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!
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.
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!
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…
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…
So as you have seen, the table’s mechanisms are (somewhat) working. Where do we go from here?
While there is satisfaction in reaching this point, there is still lots to do with the prototype. The small drawer latch must be mortised into the main box below the drawer opening. It requires two latch plates. There is also the matter of shaping the carcass aprons. I am thinking of leaving this partially complete as a pedagogical sample. I have seen this done before, where each leg shows a different state of progression, to great effect. Unless an interested buyer comes forward, this is my current intention. It would also be nice to create at least one proper Louis XV style leg (refer to previous attempts here, and here) before committing to the final piece!
With the exception of the small drawer latch, what remains is straightforward; almost no fiddling required. It will be nice to have a clear path for a change!
The light at the end of the tunnel could be the headlight of the oncoming train…
Approximately five years ago, I contacted David Lindow to re-create the mechanisms necessary for this project. Together his crew members, Jon and Josh, managed to build exactly what was required. While parts began arriving to my studio three years ago, the final piece, the latch for the small drawer, only arrived this past June. Having completed some other outstanding work, I am pleased to be picking up this project anew. This past week, I’ve been creating latch, and stop plates which I’ll write about separately.
You might be asking why it has taken this long to progress…
I undertook this challenge to satisfy a requirement in my pursuit of the Michael Fortune Fellowship. The goals of which were to:
expand my skill set,
highlight the techniques necessary to create such pieces, and to
call attention to this genre of furniture and the subdomains which compose it.
Although I was able to create the majority of the prototype in a short amount of time, progress is only possible at the pace of the slowest element. This doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten, or “dropped” this undertaking…
In the interim, I undertook a personal project to examine several of the sister tables (some of which I’ve already posted on…). Eventually, I will relate these experiences, including one where I’ve been able to contribute to its conservatorial record! Nor have I worked out all of the details; I still wrestle with the process to create a Louis XV leg. For now, however, I will return the focus of this weblog to the details of re-creating this table. With all of the contracted work completed (I think!), the plan is to:
continue working on the prototype until it’s operable, and all of the mechanisms are properly tuned, then
switch to the final piece.
Hopefully, this will allow me to achieve the greatest efficiency during build-time. Expect a higher frequency of periodic updates.