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Making the King’s Furniture – Fine Woodworking Video

One afternoon at the Marquetry class in San Diego, Patrick called us over to meet a former student, Aaron Radelow.  The story he told was amazing; in short he created a perfect reproduction of this reading/writing table that had been built for Louis IV around 1760.  The original is in the Getty museum, and Aaron was able to get access to the original to measure it.

Marquetry table, reproduction of an original Louis IV piece

Marquetry table, reproduction of an original Louis IV piece

When he was done he had a perfect replica, and a perfect inverse copy as well.  Because this was made with the Boulle method to saw the marquetry parts, the packets that were prepared for each panel had layers of both blue horn and ivory.  The resulting parts could then be assembled blue-int0-white and white-into0blue.

The link below has more details.  Regardless of the style of furniture you like, this is an amazing piece in terms of technical complexity, fine details and masterful execution.

Making the King’s Furniture – videos – Fine Woodworking.

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Chevalet Status Update

The front upright is mostly done!  Huzzah!

Finishing this part meant I I had to jump ahead and start making the cross arm that will support the saw mechanism so I could get the notch in the clamp mechanism the right size (ish).  That’s done, and I’m ready to move on to completing the arm mechanism.

I roughed out this cut-out by first drilling a 1.5" hole and then bandsawing into it.  After this picture I got my rasp out and smoothed it out.  The idea of this cut out is to trap parts that fall out of the back of the marquetry packet before they fall on the floor and disappear.

I roughed out this cut-out by first drilling a 1.5″ hole and then bandsawing into it. After this picture I got my rasp out and smoothed it out. The idea of this cut out is to trap parts that fall out of the back of the marquetry packet before they fall on the floor and disappear.

Then I laminated on the side blocks.  I used Old Brown Glue for this, to avoid messing with the finish.  After the glue was dry I planed the surfaces level.

Then I laminated on the side blocks. I used Old Brown Glue for this, to avoid messing with the finish. After the glue was dry I planed the surfaces level.

Then I fit the fron clamping block, and drilled the holes for the bolts.  The plans only call for two bolts, so I made a trip to the HW store for extra bolts.

Then I fit the fron clamping block, and drilled the holes for the bolts. The plans only call for two bolts, so I made a trip to the HW store for extra bolts.

I knifed in the square nuts on the back.  There can't be any protrusions on the back because it would interfere with the marquetry packet, so these will have to get recessed.

I knifed in the square nuts on the back. There can’t be any protrusions on the back because it would interfere with the marquetry packet, so these nuts will have to get recessed.  

I counterbored the holes with a 3/4" forstner bit, then chiseled the walls square.

I counterbored the holes with a 3/4″ forstner bit, then chiseled the walls square.  This was fun!

With the nuts recessed I was in the mood for a test assembly so I could see some progress.  I’m going to attack this with a round over bit later and knock those sharp edges off.

Dry fit

Dry fit

I need to trim the bolts a little bit, about half an inch, so they don't protrude.

I need to trim the bolts a little bit, about half an inch, so they don’t protrude.

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Chevalet Progress

I’ve been grabbing little snatches of time this week, making progress on the Marquetry Chevalet.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much to show for it.  Lots of dimensioning 8/4 rough sawn stock and laminating it to make thicker beams.

Generally, my parts are thinner than what is shown in the plans.  By the time I get the 8/4 stock flat and glued up it’s not thick enough.  I don’t think it’s a big deal really, certainly not worth the waste to add another layer of 8/4.  I hope.  We’ll see…

Great big blocks of Sapele, oozing Titebond III

Great big blocks of Sapele, oozing Titebond III

I have all the parts for the beam to support the saw glued up, and the parts for the saw frame itself rough dimensioned and “acclimating”.  I need the horizontal beam for the saw support done to finish the work on the front upright.  And I need my 14 year old to get out of bed so he can support the end of the upright while I cut the S-curve on the bandsaw.  And to do his homework, wish me luck…

 

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Marquetry Class – Finishing Up

I decided to “finish” the class exercises from the class I took a couple of weeks ago with Patrick and Patrice at ASFM.  My view of these is a little more objective now than when I was at the class.  Lots of obvious mistakes, but I’m hopeful that once I get my Chevalet built I’ll be able to work through these again and do a better job, moving on to be able to incorporate marquetry into real projects.

The main thing I did here was to re-saw some walnut scraps and laminate my marquetry discs onto it to make coasters.  The story behind the design on these is that they are a simplification of a design used on backgammon pieces from an elaborate marquetry game table.  That just makes my head hurt to think about…

In class we assembled the projects face-down onto special French ribbed kraft paper (there is a joke somewhere there, but it escapes me), and packed mastic into the saw kerfs.  The the brown smeary stuff you see here.

Walnut blanks ready for the glue up

Walnut blanks ready for the glue up

Gooey mess in the clamps

Gooey mess in the clamps

I used Old Brown Glue and clamped the discs to the Walnut bases between waxed paper.  Once the glue is dried the process is to wet the paper-covered face and scrape off the kraft paper and excess glue.  That always feels a bit dicey, getting enough water soaked in to be able to scrape the paper mache mess off without releasing the veneer from the substrate.  But it all worked out OK.

Coasters glued to the bases and scraped clean

Coasters glued to the bases and scraped clean

Then I sanded the surface a little and started applying finish.  I’m using spar varnish on these because I needed something waterproof and wanted a glossy build up.  I sprayed (rattle can) two coats, let it dry, knocked it down with 220 grit and repeated, twice.  This is the first coat going on.

Building up the finish

Building up the finish

While these parts were drying I rube some oil into the self portraits.  Two coats of oil, then a top coat of wax.  It’s oil-only in this picture.

Self-portraits with a coat of linseed oil

Self-portraits with a coat of linseed oil

Here are the final coasters drying in the sun.  Unfortunately I can see every inconsistency in the sawing, and places where the veneers are reversed (the two green veneers are different shares, for example).  Regardless, with a cup of coffee sitting on one, from across a darkened room these will look great!

Completed coasters

Completed coasters

 

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Chevy II

I have a secret desire to get this Marquetry Chevalet done quickly.  OK, maybe it’s not secret anymore, but still.  The reality is I’m going to run out of Chevrolet car model years to joke about long before I sawing marquetry packets.  Oh well, I’ll get it done eventually.

I found a build up blog over on Lumberjocks by Mike Lingenfelter he shows in 8 posts the construction and adjustment process of fabricating his Chevalet. I picked up a couple of tips, but it was also instructional to see how long it took him to do.  He started on October 6 2013 and by January 4 he was tuning it to cut correctly.  Three months, that probably what it will take me too although I’d like to cut that in half.

Fitting the upright to the base took some time,  I went slowly so I didn’t make a mess of it.  I planed the rough spots off the tenon cheeks, then pared the walls.  The finished fit is fairly snug without any gaps along the faces so it should be plenty strong.

The first fit of the upright to base joint

The first fit of the upright to base joint

Then I did the cut out detail on the base, drilling holes for the rounded end and sawing out the waste in between.  A little work with a plane and a task cleaned that up likely.  I sawed the outer corners and blended them in.  After it’s all assembled I’ll probably run a round over but around everything to get rid of the sharp edges.

Drilling holes to define the "feet".  I'd clamped a bit of scrap to support the drill since I was only cutting half a diameter into the base.

Drilling holes to define the “feet”. I’d clamped a bit of scrap to support the drill since I was only cutting half a diameter into the base.

Bandsawing out the waste.

Bandsawing out the waste.

Front upright mocked up

Front upright mocked up

The two remaining steps are to saw out the detail for the top of the upright, and add on the side supports for the saw support clamp.  I have the stock prep’d for the support clamps, and laid out the cut for the top, but ran out of time.  Another hour or two and this part will be done.

Template for the top of the upright.  This shape helps catch the little parts that sometimes pop out of the back of the packet.

Template for the top of the upright. This shape helps catch the little parts that sometimes pop out of the back of the packet.

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’61 Chevy

Last Sunday I got back from San Diego, and in little bits of spare time I’ve been reviewing what I learned in the Marquetry class.  I learned a lot, not the least of which is that getting to the point where I can do marquetry well enough to incorporate in furniture is going to take a bit of practice.

It’s a bit of a detour from the Arts & Crafts furniture that I am caught up in making, but I’ve decided I want to be able to do a credible job at this so I’ve started building a marquetry Chevalet.  The “61 Chevy” is a reference to that, a 61 cm working height Chevalet.  The one below isn’t mine of course, but it’s essentially what mine should look like.  If you’re not familiar with how the tool works, it’s pretty simple.  The marquetry packet is held in the vertical jaws with a foot operated clamp, and the saw slides back and forth on a gimbal mechanism that ensures the blade is always square to the face of the packet.  The operator is responsible for guiding the saw along the curve, rotating the packet.

An Example of a marquetry chevalet

An Example of a marquetry chevalet

The first order of business was lumber – I’m not building a piece of furniture and was trying to find a balance between something stable and something cheap.  The cheapest option would be home center construction lumber, but it’s so green that I didn’t dare use it to build something like this.  I priced out white oak, at around $6/bf it would have been a little pricer than I wanted.  I tried another place, remembering they had a lot of stock in kiln-dried vertical grain Douglass Fir — but I was shocked to find that it was almost $7/bf.  But in a nice turn of events they had 8/4 Sapele “narrows” for about $4.50/bf.  These are 4″ to 6″ wide, left from one of their big commercial customers picks through each lot of 8/4 lumber and rejects anything narrower than 6″.  It’s hard, heavy and quarter sawn.  I ended up getting about 35 board feet, hopefully enough…

Bargin basement Sapele!

Bargin basement Sapele!

Back in the shop I taped up the plans I got from Patrick Edwards.  Generally I don’t like to build from full scale plans like this because there just isn’t room in my shop.  Luckily I haven’t built the cabinets and racks I plan to yet.

Plans to the north of me

Plans to the north of me

...and plans to the south

…and plans to the south

I started by milling up stock for the front upright assembly.  Generally this breaks down into three or four projects, the upright, the saw frame, the saw support and the seat assembly.  I milled the wood for the upright, glued it to get the thickness I needed, squared it up and started on the joinery.  I’m in a hurry to get this done, but it’s going to take me several weeks to get the tool built.

Stock milled for the base

Stock milled for the base

Stock milled for the vertical post

Stock milled for the vertical post

Laminations glued up

Laminations glued up

Squared up after laminating

Squared up after laminating

Double mortise and tenon joint roughed in.   I still have to chop out the rest of the waste between the tenons and fine tune the fit.

Double mortise and tenon joint roughed in. I still have to chop out the rest of the waste between the tenons and fine tune the fit.

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Marquetry, Day Five

Today was a pretty good day in class.  I’m still really disappointed in how my pieces came out, and the morning started with assembling the last of my coasters (they may be frisbees, in point of fact).  But it was good practice, and Patrick had lots of interesting stories and great advice on how to do marquetry.

The first was around how to organize your work.  For this simple set of six coasters, about 4″ in diameter, there were 162 parts total.  I had slightly more than that because I broke a few.  I lost a few too, so maybe it was a wash.  His advice was pragmatic.  First, handle each piece as few times as possible.  As you take a plug out of the packet, immediately throw away the backer, grease paper and any layers that aren’t part of the actual project.  Then arrange the parts in an exploded view in the correct relationship to each other as they will go into the final assembly.  In the case of the coasters we positioned the parts face side down, so it’s a mirror image of the goal, and the inverse of how they came out of the packet.

162 pieces for six coasters

162 pieces for six coasters, no wonder my head hurts.

This layout is essential for assembling the project onto the kraft paper.  You smear a bit of hide glue onto the area, and you have maybe 4 or 5 minutes max before the glue cools/dries too much for assembly.  After that you need to add little bits of glue as you go, and it’s gets progressively more messy.  There aren’t many things more fun that trying to handle little delicate bits of veneer with sticky fingers.  Root canals, maybe.

Another useful trick is making a pattern to either repair veneer or in this case, to replace a missing part.  Remember the missing parts?  A couple were little dots about 1/8″ in diameter, those I just cut from a scrap with a tiny gouge.  One piece had broken off the background and gone on walkabout.  I’ll probably find in glued to the bottom of my sneakers tomorrow.

The repair technique is to use a bit of thermal printer paper, like from an office adding machine.  Hold it over the cavity and rub it with a burnisher.  It will pick up the outline of the opening.  Now trace around the outline on the paper to define the cut line, glue it onto a piece of veneer (in this case I used the outside scrap from my pack) and cut it out.

Cutting out a patch to repair one of my coasters that was missing a piece

Cutting out a patch to repair one of my coasters that was missing a piece

Once I cut the plug from my pack I picked out the veneer color I needed and glued it into the hole in the coaster.  This has a bit of paper on it as all of the colored veneers for this project were first laminated with newsprint to help keep them together.  Since this is the back of the project it doesn’t matter, but I probably should have reversed my pattern (or glued it to the other side of the packet) to avoid this.

Coaster repaired

Coaster repaired, this is prior to adding mastic to fill the saw kerfs.  This picture shows off my sloppy saw work, that was a major disappointment for me.  But, I’m sure it’s something I can improve on with practice.

From three or four feet away (assuming you have bad eyesight) the frisbees coasters don’t look horrible.  It’s like that old saw – looking good from afar, but far from good looking.

More coaster shots, pre-mastic

More coaster shots, pre-mastic

Same drill as yesterday, mix and apply the mastic, working it into the saw kerfs, then scrape off any excess.  After it cured for an hour we scuff sanded with 80 grit to remove any lumps and cut the discs free.

This afternoon Patrice demonstrated French Polishing, although of course they don’t call it that in France where he’s from.  It’s just called “polishing with a pad”.  That’s a process for another day.

Patrick also did an excellent lecture on a technique that is a variation of Boulle marquetry called “painting in wood”.  The key to painting in wood is that instead of each layer in the packet being a different veneer, a layer may have two or three colors pieced together, with the grain aligned to suit the picture.  This makes more efficient use of materials than standard Boulle.  The alternative, piece-by-piece, requires hyper-accurate cutting as each piece is cut independently from the others.

So, what’s the final verdict?

First, next time I take a class I’m leaving my sell phone in the trunk so I can’t possibly get calls from work.

The class provided lots of seat time learning how to saw marquetry packets on a Chevalet.  I knew that going in.  It also provided in-depth instruction in mixing and using hot hide glue, applying french polish and designing marquetry projects, from the drawings through assembling the packet and keeping track of the parts.

I think the self portrait I did actually came out nice, we laminated that onto a piece of plywood yesterday and removed the kraft paper today.  I’ll put some finish on them when I get home, I’m happy with that one.  The other two projects with the crazy curly-Qs I’m officially calling for a do-over.

I’m going to build a Chevalet when I get home and re-do the coasters.  Maybe the square project too, but at least the coasters because everyone needs a nice set of marquetry coasters, right?

Mastic squeezed into the saw kerfs.

Mastic squeezed into the saw kerfs, this gets scuff sanded and then cut loose from the paper backing.

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Marquetry Class, Day Four

Astute readers may have gotten the impression that I’m not having the time of my life this week.  Unfortunately, that’s sort of true.  It’s has absolutely nothing to do with the class itself.  Patrick, His wife Kirsten and his partner Patrice are all amazing.  Unfortunately there are some changes going on at work that are deeply troubling and (apparently) couldn’t wait until I was back.  That, combined with my own frustrations at not being able to do a better job on the projects, have sort of cast a pall over the experience for me.

But I’m sticking with it, and I’ll figure out the bits that have been frustrating me when I get back.

Today I started out by finishing sawing out the rest of the third project.  This one was really tough, and my sawing is a mess.  It’s probably not obvious looking at the pictures, but the parts are really inconsistent.

Assembled packet for the third and final project

Assembled packet for the third and final project

Parts from sawing the final project.  It's not obvious, but the shapes are really inconsistent.  Where parts should be mirror images from side to side they aren't.  In places they are sawed accurately, but overall it stinks.  Oh well.

Parts from sawing the final project. It’s not obvious, but the shapes are really inconsistent. Where parts should be mirror images from side to side they aren’t. In places they are sawed accurately, but overall it stinks. Oh well.

We started assembling the six coasters that will result from this packet, I got three assembled and needed to stop.  It’s really hard to keep the parts straight, and intermix the colors properly.  I’ll finish this tomorrow, including making a couple of repair pieces that went AWOL.

The other activity was to fill in the saw kerf gaps with “mastic”.  We mixed a tiny bit of hot water, a swirl of hot hide glue and enough fine wood dust to make something the consistency of cake frosting.  (remember, this is the bace we’re looking at here)  This is worked into the gaps and allowed to dry.  Any lumps are sanded off the surface, then the pictures are cut free from the assembly board and laminated face up on plywood to make the finished part.  We’ll have to scrape off the kraft paper and apply some finish tomorrow too.  Sounds like it will be a busy day.

Mastic applied

Mastic applied

This is the first project we did, a set of three corner details from a Boulle cabinet.  This is the backside, before the mastic was worked into the seams.

First project glued to the backing board, face down, waiting for mastic.

First project glued to the backing board, face down, waiting for mastic.

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Marquetry Class Day Three

This morning I started out fresh, sawing the rest of my “face packet”.  The sawing was going well, the 2/0 blade cuts much smoother than the skip tooth we started with.  It’s also really fragile, I broke several blades threading it through the pack when changing locations.  Apparently this packet is about the limit of thickness for using the 2/0 blade (four veneer sheets plus the front and back blanks and grease paper).  I’m not saying that’s why the blade broke, that’s all operator error.

I was able to follow the line much better this morning, and sawed out the remainder of this packet pretty quickly (and reasonably accurately).

Close up of a saw blade in my eye

Close up of a saw blade in my eye – the eye is mostly sawed out at this point.  It gets taped in place and doesn’t come out of the packet until it’s opened layer-by-layer at the end.

If you’re not familiar with the tool we’re using to saw the packets, this in my workstation.  It’s called a “Chevalet”, or “Marquetry Chevalet”.  There is a foot pedal to control the clamping motion of the jaws, and of course the saw frame.  The saw frame guides the saw so that the cuts are always exactly perpendicular to the vise in both horizontal and vertical directions — very important when sawing out multiple layers like this if you want them to fit back together.

Chevalet

Chevalet

After sawing out the packet I moved over to a work table where I opened the packet, stripping out one layer at a time, and arranging the parts relative to each other.  Backgrounds on the lower part, islands on the top part.

Four faces in four different veneers

Four faces in four different veneers

Then I shifted the backgrounds for the best contrast with the other parts and glued them face-down onto the assembly board with hot hide glue.  The assembly board is a piece of scrap wood wrapped in special brown paper.  It’s stretched tight onto the face of the board, but not glued to the face of the board.  You apply a layer of hot hide glue, place the background face down in the glue, then fit in all of the pieces, finishing by applying a clear plastic caul to hold it all flat.  Unlike the first project that looks like it was done by a blind quadriplegic, this one looks much better.

Later we’ll fill the saw kerf with goop and glue these down onto a backer board so we can finish them.  Or we’ll fling them across the room, it could go either way at this point.

First two faces glued up

First two faces glued up

We started in on the third project, a set of coasters.  Six layers of veneer in three different colors.  I’m not feeling the love with this one, it’s exactly the kind of project that will show every single twitch of the saw blade.

Materials for the third and final project

Materials for the third and final project

The process to build the packet starts with the 3mm backer board followed by a double layer of grease paper, followed by the first piece of veneer face down.  The veneer sheets inside the packet are oriented vertically, and the front and rear waster boards are oriented horizontally.  Each sheet of veneer is table down to the backer board individually with short pieces of gum tape.  The design is hide glued to the front, and eventually the entire packet is wrapped with brown gum tape.  Three tiny holes for the saw blade are drilled with a #60 bit (that’s tiny).

Packet assembled

Packet assembled

I sawed out the first few sections and had to call it quits because I was getting too frustrated.  I was following the lines OK, but any little blip shows up and it looks like hell.  Maybe the morning will bring sawing joy.  I really want to learn how to do this, but I’m really short on patience this week for some reason.

 

 

 

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Marquetry Day Two

Today wasn’t much fun honestly.

I spent most of this morning sawing out the rest of the pieces of the first packet, and was really struggling to follow the line with the saw.

Besides the obvious difficulty of cutting on the line, there is the added challenge that as you cut around a section it becomes loose in the packet and you have to tape it back in place and support it as you go.  If you move the saw and any part isn’t adequately supported, the pieces break and shoot out the back.  Ask me how I know.  Luckily we’re able to balance the Joy of Sawing with the Thrill of Crawling on the Floor Looking for Broken Bits of Veneer.

The challenge this morning was mapping out how we’re going to cut out the central area of this project.  The parts have to stay in the packet after cutting to support the surrounding parts.  Without falling out, and without slipping between the other layers and getting re-cut as part of another line.  The order of cuts, turns and backtracks is carefully orchestrated.  Add in several strategic scotch tape reinforcement operations and you have a formula for a stunt that ranks up there with some bizarre yoga headstand.

We started with a strategy session on sawing, mapping out the direction and order of cuts.  The double-ended arrows indicate "traverses" where you cut past an intersection, then back up generally two intersections and cut around from the other direction.

We started with a strategy session on sawing, mapping out the direction and order of cuts. The double-ended arrows indicate “traverses” where you cut past an intersection, then back up generally two intersections and cut around from the other direction.

Sometimes the saw seems to have a mind of it’s own.  I’ll be right on the line, then I’ll be way off the line – just that fast.  It’s frustrating, I feel like a preschooler who wandered into college calculus.  In fact, it reminds me far too much of attending college calculus.  OK, first please integrate img55, then saw out some tiny parts from 1/28″ thick veneer using a blade that is .010″ thick.

Apparently the lines are just a suggested place for the saw blade to go...

Apparently the lines are just a suggested place for the saw blade to go…

After lunch we opened up our packets, prepared an assembly board and glued all of our misshapen bits of veneer face down onto some kraft paper.  I’m not sure what the next step is, hopefully soaking it in petroleum distillates and lighting it on fire.

We started in on our next next project, drawing our own faces by tracing a high contrast printout of a photograph.  I don’t like having my picture taken, so having to saw out a marquetry packet of my own image is some kind of sadistic double-whammy.  Hopefully tomorrow will go better.

Materials for the next project.  3mm backer board, 1.5mm front board and four contrasting pieces of veneer to make four portraits.  I'm not clear who would want one portrait of me, much less four, so I'm not sure I understand the point here.

Materials for the next project. 3mm backer board, 1.5mm front board and four contrasting pieces of veneer to make four portraits. I’m not clear who would want one portrait of me, much less four, so I’m not sure I understand the point here.

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