Marie's Table... A Marquetry Adventure #4: The Marqueteur's Nightmare

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 07-23-2012 12:45 AM 3206 reads 3 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: A Sidetrack and finishing the Tabletop Part 4 of Marie's Table... A Marquetry Adventure series Part 5: Getting the Legs Started. »

At the end of the last segment I said that I would do this one on the thing that we who do marquetry, with modern veneers at least, fear most…. sanding through to reveal the substrate. I can show you a picture of what it looks like but there’s no way I can tell you what it feels like. Here’s what I discovered while very carefully leveling the central medallion of this table with fine sandpaper. I looked at it and said something like ”Oh gee whiz, that’s really too bad”….. or maybe it was ”OH %^&$%%^# !!!”, I don’t remember.

I mentioned modern veneer. The thing is that back in the 17th century, veneer was sawn and was 1/16” or better thick. Now it’s peeled and can be as thin as 1/54”. Although 1/32” is still common, more and more 1/42” is showing up and thinner is on the way. That’s all fine for sheet veneering in big pieces that don’t require any leveling and just need a fine sanding before finishing but when you are trying to do complex marquetry with hundreds of tiny pieces it gets very dicey.

To start with even if you have some thick veneers, the whole thing will have to be taken down to the level of the thinnest. The slightest unevenness of substrate, tiny wood chip under the marquetry or glue buildup can result in what seems to be garbage bin material. Obviously the modern marquetuer would be well advised to learn some damage control skills early on.

Here’s how I handled this one. It really helped knowing that I had three back-up motifs. It gave me license to hack away in ways that I may otherwise have been unwilling to try. First I cut pieces of pattern that would cover the areas that were sanded through. There are three ways to handle this.

The first is to replace whole pieces, the best if possible. That’s what I’m doing here with the leaves.

The second is to replace parts and hide the joints by aligning grain and cutting on a grain line like the flute.

The third, if you can’t do either seamlessly is to create a new piece that separates the piece you have to replace. I couldn’t seamlessly replace the burl background here so I added a new leaf that isolated the repair area in the birdseye.

Removing the pieces to be replaced is easy because if you moisten and heat hide glue at once it re-liquefies and the piece can be lifted out.

Next the pattern bits were attached and oriented on special purpose packets and cut out.

Then the new pieces were glued into the holes where the old ones had been removed. Notice how the bit of birdseye burl that needed to be replaced is now an “island” and doesn’t touch any other background.

In the final leveling I left the new pieces ever so slightly proud of the thinnest of the salvaged marquetry to be sure I didn’t sand through again and compound the problem.

Next I took the time to complement myself for being so clever and then got back to work. That would be when I noticed another area that needed some attention. The pieces weren’t quite level yet and needed just a little more sanding . Then I’d be done…..except the “little more sanding” did this:

About this time I realized that the whole piece was likely only a few thou thick so I made the same repairs here and covered the whole piece with two coats of epoxy before anything else could disappear. The epoxy also leveled out the tiny discrepancies I had left in the thinnest areas and now you’d never know.

Here are a few more pics that show the second repair. The first shows the area excavated.

The next shows the pieces glued in. Some are paper re-inforced on the back and what you are seeing is the paper.

And the last one shows the repair complete.

I’ll finish off with the same shot as I did in the last segment, the epoxy coated and protected finished top.

I guess the moral here is ”If life gives you thin veneers, make ….patches.”

As a side note, I did the mortises and tenons for the leg / apron joints today and got to see the table standing on her legs for the first time…. and if you liked the top, you’ll love the legs. I’m just a grinnin’ here.

Thanks for dropping by. Next time I’ll get back to the build process and give you your first glimpse of those legs …. or at least part of them.

As always Comments, critiques and especially questions are always welcome.


-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

22 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10123 posts in 4078 days

#1 posted 07-23-2012 12:58 AM

It just keeps getting better & better… astonishing!

Great work!

Thank you!

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Philip's profile


1277 posts in 2565 days

#2 posted 07-23-2012 01:06 AM

Just amazing, your repair skills are sky high. It’s looking fantastic Paul.

-- I never finish anyth

View tinnman65's profile


1357 posts in 3440 days

#3 posted 07-23-2012 01:08 AM

Yes this has happened to me ! It is a feeling no one should have to bear LOL! I have definitely learned to be very careful with that 1/42 veneer.

-- Paul--- Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. — Scott Adams

View tinnman65's profile


1357 posts in 3440 days

#4 posted 07-23-2012 01:09 AM

Oh I forgot, Great job on the repair!!!

-- Paul--- Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. — Scott Adams

View sras's profile


4811 posts in 3155 days

#5 posted 07-23-2012 01:18 AM

Repair stories can be the best ones! Nice recovery and good call on the epoxy.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4005 days

#6 posted 07-23-2012 01:18 AM

Been there, done that…and it never get easier to accept when it happens again.

Looking forward to seeing the table.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3186 days

#7 posted 07-23-2012 01:18 AM

Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t catch if you mentioned why you got sand-through on this specific piece. Too much sanding, thick glue, what?

I also don’t understand how you can keep from messing up the sand-shading while leveling a piece. Or maybe you used an iron after it was glued in place and leveled?

Lastly, covering with epoxy sounds useful for some of the work I do. So how do you apply it so it will level out. That in itself could be a tutorial.

Paul, no matter how far I am away from ever doing something like this, your description of the process can help us in many situations to get us out of a jam. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2830 days

#8 posted 07-23-2012 01:45 AM


-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View tomd's profile


2155 posts in 3796 days

#9 posted 07-23-2012 01:47 AM

It’s not how good of a craftsman you are but how well you hide your mistakes.

-- Tom D

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4426 days

#10 posted 07-23-2012 04:14 AM

Does Aspirin help the headaches, or do you need something stronger?

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2824 days

#11 posted 07-23-2012 04:28 AM

Thanks for the comments. Yes se’ve all done it and we have all learned to cover our tracks. FYI Patrick still buys sawn veneers from Les Fils de J. George in Paris. It is very nice material and still the much thicker cut but be ready to pay about 10x $$ compared to what we’re using. For high quality pieces like Patrick and Patrice produce this can be easily justified. For me…..........not just yet.

Rance Those problems were the result of a combination of uneven veneer thicknesses and glue buildup caused by them.

Sand shading goes right through the veneer so unlike dye for instance, you don’t have to worry about sanding it away.
I used some thinnish layup epoxy designed to penetrate fibreglass cloth. It is water clear and because it is thin it self levels reasonably well but still cures several mils thick. I sanded and re-coated to be sure. It is a System Three product. I could get you the name if you want.

Karson When the smoke starts to come out of my ears I pour a little beer in.

Thanks again

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2640 days

#12 posted 07-23-2012 06:00 AM

that is awesome build ,cant wait to see the legs ,it a pic of art ,just beautiful

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1041 posts in 2338 days

#13 posted 07-23-2012 08:12 AM

Marvellous! No other way to describe it.

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View Schwieb's profile


1858 posts in 3487 days

#14 posted 07-23-2012 10:26 AM

I think I would find this very frustrating and want to put the project away. I admire your tenacity.


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

View Nate Meadows's profile

Nate Meadows

1132 posts in 2232 days

#15 posted 07-23-2012 12:46 PM


Your perseverance is awesome! I know that sicking feeling you get when you run into something like this! You handled it with grace and did not let it beat you! That is awesome! I admire your patience! It really is so encouraging to watch you work!


-- "With a little bit of faith, and some imagination, you can build anything!" Nate

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