About J. Leko

J. Leko is the principal of J. Leko Furniture Maker, LLC., where he designs and builds specially commissioned custom furniture and woodwork. J. studied woodworking with some of the world’s best craftsmen at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking where he is completing the Michael Fortune Fellowship. He has taught furniture making classes at the Jane M. Hughes Arts and Crafts Center on Redstone Arsenal, and his articles have been published in WoodTalk On-Line, and Fine Woodworking magazine.

A marquetry primer

Marquetry Portrait Poster

Having reviewed my previous posts on the topic, it occurred to me that I should provide a (somewhat) proper definition for those unfamiliar with this discipline of woodworking. If you have followed along thus far, and were confused, my apologies!

Marquetry is a woodworking embellishment wherein pieces of veneer are cut and arranged to form a desired pattern. Typically, it is found on panels, or furniture.

There are several methods to create marquetry pieces:

  • Piece-by-piece, is perhaps the most challenging, requiring great skill. With this method, a packet of like colored veneers is created. Multiple copies of a single piece are then cut from this packet. A single design may require multiple packets, one for each of the different parts that compose it. Once all pieces are cut, they’re assembled into the final design.
  • The traditional Boulle packet stacks two different colored veneers together from which the design is cut. These pieces are then interchanged to create “positive” and “negative” final designs.
  • Conical cutting is similar to Boulle except that blade is angled slightly. This creates tapered pieces which fit together snugly leaving no saw kerf.
  • Perhaps the simplest marquetry technique is the window method. Requiring only a knife, a design is cut from the background veneer, which then becomes the template to cut the desired complementary veneer.

A previous posting provided references illustrating these methods. Of these, both Boulle, and piece-by-piece are well suited to production, making several copies per design cut. The window, and conical methods yield solitary products.

Marquetry update

Cutting marquetry with the mini-chevalet

With the prototype working, I’ve switched gears, and have been focusing on marquetry for the past few weeks. Specifically, the KickStarter marquetry panels discussed previously. As a refresher, the design that adorns the table top is composed of wood veneer cut and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, a technique termed “marquetry”. This differs from the “parquetry”, or geometric patterns on the aprons.

First, I had to dust off, and tune-up the mini-chevalet. Considering the number of pieces that need to be cut, it just makes sense to get this fixture running as efficiently as it can. Like all chevalets, this is a user-/shop-made affair. Much as I’d like, you just can’t order one from your local “chevy” dealer. This is its first major run, so there are bound to be some system hang-ups – literally!

  • Alignment of the holes where guide rod runs through the saw arm is critical. Saw operation becomes stiff, and binds if this isn’t the case. Not helpful especially when cutting rice-grain-sized pieces! It also helps to clean and lubricate this rod occasionally.
  • Although the wing bolts work, tightening them with pliers provides a better grip on the blade. The blade holders on the chevalets at Marc Adams (based on the design Patrick Edwards promotes) required an Allen key to operate! So, I suppose I cannot complain about this.
  • I am still not pleased with the vertical fixture that holds the packet while cutting. It seems the packet edges get hung up on the jaw arrises. It might be beneficial to round these!

Finally, I’m able to cut marquetry! Now, it’s time for me to get busy. By my count, I’ve got around 70 copies of this flower, and its counterparts to cut and assemble!

Cutting a marquetry flower using the mini-chevalet

One final note before leaving this topic. I’ve received requests to create mini-chevalets for others. While I would like to, I really need to spend my time working towards completing this project. Consider this, though; you don’t need a mini-chevalet to create marquetry. While it certainly can be used to create one-offs, the chevalet excels at being a copying machine, and this is where its strength lays. I’ll explain several methods in an upcoming post that can be used to generate more than one copy of a design per cutting. This should clarify things (hopefully). I’ll also briefly discuss techniques requiring fewer tools so you can get started.

How to Draw & Shape Louis XV Style Legs

Hand holding a Louis XV leg in front of the Oeben prototype table

Five years ago, I wrote these two posts about how I made the legs for the prototype:

At the time I drafted these, I realized my understanding on the topic of Louis XV legs was lacking. Like most woodworkers brought up in English-speaking regions, French styles and techniques are not emphasized (at all?!). I’d have plenty of time to work through the details between the prototype, and creation of the final piece, I told myself. Almost as soon as these were published, however, the feedback came;

“J., the legs are wrong…”

Yes, they were (thanks Ronaldo!).

So, I began to research the proper construction of this not-so-common leg style. I searched the web, asked colleagues, and consulted with my instructors, but no one could point me to adequate resources. (Note: I’m certain this will change with this posting. To all of you about to contact me with references, thank you in advance! Please keep your responses coming, but where have you been for the past five years!) I will take this opportunity to reiterate that I don’t speak, or read French. While I’m certain there is documentation on this subject, it has not been readily accessible to me. French-speaking friends had difficulty finding resources too. Being the case, I approached the situation from a different perspective. What I needed was a craftsman skilled in French techniques, who could speak English. My best bet, I thought, was to search for someone in Québec, Canada.

I was fortunate to make contact with Eric Thériault at École Artebois in Québec City. When we met at his shop in May, Eric was able to help me connect the disparate parts of my understanding. Prior to this, I’d made cabriole legs, and spent three years deciphering Chanson’s chapters on drawing them in the Louis XV style (Traité d’ébénisterie). Based on what Eric and I discussed, I drafted a summary of this process which was published in issue 288 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking (fc_288_22_26_louis_xv_leg.pdf). Perhaps this will save those of you interested in making these pieces significant effort!

Making without measuring

It is completely possible to make a piece of furniture without using a ruler, or tape measure! Want to learn how? Then join me at the John C. Campbell Folk School on 5-7 July for Making Without Measuring: A Dovetailed Flag Box. Using a few basic tools, I will show you how to create a full-scale drawing which we will then use throughout the building process.

The class title also mentions dovetails. Typically, we encounter dovetails when perpendicular members meet, think drawers or boxes. In the United States, the flag is folded into a triangular shape. So, how are we going to handle this? (Hint: think isosceles triangle, which is not necessarily a right-triangle.) Through a change in perspective. I will guide you through this process.

Plus, we will develop new skills and get to use some cool hand tools! Register here!

Learn Parquetry, Marquetry, & Decorative Veneering

Registration is now open for my parquetry, marquetry, and decorative veneering class at Peters Valley School of Craft. The header image shows the project for day 1: a series of Louis cubes. A staple of mid-18th century French furniture embellishment, these can either stand alone, or be incorporated into the project for day 2, a decorative veneer panel. Each project uses different production methods. So, participants will come away with a broad array of techniques to utilize in their personal work. The second half of the class focuses on marquetry portraiture. If you think you can’t draw, don’t worry. I’ll show you a tool to create the contours you’ll need from a photograph. Then use it at home to decorate your cakes!

The class runs from Friday to Tuesday, 14 to 18 June, which should minimize the number of vacation days required to take off from work. This will be a new venue for me, but the environment looks quite refreshing. I look forward to seeing you there!