OK, The French Veneer (at last) #3: Reality Check

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 10-07-2014 01:03 AM 2851 reads 1 time favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Beginnings Part 3 of OK, The French Veneer (at last) series Part 4: Sand Shading and Organization »

This entry is a little on the philosophical side. It is about expectation and reality (one of which is quite easy to achieve).

I guess that each of us is entitled to become good at something in our lives if we work hard and I can’t complain as I think I was able to become a pretty good boat builder. The trouble is I want more. I want to be a pretty good marqueteur now …. but I want to be able to start at 60+ and still achieve it. We’re just never satisfied are we.

I took photos of some of my cuts as I was working on my jewellery box today and as a practice in humility and as a reality caution to others with similar aspirations, I will share them with you along with a few excuses / reasons for the results.

These are what qualify in my world as good cuts (in a packet of three layers of 1/16” Araracanga). I was as careful as I feel I can be and had good light. The curves are smooth and the cuts are close to the line (1/100”) and they would be just fine in Boulle or painting in wood styles but I’m doing piece by piece here. My best is borderline acceptable. My respect for Patrice is growing by the minute.

In the first one, my blade is getting dull and it is well out of the “good” range. My standard of “good” is based on how much red line shows inside of the cut. That signifies that the piece is too big and may not fit. Red line outside, while no better from a cutting quality standpoint, is preferable because the piece will fit and the error can be hidden relatively easily with mastic. The wavy line at the bottom is evidence of the dull blade. Araracanga is very hard and eats blades.

The second is with a fresh blade and is much better. I have to accept that this as about as good as it gets for me.

The third is in between, about my average ability. When I was cutting this, I thought it was near perfect. Even looking at it without enlargement it looks very good to me. (here comes one of those excuses) I think it may be more of an eyesight issue than a dexterity issue.

When I have cut piece by piece in the past, I have had better results and had actually started to think I was getting to be a quite acceptable cutter but when I stepped into the ring with these thick, very hard veneers all the rules seemed to change. Here are some of my early observations about this material.

1) Cutting: It seems that these veneers, besides being thicker are a quantum step harder than even the hardest sliced veneers I have used in the past. I wonder if this has to do with the extreme soaking / boiling etc. administered to the logs before slicing. It seems to be much harder to follow a fine line on the sawn veneer packets.

2) Fitting: In thinner sliced material, when you need to “squeeze” a slightly oversize piece in, The piece and its background both seem to give a little and you can sort of mash it in. Not so much with a 1/16” Ebony ground and a 1/16” Araracanga piece. If it is too big, you file it down or re-cut it.

3) Blade damage Thick sawn veneer seems to be harder on blades, not only in terms of dulling faster, but also in twisting the blade. This may again pertain to their hardness.

Here’s an example from yesterday. I had just changed to a new blade. I started at the hole on the left, cut the arc at the top, and went back and did the vein in the petal. Then I went back to the right end of the arc and started to do a rotation away from the piece to get a sharp corner. As I started the rotation, I lost my grip on the piece and it swung freely (gravity) about 180 degrees. This was in the middle of the blade, not at an end. As you can see, the blade was toast. It was absolutely impossible to follow any kind of line at all with it. Again, I have done this more times than I want to admit in the sliced veneer packets and, while the blade was compromised, I have never seen this dramatic of a change before.

I won’t go on with this little rant except to say that as a hobbyist who came to marquetry after retirement I have to temper my expectations with a good dose of reality and cut myself a little slack if I want to enjoy my hobby. It is a good life lesson for me and I don’t mind sharing it. When all assembled, filled, and polished, this piece will look very good to the average onlooker and I have to be happy with that. Another marqueteur, or anyone with a magnifying glass, won’t be so easily fooled.

Thanks for looking in


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

24 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10320 posts in 4250 days

#1 posted 10-07-2014 01:27 AM


Are those little nails you have driven into the packets to hold them together?
...driven, cut’em, and grind them smooth?
...brass rod…?

Looks like a lot of work… and you’re just getting started! :)

Thank you

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

View sras's profile


4941 posts in 3327 days

#2 posted 10-07-2014 01:27 AM

Thanks for sharing this with us. I have been watching you and Mike (Stefang) on your adventures and find myself wondering about trying out the craft at some point. Having a dose of reality is good.

Although – I suspect you have not reached the end of your learning curve! I’m willing to guess that by the end of this project you will be a much better cutter than you are now.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 4122 days

#3 posted 10-07-2014 02:20 AM

Like you said the average joe will be in awe and thats nice but in the end its you that has to be pleased with your results. Can’t tell you how many board feet ended up in the wood stove last year, I think it never got below 80 here in my house LOL.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3340 posts in 3307 days

#4 posted 10-07-2014 02:35 AM

I’ve had all these bright ideas about doing marquetry for years, so I’m taking this all in to see where it goes. My eyes are starting to give me trouble, right when I’m retiring to do some precision wood working. Paul, do you use a magnifying visor when you cut your wood? I might end up going there.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile (online now)


18388 posts in 3874 days

#5 posted 10-07-2014 03:26 AM

If any one gets a handle on it, I’m sure you will Paul. I have been in awe and wondering about adding a little marquetry to my bucket list? List may be too long already. ;-) I’ll still be watching to see how you and Mike are doing. Thanks, Bob

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View kiefer's profile


5621 posts in 2865 days

#6 posted 10-07-2014 03:53 AM

I can sympathise with you as it is not easy to master any craft in a short time .
What you are doing and the expected results will likely elude you for some time to come but as you experience the issues that you encountered you will learn and improve just as the craftsman that you admire did .
Nonetheless the result of the project that you are working on will be fantastic looking to most of us .
Maybe getting out on the water would help to relax your mind .


-- Kiefer

View shipwright's profile


8163 posts in 2996 days

#7 posted 10-07-2014 05:44 AM

Thanks for the support.
I’m OK with it, not stressed out …... determined to improve but not stressed, more challenged.
Because I try to err on the inside of the lines most of these pieces will fit although the odd one will need a little filing.

Dark_Lightning, I’m using strong reading glasses right now. I have an optivisor that I don’t like but I’m definitely looking for a better one. I do think that is a big part of the problem.

Joe, yes they are very special tiny nails made specifically for this job. I got them from Patrick at ASFM.

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

View stefang's profile


16123 posts in 3532 days

#8 posted 10-07-2014 09:17 AM

One thing that stands out from any disappointment on your part Paul is your ambition and determination to get the results you expect. I’m not sure if you are meeting reality or if you are just at the beginning of a new learning curve and that you will overcome these difficulties as you get more experience with this thick veneer. I’m also wondering if the Chevy is used by Patrice for the thick veneers, or does he use the vertical saw? Maybe you should do a little experimenting with some inexpensive shop cut 1/16” veneers before continuing with this project.

As I see it, the problem with the classic style is that both the insert cuts and the background cuts are both being done from the pattern. I realize that this is the way it is normally done, but I also know that it doubles the chance for error. That is to say, some small deviations on the insert piece and then other small deviations on the background piece.

It seems more logical to me that if the background piece is cut first, a template/stencil is created in your background which could be used to mark the cut line for the matching insert piece. This marking would incorporate the small deviations from that first cutting and create a slightly altered pattern for the insert cutting which will result in a better match. This is the method I used for my Dragon marquetry and it worked perfectly after some experimenting. I simply cut the background out, drew a pencil tight around the inside edges of the cut to mark the insert piece and then cut right next to the line for a perfect fit. The insert material was covered with white paper to show my tracings clearly. The only problems I had with this method was having to use thin stencil material which was attached to and cut along with the background because my marquetry material was too thick to use for stencils.

I realize you probably won’t want to use my idea here, but I do intend to try it myself since I am quite sure that there is no way that I can consistently cut half of a thin line on my chevy, but I might be able to see good enough to stay right next to a line. If not, my only other alternative is to use my scroll saw, which I know for sure will work well.

I have no doubt that you will somehow get around these problems and that your project will be a gem. I won’t bother telling you not to give up because I already know you won’t.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View jinkyjock's profile


488 posts in 1772 days

#9 posted 10-07-2014 10:04 AM

just turned 64 on Saturday,
so have some understanding of the expectation/reality dilemma.
However the desire/need to learn something new drives us forward,
and setbacks become problems that require solutions.
It drives us crazy at times, but it’s a good crazy.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

21718 posts in 3303 days

#10 posted 10-07-2014 10:43 AM

You do such terrific work ,Paul. You could be the teacher!!!!!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1059 posts in 2510 days

#11 posted 10-07-2014 11:27 AM

It’s worth remembering that the original marqueteurs were using hand cut blades that bear no comparison with today’s products. Their finished works, with all of their “faults”, are still admired and appreciated today. You are right to strive for the best possible result from your work but don’t be too hard on yourself. Your work is still something that the many of us can only dream of!

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

View Patricelejeune's profile


381 posts in 2118 days

#12 posted 10-07-2014 04:50 PM

Good job Paul.
It is true the sawn veneer is hard on the blade, but I like cutting it better than the sliced, even if it is faster to cut, I like the coarse blade and sometime on the sliced it is to fast. Also the sawn get a better shading, deeper, it takes more time but what a difference.
As far as I can see your cutting is fine. Closer than ever to 40, my vision is taking a little bit of a blur and I have to look a bit further away at the line. If you are taking all the line out, as you are doing, it will be fine. On some sawn veneer I file a bit the back and the side as an angle away from the teeth so it is wider on the teeth side than the back of the blade, it is harder to follow a long straighter lines as there is less of a side to guide in the kirf, but definitely worth it in the tight curvy pieces.
The main thing and you are doing it is being careful to cut at least half the line and the all line is better on the outward curves, the parts that sticks out and the inward curve, the flatter parts can squish a bit more.
This is good work Paul! You are doing it right!

-- Patrice lejeune

View Patricelejeune's profile


381 posts in 2118 days

#13 posted 10-07-2014 04:53 PM

Also to answer Stefang I do use solely the chevalet. Only when the pieces are to big for the extended arm and saw frame on my chevy do I go to the overhead saw, which means really rarely.For me nothing beats the chevalet, but what really matters is being comfortable with your tool.

-- Patrice lejeune

View shipwright's profile


8163 posts in 2996 days

#14 posted 10-07-2014 07:45 PM

Thanks Patrice. I know that the errors are small but I am used to better from the thinner veneer. I guess I will improve. The panels actually look quite tight for the most part although when they are all done there may be a few pieces that I can’t live with and I will replace them then.

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

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3216 days

#15 posted 10-07-2014 07:46 PM

As for eye wear, I use these. My dentist was wearing it and I asked if I could try them out and upon finding out they worked, I asked where I could order them.

The set comes with 3 lens attachments. $84.99 at time of purchase. Hope this helps.

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

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