Marquetry Books

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Project by BobTheFish posted 06-01-2011 04:48 AM 2552 views 4 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So I’m new to LJ, and have been browsing the archives on past projects.

WAAAAAY back when, it seemed like a number of people attempted to make wooden books.

Well, I’m here to say that I’ve done it, and perhaps in a way that nobody has done before (and I do mean nobody, as I’ve searched many a site looking to see if anyone else has done it)

I’m kind of a self taught craft-person. My first crafts were as a child and involved paper. I did quilling, origami… you name it. When I was out of high school for maybe for or five years, I picked up the craft of bookbinding. I loved it, and originally learned about two or three different types of binding. Fast forward again about 3 years, and I wanted to make a checker board for my grandfather, whom I used to play checkers with often. I decided that since I didn’t have the tools or materials to craft an honest to goodness board from wooden tiles, I would try my hand at veneers, and take up marquetry. The board had some issues. I was working with paua shell and some koa, and none of it was treated (just raw sheets of shell and unbacked rough wood. The wood in fact, still had the rough raw edges from the board it was cut from), but as a first project it was interesting and I kept up with it. I enjoyed the challenge of getting precise lines and angles with an exacto, while fighting the wood’s natural grain and tendencies to go astray.

The books, were my grand idea for a marriage between the two.

Instead of paper for a book cover, I went with veneer. The backing is bookboard, which I coated twice with a polyurethane finish to give them moisture protection (bookboard is just really thick cardboard, and in the past, had warped considerably during humid summer days), and then after cutting the veneers (it’s a ribbon sapelle background, and a variety of woods including walnut and birdseye maple in the foreground) applied with contact cement to the treated boards. (despite the warnings on the can about applying cement to poly coated surfaces I have never had an issue, and I have books from when I started this 4 years ago, so it works well), and then using PVA glue (the bookbinding kind, which is REALLLY rubbery, to give spines and other book parts flexibility) a sheet of cardstock was inserted on the inside cover.

I then had the issue of edges. Easily enough rectified with copper tape (though this does sometimes have a tendency to peel back off).

The holes in the covers are then drilled to allow for the coptic binding method of attaching signatures to them (you can search the web for “coptic bookbinding” to find instructions on this), and stamped on the inside cover to denote them as my own design.

I’ve done this numerous times, incuding using veneer to frame out artwork on papyrus for covers (Which is actually an amazing effect, but I have no pictures of this), or with brass library card catalog tag holders, (which allow one to label the books), and many other purposes.

I hope this passes as woodworking for the site, as it is the best solution I can come up with for this “woodworking” problem, and, well, the marquetry itself is a woodcraft.

I hope you enjoy.

8 comments so far

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4254 days

#1 posted 06-01-2011 05:36 AM


-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View mafe's profile


11741 posts in 3267 days

#2 posted 06-01-2011 10:50 AM

Beautiful work.
My gf works for the National Libary in Paris, she asked me once if I could make her a book with wooden front and back like some of the manuscripst, it stayed a thought, now I might just give it a try.
Thank you for sharing this with us.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Ken90712's profile


17592 posts in 3366 days

#3 posted 06-01-2011 11:00 AM

Very nice!

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Spoontaneous's profile


1334 posts in 3507 days

#4 posted 06-01-2011 01:54 PM

Bob, welcome to LJ’s. Back in the 90’s I saw on the internet this furniture maker had created a portfolio to show his custom work. It did not utilize marquetry but it was a striking piece that even without opening would ‘sell’ his work.

The cover was an incredibly beautifully grained piece of Mediterranean Olive wood that had been laced similarly to yours, with the binding threads making a pattern down the spine… sometimes criss-cross and sometimes twisted. Really cool effect.

I have an interest in book binding myself, although I have never attempted it. I have probably 50 – 75 photos in a computer file that just amazes me… most of them are leather, but some wood and mixed media. I was commissioned a few years ago to design the covers for a trilogy of books. The author became a close friend and I have since wanted to recreate the cover in wood or leather to make her a ‘gift’ copy of her book.

In any case, book binding is a very compelling art.

-- I just got done cutting three boards and all four of them were too short. (true story)

View Kean's profile


74 posts in 2739 days

#5 posted 06-01-2011 07:00 PM

Very nice. I do some bookbinding myself, usually with leather covers. Yours has me thinking about doing one with an exposed wooded cover though!

An old web site I set up when I did my fist book:

-- Kean - It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

View JasonIndy's profile


187 posts in 3613 days

#6 posted 06-02-2011 03:05 AM

Beautiful, it’s nice to see somebody putting that much effort into a book.

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 3066 days

#7 posted 06-03-2011 02:52 AM

In order to stiffen the edges of these covers, try using a solid wood edge, then cover the joint between the wood and the book board with the veneer. Just be sure to veneer the insides of the covers too, or they will warp as they age.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2729 days

#8 posted 06-03-2011 06:21 AM

BigTiny, Thank you very much for your thoughtful advice.

However, the covers don’t need to be stiff. Most books, in fact aren’t stiff. They have flex and give, which helps when the corners are crushed, or the edges have pressure applied to them, or the other wear and tear books sometimes get as we toss them about in our day to day lives. The varnish isn’t to stiffen it, but to give protection against humidity. The bookboard, which is a thick cardboard, is pretty nice material from a bookbinder’s perspective, where as solid wood has issues, including weight and brittleness, but also simply that thinner boards (the thinness of most book covers), are very beautiful but fragile things. The veneer is great for “wood” books because it’s wood that acts somewhat like paper. It’s not QUITE paper in its flexibility, but it’s about as darn close to paper in a grained wood product as you can get!

The edges though, are always the problem. As you say, using solid wood would definitely take care of that issue, and give you a far more fitting edge, but the material is just wrong for the project.

I wish I could send ya a pair of covers. You’d be able to see, feel, and really understand what I can’t really seem to say exactly here.

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