A Little Cabinetree #6: Some Pitfalls in the Process

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 11-26-2010 04:06 AM 2277 reads 1 time favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Assembly (and a little setback) Part 6 of A Little Cabinetree series no next part

I do hope that some of you will take up the challenge and improve this technique as I think it has some real potential to develop into an interesting tool for enhancing many different works. With that in mind I will try to illustrate a couple of the pitfalls inherent in the process. I discovered them in the usual way.

The front (doors) of the cabinet was my “guinea pig” for testing the marquetry / dye technique prior to trying the more difficult top so both of the problems that are illustrated were encountered there. The encouraging thing is that having discovered them there and with an understanding of what must have caused them, they did not re-occur in the top.

The first involves a dramatic change in size and shape of the inlay piece when allowed to dry overnight in my heated finishing room. This photo shows the inlay as it looked after dying and drying to return it to flat. Notice that it still fits perfectly.

After spraying it with oil based polyurethane to seal the dye I left it in the finishing room overnight. When I returned to the shop the next morning it had changed considerably. The tips of the leaf (top in this photo) were actually too long. In this photo they have already been filed back, probably about 1/32”. That’s a lot in a place like this. Also the width of the leaf had shrunk as you can see here a good 1/16”. I attributed this to the multiple grain orientations and the fact that only one side of the piece was sealed. I’m not really sure what happened but the plan was not to allow that much time, in a warm dry room at least, between sealing and gluing to the substrate.

My solution was to add a little walnut “shadow” under the spine of the leaf. Making a new panel was out as the grain matches were already done with this one and making another leaf would have had several of it’s own challenges. Re-cutting the marquetry was a little scary but when you’re scared to death it sometimes makes you extra sharp.

I was feeling pretty good about myself after dodging that bullet and went ahead and vacuum bagged the veneer to the door piece. When it came out of the bag I realized that a few parts of the inlay were about .020” high. Not wanting to lose the dye at this point I tried a few coats of brush applied clear polyurethane grain filler to see if I could build it up. This photo shows the offending area and the uneven layers of filler between the two lobes.

I did the math and decided that it would take about 20 coats to fill the discrepancy. Knowing from experimentation that after about 8 coats that “water clear” quality of this finish starts to slip into “milky not so clear”, I decided that it was time to learn the repair for this condition. First step was to scrape the offending high spots down to flush.

If I were to try to re-dye now the dye would bleed into the field veneer. I know this from experimenting, the glue line does not stop it. So the solution I decided to try was to carefully seal the field with an artist’s brush and some wipe-on poly and let it dry completely. The more viscose poly won’t bleed into the inlay like the water based dye would the other way.

With the poly dry I was able to re-dye the leaf with no significant problems.

When all is said and done no one will be the wiser (except LumberJocks who read my blog). The lesson learned here was to be very careful about two things. The first is to resist the urge to err on the tight side when setting the scroll saw angle for the marquetry and, as distasteful as it may be to a boat builder, actually err on the loose side. This allows the inlay to be pressed all the way down to the substrate when in the press. If it’s a little tight and the glue causes any swelling, it will stick up. The second is to pay more attention to making sure everything is sanded (the stationary drum sander is great at this) to a perfectly uniform thickness. When I first did this repair I was thinking to myself that maybe this was a a better way to dye the parts, after glue-up and leveling. The jury is still out on that. I’d have to try it and I haven’t yet, but it will come with it’s own challenges. It would overcome some of the ones I had to deal with.

I’m looking forward to seeing some more “watercolor dye technique” projects show up on the projects page, so give it a try. All you have to lose is your sanity.

Thanks again

Questions, comments and critiques welcome.


-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

14 comments so far

View mickyd's profile


31 posts in 3335 days

#1 posted 11-26-2010 04:22 AM

Adda boy Paul. Incredible save. Thank goodness. That’s an obsticle you (we) learned a lot from.

Does this mean that the dying should be done before the insert is cut?

View Schwieb's profile


1872 posts in 3659 days

#2 posted 11-26-2010 05:48 AM

Nice work. I just gotta take a course in marquetry. Wonderful series of photos on this problem and your solution.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View Splinterman's profile


23074 posts in 3559 days

#3 posted 11-26-2010 07:46 AM

Great save…well done

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 3132 days

#4 posted 11-26-2010 07:49 AM

Great save. Itwould be realy interesting to know the root cause of the problem.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View SPalm's profile


5325 posts in 4080 days

#5 posted 11-26-2010 04:34 PM

From the beginning I was wondering how you were going to obtain flat. People seem to just love to run their fingers over joints to feel how smooth they are. It seems universal. They would have felt the build-up if you had gone that way.

I believe you are using MDF (?) for the core, so the shift was not because of the substrate. I guess it is just what wood does, you have grains going all over the place. I looked back at the beginning of this series and I could not tell what thickness of veneer you are using. Is is store bought, or did you cut it yourself? Not sure if it matters, but I am just wondering.

I noticed that you had a rope in one of your vacuum bag pictures. I guess to allow the vacuum to spread around. I like it. I have used some of that mesh sheet stuff. Have you ever dented your piece with an outline of the rope?


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View shipwright's profile


8163 posts in 2996 days

#6 posted 11-26-2010 05:40 PM

Ken, save the money and teach yourself. The principle is very simple and once you understand it, it’s just a matter of working on scroll saw skills. That part, however may take me a lifetime.

Steve and Ian, I’m pretty sure that the thickness discrepancy problem was mostly related to my obsession with tight fits ( boatbuilding expression: “fits like she grew there”). The simple principle of marquetry is that the angle of the cut accounts for the width of the kerf and renders a tight fit with no apparent kerf showing. A degree or two can be the difference between a slightly proud inlay and a slightly visible kerf. Add to that the possibility of a little expansion from the glue and you have what I believe was the problem.

The veneer is shop cut and in order to be able to make the miter corners without showing MDF, they are quite thick, around 1/8”.

Rope to spread vacuum is a boatbuilding trick too, although I’m sure other industries use it too. I use a very soft nylon rope and no never damaged anything. For small parts a scotchbrite pad works really well.

Thanks for the questions

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View tdv's profile


1188 posts in 3268 days

#7 posted 11-26-2010 05:50 PM

Nice one Paul doesn’t it make your heart beat fast when you face a challenge like this? mine always does when you’ve come this far on a project it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun,should I ?shouldn’t I ? and you only get one shot. But well done you pulled it off with a deal of ingenuity

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View shipwright's profile


8163 posts in 2996 days

#8 posted 11-26-2010 06:52 PM

Thanks Trevor, you’ve obviously been there. Isn’t that what makes life worth living?

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4290 days

#9 posted 11-27-2010 01:22 AM

I’ve been following this blog with interest. Seems like the main lesson learned (for me a least) is not to freak out when a problem comes up. Be flexible and adjust. Thanks Paul… it’s looking great.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View twokidsnosleep's profile


1106 posts in 3171 days

#10 posted 12-11-2010 05:58 PM

As a greenhorn, it is most interesting to see how you tackled the problems and solved them.
It is kinda refreshing to see someone post the ‘warts’ rather than just a finished result.

-- Scott "Some days you are the big dog, some days you are the fire hydrant"

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

11059 posts in 3626 days

#11 posted 12-11-2010 06:27 PM

Another WOW, Paul.
And, you are a great teacher.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View shipwright's profile


8163 posts in 2996 days

#12 posted 12-11-2010 07:03 PM

Thanks for the ongoing encouragement. The last couple of weeks have been a scary and frustrating process of applying and sanding / peeling off finishes while trying to figure out what went wrong with them and then waiting for the finally adhered one to clear properly. I’m not done with water based finish yet but I’ve reverted to wipe-on poly for the final finish on this piece. It should finally be showing up next week.
Thanks for staying interested and for your patience.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Hoakie's profile


306 posts in 4234 days

#13 posted 12-25-2010 05:37 AM

That’s great shipwright. I had almost the exact same experience with my sailboat. If didn’t run out of time due to Christmas I would have played around a bit more with the inlay colors etc but i’m happy with my first attempt. your multi dye on the inlay is way cool. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for my next adventure.

-- John H. [To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. ~Edison]

View mafe's profile


11741 posts in 3287 days

#14 posted 01-29-2011 01:16 PM

Hi Paul,
I have not seen this blog before now, and I have to comment.
It is a wonderful blog, I feel how you work, and your thoughts.
Deeply impressed by your skills, and your ‘take the problems as they come’ way.
But even morfe by your creativity and sence for the materials and ideas.
Thank you for opening my eyes,
best thoughts,

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

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