Slow But Steady Progress and Learning

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Blog entry by stefang posted 01-26-2013 07:51 PM 3440 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Against all good sense and the normal practice of creating marquetry with a wide range of different ultra thin wood veneers, I am attempting to do marquetry with thicker materials, about 3/8” thick. My reason for doing this is because right now I don’t like the idea of working with those paper thin veneers and I’m not too keen on making packets to get a lot of copies. This in no way means that I do not appreciate, respect and admire ‘proper’ marquetry. It mainly has to do my current preference, which of course is subject to change without prior notice. So the key word for my form of marquetry is ‘THICK’, a word that coincidentally is sometimes also used by the Brits to describe a persons intelligence.

Remember, this is not a tutorial, it can better be likened to a canoe trip where the guy in the boat doesn’t know how to paddle very well, isn’t familiar with the river, and hasn’t a clear destination in mind.

Most of the problems I’ve encountered so far have been mainly due to bad quality tracing patterns. These are the thin 1/16” or less thick pieces attached to the bottom of my main 3/8” thick background workpiece, and which are cut at the same time as my workpiece leaving a (hopefully) perfect copy of each cutout piece of the marquetry puzzle.

The thin copy is later detached and used to trace the cutout pattern onto the infill wood. The advantage of the thin pattern is that it is a lot easier to trace than with a thick pattern. The best and entirely satisfactory pattern piece so far has been 1/16” veneer I cut in my bandsaw. Here is a photo of the wooden pattern with some cutouts already done.

The problem with wood patterns is that it is a lot more work to saw and also wastes wood. I have therefore been looking for a substitute like a cheap thin platter or thick paper that would serve the same purpose. I bought some poster board paper early on which seemed promising, but I found that cuts with fine points and other curiosities frayed the paper making it useless as a pattern. I gave up the idea, but in the middle of the night fast asleep the good woodworking fairy appeared to me with a solution ‘REINFORCEMENT’.

I cut a piece of poster board to the right size and applied clear packing tape to both sides. This boosted my performance with 3 advantages; lubrication for my saw blade, less friction while moving the workpiece around during cutting and most importantly the stiffness and strength was now sufficient to provide a satisfactory pattern. No more fraying and not nearly as bendy. Here is pic of the paper covered in tape.

PROGRESS (or lack of) TO DATE
I did quite a few cut-outs today and I filled in a lot of the black around the legs and ear, etc. I also cut out other pieces like the beard which will also be first filled with black and then yellow leaving some of the black as a kind of outline. The same applies for the black on the legs.

I am trying to get a good cut for the eyebrows. I did the original cut with a paper pattern without the tape and it was useless. I can’t get a pencil in to mark with the narrow openings. Today I recut the eyebrows pattern through the existing cutout using just the reinforced paper pattern, but without the wood on top it didn’t work as well as hoped. Next I will use a piece of veneer and repeat the process. Here is the latest photo of work done to date. It looks pretty grungy with glue smeared around and part of the paper still intact.

The thin pattern is critical to successfully do this kind of marquetry, unless you have a really good pattern and your cutting is good enough to do the cutout on the background piece and later the infill piece just from copies of the original pattern and obtain a satisfactory fit.

By using a pattern that is an exact replica of the original cutout the odds for getting a matching cut on the infill piece are improved by 50%,

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

10 comments so far

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2911 days

#1 posted 01-26-2013 08:30 PM

Mike I’m enjoying

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View justoneofme's profile


639 posts in 2534 days

#2 posted 01-26-2013 09:10 PM

I agree with Jamie! ... it’s been an enjoyable journey you’ve taken us on, blogging the ups and downs of your technique. By the time you’ve finished this intricate design in 3/8” thick woods, you will have mastered a style that is uniquely your own! No matter which way Marquetry is approached, it’s the end result that achieves pride in accomplishment … and you have much to be proud about to date Mike!!

-- Elaine in Duncan

View kiefer's profile


5619 posts in 2721 days

#3 posted 01-26-2013 10:49 PM

Hi Mike
Looks like you are making process on your project and are finding solutions to the problems as you go .
Love the dragon and every time you post your progress it looks better and better .
I too like your approach with your innovations that are new to many of us and it is a joy to follow your thoughts and path to your way of marquetry .

-- Kiefer

View shipwright's profile


8006 posts in 2852 days

#4 posted 01-26-2013 11:46 PM

Still amazing us all Mike.

A trick that Patrick Edwards taught us at ASFM to replace lost or broken pieces might help with your eyebrow patterns. He does a rubbing over the cutout with NCR paper. You have to experiment with various rubbers to find what gives you the sharpest line but you will end up with a perfect pattern that you can then stick to your filler wood and cut the eyebrow. It will be sharper than with a pencil and regular paper.

I know that the journey is the thing here Mike and I’m enjoying yours immensely.

(For the record, I still think your cutting is good enough to use identical copies of the pattern.)

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

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4187 posts in 3219 days

#5 posted 01-27-2013 12:52 AM

Reminds me of my days learning to do surgery. Amazingly, after over forty years, I still figure out better techniques of doing the exact same procedure. Mostly it is refinements, but they decrease blood loss and other complications, and thereby improve outcomes.

I always say that rapid well executed surgery is 80 % precision, 15% efficiency, and 5% pace. That is my analysis, not learned or read elsewhere. I suspect there is some application to woodworking, since if you are not precise, you have to redo things. Efficiency reduces fatigue as well as reducing operative time. Pace just gets the job done quicker, but has the least impact on operative time, because it can have adverse effects on precision, and also efficiency. When I am very tired and move slowly, it changes my operative time by only 10 to 20%.

Some procedures I do, still take me the same time or slightly more than it did 35 years ago. But my complication rate is lower. Precision is the answer, each step must be carefully thought out and exactly executed. Strangely, physical ability has only marginal effect, it is mostly mental. This I can attest to because my hands aren’t as strong or steady, but my surgery is better and frequently faster.

OK, see if you can figure out any relevance to your marquetry adventures…...(-:

You are a lot like me, insofar as I always figure out my own way of doing things…...and never use plans…...(-:

Today I am trying to finish up the main glue up on the cutoff cart. It is rather unique, so it is modular and takes some time. But I think I will get the the main glueup done….........using my strange multipurpose bench, which figures into everything I do these days…......

Enjoying your adventure.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3358 days

#6 posted 01-27-2013 01:33 AM

i have this feeling that were on a wild bronco bucking wood working adventure, with this stubborn guy who wants to do it MY WAY…lol…and hes doing it…and its been a great ride mike…i always enjoy seeing things done in wood work where someone is trying a long standing way of doing something, and adds a little bit of a twist …keep it up mike…grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 2108 days

#7 posted 01-27-2013 02:36 AM


-- Joel

View sras's profile


4825 posts in 3183 days

#8 posted 01-27-2013 03:41 AM

You’re making great progress! And I like the canoe analogy ;)

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3388 days

#9 posted 01-27-2013 11:02 AM

I sure am in the best of company here with good advice and encouragement from folks who are highly skilled. I really appreciate you all following along on this project and lending your support.

Paul The NCR paper is a great idea, but I can’t get any here (just checked Staples). Instead I might just place the workpiece on my light table and trace on some paper around the top edge. I have done this kind of tracing before using baking paper with mixed results, but I haven’t tried it with the light table and regular paper yet. Thanks for reminding me of this option.

Jim I found your surgery experience to be extremely interesting and analogous with just about any type of work, even the 100 meter dash, and most certainly with woodworking where fixing mistakes usually takes quadruple the time as doing it right in the first place.

One last point that I failed to mention in my blog. My scrollsaw cutting has shown remarkable improvement and all without any conscious effort, so maybe working unconsciously is my thing!

Have a great weekend!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2858 days

#10 posted 01-28-2013 03:25 PM

Soon, it will be breathin fire.

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

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