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.

Dyeing veneer: The drying processs

I’ve mentioned previously that nature does not provide all of the colors desired to compose a design. In these cases, you’ve got two options:

  1. Get creative, and stylize your design to work with the palette at hand, or
  2. Use dyed veneer.

The video below shows my process after the veneer is removed from the dye bath. It needs to be pressed dry to prevent mould, and kept flat. I hope it will provide a bit of insight into the process.

Once the veneer is dry, I’ll glue newsprint to the front (show) side to provide structure during the cutting phase.

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!