is your pattern to follow. It doesn’t really matter where you start within that design. There’s usually some sort of focal point … a boat, building, tree, etc. Just go ahead and cut one little section out. Of course you know what little section I cut out ... pretend you haven’t seen the previous pictures!! That first section removed from the pattern is always the easiest to cut because you are following the pencil line that has marked that window.
Cut that section of veneer ... whether it be one veneer cut by hand, or several padded together and cut by machine. Cutting by hand is not hard to do, but your fingers will tire from the pressure needed to cut through the harder veneers. Be patient! Once cut, insert that veneer into the pattern and hold it in place on the back of the cardboard with masking tape.
The next step is to cut another section from the pattern ... usually neighbouring the first cut piece. Then place this windowed area over the veneer chosen for it. In this way you can move the pattern around to see what grain pattern (or colour as well) looks better. Once you’ve found that perfect placement, use masking tape to hold the pattern down while scribing the area where wood meets wood with the fine bladed Exacto knife. This will be an exact line to cut … pencil in the rest of the window’s perimeter.
You can see the pencil lines that I’m not really bothering to follow exactly. You can if you want, after all … practice makes perfect! You can also see the blade-scribed line that has to be exact as possible. I’ve marked an ‘x’ on the outside of that line so you know while I’m cutting … I’m not cutting on the inside of that line. This is something you’ll figure out on your own with practice.
Even after all these years I sometimes slip off that exact line. But that’s okay too … just try as best you can, and know that white glue and sawdust are your friends!!!
Time for distraction! Stefang (Mike) asked to see some of my Marquetry, so I’m trying to do just that along the way!
Here’s a design ready to be transferred. Work in mid-stage. And the finished dining table and chair set.
Now back to the Window Method of cutting ... and the 2nd piece is ready to tape into place. Taping from the back allows full vision of your design while working. Notice there are only two extra pieces of this section … because I cut from a pad of 3 veneers. I used this same method (and pad in 3’s) when cutting commissioned work because those extras come in handy if one piece doesn’t look just right, or has broken.
I know you’ve got the picture now as to how the Window Method works, but I’m cutting one more section to add a helpful tip … making that impossibly fine scribed line easier to see for cutting. Note the magnifying set-up I have for scrolling (1st photo) ... that’s a big help at times too!!
When you know where the scribed line has to go, place masking tape firmly over that area beforehand, scribe the line … then sparingly use black shoe polish to rub over the cut, wiping away all excess. Make sure surrounding areas are protected from the polish because it cannot be removed from unfinished wood!
Another distraction … for Mike’s benefit!! This poor little occasional table had been exposed to the elements in an old barn and was destined for the garbage bin by the time I found it, took it home … and gave it another lifetime of use!
So now we go back to the Window Method ... soon the cardboard pattern will be completely transformed into veneer! I’m not going to go that far, because you know the routine. Cut a section, pencil and scribe your chosen veneer, cut and tape in place.
Patience! This tutorial is just about finished, but you need to know how to prepare your work so it’s ready to be glued onto a backboard … or incorporated into furniture. To explain this as quickly as possible, I’ll show you pictures of one of my multiple designs already prepared.
Pretend (again) the whole cardboard pattern is now a patchwork of veneers ... held in place with your small bits of masking tape on the back side. Using the masking tape, cover the design on the front. This not only holds everything in place, but all those cut lines are covered too, and ready to accept filler from behind. Low-tac masking tape is used because it’s easier to remove (later) without damage to the veneers. Press the tape firmly in place especially along all those cut-lines. Flip it over and remove all the little bits of masking tape. Brush the back surface with a fairly stiff brush to remove any grit left over from sand-shading.
I know! I didn’t go into sand-shading because that’s another whole blog on it’s own!! But you’ll soon see how effective sand-shading is…...........
With the back of your design exposed, press a mixture of white glue and sawdust into all the cut-lines. I mix it into a fairly heavy paste, and add powder Tempera paint to darken the mix if accent lines are desired. If working a large design, do this in stages … filling, then scraping excess off, cover with waxed paper and apply some (weighty books) overtop to keep the veneers from buckling (moisture causes all veneers to buckle) while it dries.
When all the cut-lines have been adequately filled, and excess quickly removed before it dries … cover the area with waxed paper and a clean board. Leave it under pressure (I use 2 big cement blocks on top of that board) until completely dried. Use a paint scraper to scrape away any excess buildup of filler … you may have to refill some lines that got missed. They’re easy to see if you hold the design up to the light! Do the refill and let dry under pressure again.
When dried and scraped, the design will hold together all on its own ... so now is the time to remove the masking tape from the front of your Marquetry design. Carefully! Although low-tac is used and minimal pressure has been applied … there still remains the risk of pulling out some veneer with the tape. Go slowly and that won’t happen.
Now you can see the accent lines that the darkened sawdust filler created ... and the effects of sand-shading! This Marquetry design is now ready to apply to whatever surface you desire. Because I use to cut multiples of one design, each was covered with waxed paper and placed between sheets of doorskin (thin wood) to cover the entire work.
This sandwiched packet of prepared designs is then labeled and placed under constant (but not extreme) pressure until ready for use.
There ya go … give it a try!! And just to cap this off, here are a few more samples of my Marquetry Art.
Many thanks for reading this tutorial blog!! I hope this has been helpful! Don’t be shy … if something isn’t clear please let me know and I’ll do my best to clarify! Remember … Teacher-I-Am-Not! I may have missed out a step or two?!!
Best Wishes to all my Lumber Jock Buddies :)
-- Elaine in Duncan