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 potential solution

Keith Turner contacted me after my last post, and made me reconsider a potential solution I’d dismissed earlier; dividing the top marquetry into three parts. The problem, as you recall, is that the dimensions of the complete table top marquetry are beyond the capabilities of the saws to which I have access. The issue with dividing the marquetry into sections is that there really are no convenient division lines. Unless, we employ a trick!

Photo of left-side of top

The above image shows the left side of the top marquetry. Notice how the leaves near the top-center of the photo don’t quite reach the border? A little more difficult to detect is that the end of the ribbon just peaking out from the scale (near the 14 1/2 inch mark) is also just shy of the lower border. These appear to be the most likely dividing points. If I used any of the traditional marquetry saw methods, however, I’d be forced to cut across the grain which would leave a visible discontinuity. But, what if those background sections weren’t present?

A close examination of the drawing shows that these extreme sections occur in the outwardly curved portions between the corner, and center border shells. A straightforward method for constructing the field might be to edge join veneer of the appropriate species to create a rectangle large enough to contain the desired shape when finished. Then, trim it to this shape. What if we took a different approach and cut lengthwise (that is, with the grain) between these shells (red line in the photo below)? This would leave us with terminal points (blue arrows) which we could use to create three distinct sections!

Now, each of the three sections is within the throat depths of an existing saw, and the missing field pieces can be rejoined once the marquetry has been completed! This should be completely “invisible” if the background veneer is chosen carefully.

My dilemma

For the past few months, all of my focus has been on the marquetry panels for the Kickstarter (KS) backers. These are about one-fifth a section of the entire top. When I look beyond this boundary, I get nervous! The KS panel is an edited version of the top which has A LOT OF DETAIL!

YIKES!

Step-by-step, I will be able to address this…

The problem I face next deals with the size of the complete top. If you study pictures of the original, you’ll see that the long grain direction of the background veneer runs parallel to the long direction of the top, and there isn’t an obvious opportunity to break the marquetry into discrete sections. The issue is, I don’t have a saw with a throat depth (the distance from the blade to the nearest obstruction, whatever it is) sufficient to cut the entire top as one piece; not my fretsaw, and certainly not the mini-chevalet. I don’t think that even a typical full-sized chevalet could even handle the task. It would have to have been purpose built. (Side note: to be certain, I checked with the school, and as I suspected, the throat depth of their chevalets are also too small.)

Roubo says that marquetry of this kind was created by laying down the background veneer first, then cutting the marquetry in using a shoulder knife. While I could cut the design into the background this way, I’m working with 1/32 inch thick veneer pieces. It’d be tough, slow going. Plus, I’m not skilled with the shoulder knife!

Another solution is to build a frame jig saw (see picture below), the foot-powered equivalent of a large scroll saw. Since chevalets in their present form weren’t around in the mid-1700s, this type of saw may have been used to cut marquetry for some Oeben furniture, as it existed at least a century prior.

While I could certainly build one to solve my issue, it would again, delay the project. Neither of these solutions strikes me as obvious though…

Kickstarter status update

KS marquetry panel in-process

I spent December and January making flowers, and created enough to fill all of the Kickstarter (KS) rewards for the marquetry level. At this point, I’ve begun the process of cutting the ribbons, stems and leaves into the backgrounds (and sand shading…lots of sand shading!). After analyzing the first prototype, and deciding there was plenty of room for improvement, I’ve changed several things:

  • cut more detail lines into one of the flowers,
  • am considering the addition of another color to better show highlights and shadows, and
  • sand shading multiple pieces to suggest dimension.

The image below shows (the back side of) a second prototype. To my eye, it’s better, but I might still tweak it a bit. In any case, I’m happier with it. KS backers please note that the panel you’ll receive will be somewhat close to this. If you are a contributor at this level, please be sure to update your address, and contact information so I can be certain to get it to you. It’d be a shame if after all of this work, and your patience, you don’t receive yours! Now, let me get back to cutting…

A prototype marquetry flower panel for Kickstarter backers

Sand shading

Sand shading is a technique to add depth and realism to marquetry. As its name suggests, you achieve this by immersing the piece in hot sand.

When deciding where to sand shade, consider the light source for your motif. The direction of light incident on the piece is key! An object beneath another will be darkened as will objects that curve away from the source. It’s an exercise in three-dimensional thinking.

In the drawing below, I use a series of “x”s to denote where shading should occur. When executing this design the temperature of the sand, its topography, and length of time the piece is exposed to it govern the effects. This differs in each instance. So, it is important to carefully monitor the process!

Cutting strategy

When cutting marquetry, it’s best to analyze the drawing to think things through. What is the most efficient path? How do you remove smaller pieces from larger ones so that you can still manipulate the packet?

There are some guidelines:

  • Begin by backing veneers with newsprint on the “good side” to help support the fibers.
  • Always cut from the “glue-side”, and tape the show face. This makes things easier when it comes time to mount the marquetry “skin” onto the core.
  • I tend to cut clockwise around a piece if I’m using the mini-chevalet and the Boulle technique, counter-clockwise if I’m using the double-bevel (conical cutting) or Silas’ method with the fretsaw. This has more to do with which way the teeth are pointing on the blade, and what is easiest for me to see since I’m right-handed.
  • For a large drawing, build from the center out. This keeps things easy to manipulate, and can help make up for a saw with limited “throat depth”.
  • Work in logical units. Create each flower individually, for example, then add that into its surroundings as the design is created.
  • Is it possible to render your drawing as marquetry? While we can cut rice-grain-sized pieces, sometimes the design must be modified for details that are just too small to be composed in wood veneer, or beyond the marqueteer’s skill level!

Apologies if this post is “in the weeds”. I thought it might provide insight into the process of creating marquetry (and parquetry!) since this is an almost unknown art form in North America in my experience.