I came, I sawed

I’m going to do another marquetry picture.  For practice.  Again.

I really (really) want to do a “real” project, but I need to get some more practice time in first.

The design for this came from a flower coloring book.  I traced it a couple of times, tweaking a few little details to get it to something I liked (and believed I could saw well enough).  It’s going to be a larger panel than I’ve done before, 8.5″ x 11″.  I picked out a very pale white veneer (probably Maple) for the petals, Bubinga for the colored rays, and a dyed red veneer for the anther.  I was careful to select the show faces when laminating on the reinforcing paper, and I dutifully made a reversed drawing for the pattern.  I’ll either saw it out or set it afire this weekend.

Design for the next marquetry panel.  The original drawing is on the right, my tracing is on the left.

Design for the next marquetry panel. The original drawing is on the right, my tracing is on the left.

But I really need to do a real project.  I don’t know if I’m at a loss of ideas, or if I have too many ideas.  Knowing me, it’s probably both.  Here are the ideas that have been going on in my head lately:

A reprise of the coffee cup cabinet, but with a marquetry panel on the door instead of a bookmatched panel.  That was a fun project, and it came out nicely.  I actually through about doing this particular flower design for the door of it.  I may still, the design isn’t quite big enough, but I can add banding and what-not to make the finished panel bigger.  What-not is a particular speciality of mine apparently.  (and you have to say “sepciality” with a British accent, spee-see-hal-ity).

Along the same lines, I have an idea to make a cabinet to store DVDs.  I have a great marquetry design in mind that I downloaded from the UK marquetry society.  My thinking is that this would be a frame-and-panel carcase.  The frame would be Cherry or Walnut, and the panels would be some sort of figured Maple, with the marquetry design on the front.

Marquetry design for another project

Marquetry design for another project

Astute readers will probably recognize the main rose bud in the picture from a recent practice panel.

My last practice panel

My last practice panel

So those two cabinets are fairly obvious projects, but I also have at least six other projects in mind.  A dutch tool chest (with a marquetry design on the inside of the lid), the Blacker House Serving Table I drew plans of recently, a cool tool tote that I bought plans for, another utility cabinet for the shop for my table saw accessories, a Wharton Esherick (ish) stool, a pair of casement windows, and let’s not forget about the bookcase for my wife.

The casement window is a funny story.  My shop has El-Cheapo (TM) aluminum sliding windows.  Last week a bee was buzzing around, and I went to swat it and blew the glass out.  Too much coffee I guess.  So I could replace it with a big-box-store plastic slider, or I could figure out how to make nice windows for my house by practicing on the shop.  You already know where my brain goes.

By the way, the bookcase is a funny situation too.  I realized, luckily just before buying a lot of very expensive 6/4 wide Q/S White Oak, that because of the turn from the hallway into the guest bedroom I couldn’t actually get the bookcase where I wanted to put it.  So a redesign is necessary.

I have to say it.  I also just want to go buy wood.  The local wood store has some nice clear vertical grain Douglas Fir, 4/4 x 12″ wide (tool chest!), as well as narrower 8/4 and 10/4.  And piles of Sapele.  Both of those could be nice to make windows…but do I really want to spend $300 on wood to make a window? (Yes!)  Oh, and I recently watched a couple of episodes of The Woodwright’s Shop where Roy made a neat standing desk from construction lumber.  I spend all day at a desk, and I don’t really like standing up in any case, but I still want to build that.

Maybe I’ll just go buy a load of wood tomorrow.  I’ll get enough for all of these projects.  Cherry, Fir, White Oak, Sapele.  Maybe a couple of Monterey Pine slabs to play with.  Then I have options.  No room to work, and my wife probably won’t speak to me, but I’ll have options.

Veneer for the new marquetry panel is in the press being laminated to newsprint to reinforce it.

Veneer for the new marquetry panel is in the press being laminated to newsprint to reinforce it.

 

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The press is done, now what?

I cleaned up the press pieces after the glue up, and slathered them with a mix of linseed oil, mineral spirits and poly.  I just wanted to bring out the color in the wood a little, and add some tiny bit of protection.

This morning before work I installed the screw jacks.  Not much to report on that — I had to file a couple of notches into the hole for the ribs on the metal bosses, drive them in and run a couple of screws in to secure them.  I guess I need to do some marquetry now, I’m rapidly running out of tool-based excuses.  I’m so screwed…(pun intended)

File notches for the alignment ribs in the screw jack bosses

File notches for the alignment ribs in the screw jack bosses

Drive in the boss and secure it with a couple of screws

Drive in the boss and secure it with a couple of screws

Finished press, ready to go to work.

Finished press, ready to go to work.

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Pressing Affairs

The past couple of weeks I’ve been stalled in the shop, I’m happy to report I was able to move past it this weekend and finally make some progress.

Rewinding, I decided that I wanted to incorporate marquetry into a real project.  Not just little practice panels, but a small cabinet or something.  Maybe a tool chest with marquetry inside the lid.  But before I could do that I needed a way to press larger marquetry panels.

The process I’ve been using involved first laminating newsprint onto the show face of the veneer to reinforce it.  Then assembling a packet of six or more layers of veneer and backer materials and sawing out the design.  The parts are assembled face down onto a kraft paper covered board, then flipped and glued to the final substrate.  A lot of manipulation and clamp juggling, more than is good for my blood pressure.

So this project, building a press, is a necessary step for me.  Or so I’ve convinced myself.  Last weekend I got the reclaimed fir rough machined, at the expense of two bandsaw blades ruined on embedded nails.  Out of two 14′ long 4″ x 6″ reclaimed beams I still ended up short on materials due to nails and cracks and rot.  I had enough offcuts that I was able to laminate some of them to make up the shortage.

I was short two of the 19" long vertical posts, so I laminated some scraps from the reclaimed wood.

I was short two of the 19″ long vertical posts, so I laminated some scraps from the reclaimed wood.

Once the scraps were laminated, I machined everything to the final size, about 3″ x 4″.  I still have the two “green” replacement posts in this stack…just in case something was wrong with one of the other parts.  I’m happy to report I won’t be needing them.

Parts all machined to the final dimensions and cut to the final length.

Parts all machined to the final dimensions and cut to the final length.

This was intended to be a quick and dirty project.  I laid out the mortises and cut them, then rough cut the tenons, with the intention of doing a little fine tuning to get the final fit.  The very first mortise/tenon fit up was a struggle, and ended up having a snug but gappy fit.  All of the rest of the joints went together smoothly.  Not big gaps, with a snug fit that required a hammer to assemble.

Mortises done

Mortises done

Tenons

Tenons

I used my power tools on the joinery, because it’s quick and consistent.  But it always feels like cheating.  In retrospect this probably would have been a good time to practice sawing tenons by hand.  Chopping mortises in fir is not my idea of fun.  The Sapele I used on the Marquetry Chevalet cut really nicely with a chisel, but my experience with fir is that it dulls tools and doesn’t shop across the grain well at all.

All three frames dry assembled

All three frames dry assembled

I dry fit all three frames for the press, drilled the holes for the press screws, and disassembled the frames so I could sand the inside faces.  Then I glued the joints and cinched up the clamps to draw everything tight.  I’ll pull the clamps this week and do the final cleanup so I can check this one off.  I think the fir will look good with some oil/varnish applied.

It's like watching glue dry around here...

It’s like watching glue dry around here…

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Old. Growth.

In processing the lumber for my marquetry press, two of the shorter components ended up unusable.  Too many nails.

The simple solution would be to pick up some green construction lumber at the local yard.  So I did.  Cheap, fast, easy.

Check out the difference in growth rings.  The reclaimed wood, from a 100 year old barn has fine, tight growth rings.  While the piece I picked up today is very coarse and has less than 1/4 of the growth rings per inch.

Old growth, fine-grained wood on top.  New, green, fast growth on the bottom.

Old growth, fine-grained wood on top. New, green, fast growth on the bottom.

I can probably use the new wood, but I don’t like the look of it.  I’m going to try gluing up some of the scraps instead.

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James Brown Is Not In My Shop

Regular readers of my blog, who already deserve sympathy for wading through endless drivel here, will have noticed I haven’t posted anything in the past couple of weekends.  Truth be told, I’ve been in a bit of a funk and it’s had me stalled.  Hopefully I’m moving past that, because it’s time to Get Up Offa That Thing.

I’ve been stalled on what seems like the simplest of projects, making a press for marquetry.  Maybe it’s too simple, just three square frames put together with mortise and tenon joints.  I got stuck on the wood.  I don’t like the though of spending $7+ per board foot when I need probably 25 to 30 board feet total for a simple shop appliance.  I thought about using green construction lumber, but every time I looked at 4 x 6 fir beams with splits, knots and oozing sap I lost my enthusiasm.  I thought about just making a simple welded steel frame, and probably should have done that, but I wanted wood on this.  And my TIG welder has a leak in the water hose.  Gotta fix that.

Long story made interminable, I finally bought some salvage 4 x 6 fir beams from a 100 year old barn that had been dissembled.  It was still too much money, but I’m over the hump.

Two 4" x 6" beams from an old barn.  I think I paid extra for the peeling paint and nails.

Two 4″ x 6″ beams from an old barn. I think I paid extra for the peeling paint and nails.

I spent the better part of a day wire brushing off dirt and loose paint, digging out rusted nails and laying out cuts to avoid the knots (there weren’t many) and nails (there were a ton).  Yeah, it was a pain in the butt, but Papa Don’t Take No Mess.

The number of nails in these was sort of unbelievable.   I tried to avoid using the heavily nailed sections where the Boy Scouts held their Jamboree practicing for their Nailing Merit Badge, but geez…

I laid out my rough cuts, six at 30″ and six at 19″.  A couple of these look a little dicy and I don’t think their will be enough slid wood left.  One of the short pieces is on the bench for open-nail surgery when I took this picture.

Rough cut to length

Rough cut to length

I dug out the nails I could see, then used my #6 to take off the skin and make sure I had all of the nail bits out (I didn’t).  It’s a lot easier to resharpen the hand plane than the power tool.

Pretty, but probably not enough strength left in this part.

Pretty, but probably not enough strength left in this part.

After a lot of sweat and dust I got the crust off of the boards, and established my reference edge and face on all of them.  Amazingly, there is a lot of really pretty old growth vertical grain fir here.  Unfortunately, I’m short at least two of the short pieces for the uprights.  Not sure what to do about that yet, although I’m pretty sure I’m not going to go buy more of this reclaimed fir.  It’s a crazy amount of work to get to usable material.

Stock cleaned  and squared on two faces, ready for final dimensioning.

Stock cleaned and squared on two faces, ready for final dimensioning.

The next goal (besides taking pictures that are in focus) will be to re-saw these to the right width and thickness, then plane them smooth and square.  I’m waiting for the replacement blade for my bandsaw to arrive, because the last one had an unfortunate encounter with several nails.  I’m probably going to skip the arched top in my design, I just want to get this built and put it to work.

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Veneer Press

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately and haven’t had time in the shop — but I have been thinking about what I want to do next.  I’m ready (ready-ish) to do a more complex marquetry project that will be an actual finished piece and not just practice (or kindling).  To do that I need a better way to to be able to clamp large sheets of veneer when laminating paper onto it, and for clamping larger marquetry panels.  Juggling a dozen clamps isn’t my idea of fun, although I guess that begs the question of what is my idea of fun.  Let’s let that one go for now.

Making a press should be a simple enough job, although I’m always looking for any opportunity to complicate things.  Really any wood is OK, and I was on the verge of buying green construction lumber for it at the home center but just couldn’t reconcile myself to it when I looked at all of the knots, splits and oozing sap.  Also not my idea of fun.  While I’m trying to decide on stock I ordered the hardware and drew up an idea in CAD.  The hardware is Jorgenson 12″ press screws.  I’m actually pleased with the quality, I saw some off-brand ones and the threads were really poorly made, these are crisp and smooth.

The design is simple.  It’s a series of three square frames, each with two screws.  The lower platen will be removable so the press can be packed away and not take up too much room when I don’t need it.  I may actually make a bracket so I can hang then on the wall out of the way.  The joinery is twin tenons into through mortises.  I’ll pin the joints with pegs.

CAD model for a Marquetry Press

CAD model for a Marquetry Press

The press will handle up to 24″ x 36″ panels, way more than I can even anticipate doing right now.  The arched tops on the upper crossmember add some work, but I think they look nice.  Next chance I get I’ll go lumber shopping and see what I can find.  In the meantime I drew up some simple plans to get me focused.  It might be overbuilt, but I don’t think it’s under-built.

Plans for a marquetry press

Plans for a marquetry press

 

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Roubo Bookstand – A Pleasant Distraction

I had a couple of hours in the shop today, and made one of these “Roubo bookstand” thingies.  I’m sure most folks have seen this before, either on The Woodwright’s Shop, Christopher Schwarz’ blog or in PWW.  I say Roubo bookstand in quotes because I believe this style actually dates from the 13th century.

Regardless, it was a simple, fun exercise.  I used the drawing from Roy Underhill’s website, and a 15″ long scrap of 1×8 pine.

This drawing, courtesy of the Woodwright's Shop, is all you need.

This drawing, courtesy of the Woodwright’s Shop, is all you need.

I did all of the layout first.  Laying out the s-curves was an interesting exercise.  Prior to building this I did some web searching and came across techniques to layout different kinds of arches.  I’ll have to play with that another day.

Layout done

Layout done.  I knifed in the critical cuts.

Once the layout was done I sawed the profile in the top and bottom, somewhat badly in spots, and proceeded to start chopping the knuckles.  I used the scroll saw to cut the separation between the knuckles as my fret saw is too shallow to reach.

Profiles sawn, starting to chop the knuckles.

Profiles sawn, starting to chop the knuckles.

What makes this work is the alternating chisel cuts to form the knuckles.  Nothing magic about doing this.  I could see using a block with a 45 degree angle to make the final paring cuts as perfect s possible, but since this is just a fun piece (and Pine is so forgiving) I just eyeballed it.

Before I knew it, all of the knuckles were cut, and I was ready to resaw this to open it up.  I expected to have to fuss with this to get it to pop open…or to make a mistake with the ripping and end up with scrap.  No such (bad) luck, it opened right up.  A little sanding and it’s presentable.

Wow, I'm surprised...

Wow, I’m surprised…

I padded on one coat of Blond Shellac, and rubbed it out with some paste wax and that’s it.  Simple.  Simpler than, say, a pocket-holed cabinet.  There are places I could do a better job.   I think a narrow rebate plane could be used to clean up any inconsistencies in the knuckles once it’s opened up, as an example.  I’d like to use this kind of project as a basis for a carving or inlay project some time in the future.

Completed bookstand.

Completed bookstand.

 

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Shop Organization

If French Marquetry stands at the pinnacle of labor intensive and complex woodworking techniques, this shop cabinet surely occupies the opposite position.

For a while I’ve had a collection of corded tools that didn’t have a home.  My router, D/A sander, finish nailer, and others that clustered in a “pile” next to the jointer.  With the marquetry I’ve acquired a few more interesting accessories.  Two hot plates, a frying pan of sand, hot water kettle, and more.None of these tools had a “forever home”, so I decided to do something about it.

Basic Dimensions for the cabinet -- I left out the sub-divider in the end.

Basic Dimensions for the cabinet — I left out the sub-divider in the end, and of course skipped all of the real joinery in favor of screws.

I dragged a couple of sheets of Home Depot Birch plywood back to the shop.  I don’t like this stuff.  It warps as you cut it, has lots voids and is only 5 layers of material.  Next time I’ll get the real stuff.  But me and my tablesaw cut it down to size quickly, and with the aid of my Kreg jig I had pocket holes drilled the the outsides clamped up in no time.  These clamps are the best thing ever.

I think the best thing about pocket holes is the Kreg pocket hole clamps.

I think the best thing about pocket holes is the Kreg pocket hole clamps.

I’m pretty lukewarm on pocket hole joinery.  At least with home center plywood.  It’s really easy to overdrive the screws and either strip them out or have the tip tear through the side while the end of the adjoining piece splits while the head wedges it apart.  It’s certainly a fast way to assemble something though.

Before I even got around to feeling guilty about using such quick0and0dirty construction practices I was done building.

Before I even got around to feeling guilty about using such quick0and0dirty construction practices I was done building.  This is 30″ wide x 48″ tall x 11″ deep.

No dados, no glue, just pocket hole screws for the outer shell and Spax screws through the outer face into the edges to affix the back and shelves.  The back is just overlapped.  Yeah, cheesy construction, but I was curious if it would be strong enough.  I hate not having the shelves in dados, and not having the back clued into a groove.  But this went together so quickly, maybe two hours from when I started to cut the plywood until I had the cabinet built.

I added a french cleat to the back, and loaded my spray gun with Amber Shellac.  Three coats with the shellac reduced 100% out of the can, and the cabinet was ready to hang on the wall.

Just need to hand the slab door and this project is a wrap.

Just need to hand the slab door and this project is a wrap.

The shelves seem strong enough to support the tools, although I wouldn’t want to overload them with (say) 10 years of Fine Woodworking back issues.  That would be wrong on several levels.  I was able to put all of my homeless tool away, with room for the few that I’m actively using left over.

I’ve got a couple of additional organizational projects that I want to do, but this has made a big improvement in shop clutter.

Finished, installed and packed with tools.

Out of focus, but finished, installed and packed with tools.

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Marquetry Experiments Wrap-Up

Earlier this week I wrote about my latest marquetry practice.  While I can certainly stand to practice many, many different aspects of marquetry there were a few specific areas that I was really interested in.

First, sawing with a “coarse” 32 tip blade.  This is a control issue for me, and the results are in on that: the coarse blade is substantially faster and with more practice I think I’ll learn to control the “wandering willies”.    The second goal was to practice sand shading, which is probably self-apparent.  Sand shading is conceptually simple but the subtleties of how parts are shaded it an art.  Finally, I wanted to do a marquetry design in the Boulle style where all of the layers in the packet were utilized.

Andre-Charles Boulle built some absolutely insanely ornate furniture in his day.  He would have packets of wood, brass, pewter, bone and tortoiseshell that would be used in different combinations either on the same piece of furniture or to make a second piece of furniture the inverse of the first.  For example, one application would have a tortoiseshell background with brass filigree and the other would show the reverse – brass background and tortoiseshell filigree.  My approach is simplistic, a single rosebud design and four layers of veneer — two light and two dark.  The rose is an element from a larger design I want to use on a real project.

First the sand shading.  I looked at the drawing of the rose and marked where I thought the shading should go.  For petals that were clearly under an adjacent petal that was clear enough.  For petals that are made of several pieces with the intent of showing the piece curled at the edge it was more of a judgement call for me.

Rosebud pattern marked to indicate the shading

Rosebud pattern marked to indicate the shading

After seeing the result I’d probably make some different decisions in a few places, but that’s the point right?  The actual process of sand shading is as exciting as you would imagine.  The obvious part: stick the area to be shaded into the sand until it darkens to your liking.  The less obvious part: sometimes it’s hard to shade the area you want.  For example, a crescent moon shape where you want the inside of the curve shaded, but the tips not at all.  You can mound the sand or scoop it up in a spoon to try to get it to the spot you want, but I need more practice still.

The other non-obvious part is that the heat from the sand makes the little jigsaw puzzle pieces turn into crunchy curly fries.  Especially long narrow parts (think “flower parts”).  What I’ve been doing is to sand shade a part, and if it curls I moisten it with a little water on my fingers.  As the piece relaxes I gently (“crack”, “s#$%t”) flatten it on the parts tray.  I hold it there for a minute, pressing it flat.  Then I move on to sand shading the next piece.  If the flattened piece is still behaving nicely after a few minutes I’ll assemble it into the temporary composition on shelf paper.

Starting to assemble the design

Starting to assemble the design

As long as the pieces are flat, have any bubbles in the paper facing I added scraped off, and bits of sand removed, the shelf paper makes a great temporary assembly process.  It adds extra steps in the process over what we learned in class, but it’s a necessary crutch for me right now.

I had far fewer problems with the paper facing I laminated on bubbling up this time.  Previously I got big bubbles in the paper on nearly every piece, like this:

Pieces from the last project showing the bubbled and lifter paper facing

Pieces from the last project showing the bubbled and lifter paper facing

The difference, I think, is two things.  First, I was extra careful to use the least amount of glue I could.  I probably had it slightly more diluted too.  The process we used in class was to apply glue to the veneer, lay a piece of newsprint into the glue, cover it with another piece of paper and use a dry fingernail brush to rub the lamination together to force any air or excess glue out.  I added another step which was to press the layers overnight between two cauls.  That also helped counteract the natural curl from the lamination.

Further along in the sand shading and assembly process

Further along in the sand shading and assembly process

The sand shading process took me close to three hours.  Crazy, right?  About 160 pieces of charred wood.  That included the shading, some piece sorting to figure out what-goes-where, and lots of wetting-and-flattening of potato chip parts.  It also included several rounds of back-stretching and one particularly entertaining session of laying on the concrete floor looking for a missing part.  I found it.

Design sawn, sand shaded and temporarily assembled (face down) on shelf paper.

Design sawn, sand shaded and temporarily assembled (face down) on shelf paper.

This view is the “glue face”, it will ultimately get glued to the substrate.  So I went through the usual drill of putting blue tape on the glue face to hold all the pieces in place, then removed the shelf paper from the show face, and glued that down to the kraft-paper-covered pattern board.

Once that bit of indirection was accomplished I had the parts firmly attached to the kraft paper and the glue face showing again.  It’s time for filling the saw kerf with “mastic”.  I’m using diluted hot hide glue, fine sanding dust and a bit of powdered black tempera paint.  Not tempura, that would be weird and I don’t the the panko would work as well as sanding dust for a filler.

I upgraded my “mastic tools” to be closer to what we used in class.  The bowl is a silicon rubber bowl used in the dental industry for mixing mold compounds.  It was cheap on eBay, although I had to buy a set of three.  I guess I have backups.  The putty knife I ground so it fit the bottom of the bowl, it works really well for mixing.

Mastic setup.  Silicon rubber bowl, modded putty knife, powdered plack paint and fine walnut sawdust.

Mastic setup. Silicon rubber bowl, modded putty knife, powdered plack paint and fine walnut sawdust.

The mixing process is simple, although I need to work on quantity and proportions.  Put a tiny bit of boiling water in the bowl, use the glue brush to swirl some hot hide glue into the water.  Add a tiny bit of black paint and enough sanding dust to make a consistency like chocolate pudding.  Mix well, then add more sawdust until you have something closer to joint compound.  I used a bit too much black I think, and mixed waaaaay too much. Start with a teaspoon of water, ending up with maybe two teaspoons of liquid after swirling in the glue brush — maybe less.  You don’t need a lot of mastic to fill the kerfs, and you don’t want to spend a lot of time sanding to produce the dust to make the mix.

Then, obviously I guess, use the spatula to force the mix into the kerfs, and scrape off any excess.  I usually (*lightly*) block sand it after the mastic is completely dry to remove any lumps or ridges.

Mastic applied to the glue side

Mastic applied to the glue side

On with the show…  Cut the kraft paper around the outside of the design to free it from the pattern board.

Completed design ready to be glued to a piece of plywood

Completed design ready to be glued to a piece of plywood

Clamped up and drying

Clamped up and drying

One of my next projects is to build a veneer press to make clamping these things simpler.  The screws are ordered, I just need to get wood and decide how to build it.

Out of the press, the next step is to wet the kraft paper and scrape it off, exposing the design finally.  It takes me about three rounds of wetting and scraping with a single edge razor to get a clean surface.

Scraping off the moistened paper facing

Scraping off the moistened paper facing

I finished this by brushing on a couple of coats of clear shellac, sanding lightly, and repeating.  I’ll need to assemble my thoughts and learn to French Polish in the future.  Good, something else to practice!

Here is the finished panel.  I’m happy with the overall result, although I see several things wrong.  I won’t belabor the mistakes, this was just for practice and learning.

Finished Panel

Finished Panel

What’s next?  My first priority is to do some shop organization.  I have a few tools that don’t have a place to be put away, so the horizontal surfaces in the shop are collecting things.  I’ll probably set up another practice exercise to work on my sawing — something where the shape is critical.  I want to start on a real project, using marquetry, in a couple of weeks.  Just as soon as I build a storage cabinet for tools and a veneer press.  I’m leaning toward a wall cabinet to store DVDs with a marquetry panel on the front.  I haven’t been able to reconcile marquetry and Greene & Greene into a design so this cabinet will have a different aesthetic than my recent furniture projects.

One more cuppa, then I’m going to the lumberyard for plywood.

 

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Marquetry Experiments

In general, I’m not much of a “practice” guy.  Generally I approach stuff by trying a technique, then quickly move to using it in a project.  I learned to gas weld by building a roll cage from round steel tubing for my 1973 Firebird.  I did one practice joint and beat it with a hammer until I was convinced that it wouldn’t fall apart, then started welding on my car.

Dovetails were probably an exception to this.  I did some practice joints — that were absolutely terrible — before I made a dovetailed box.  I read something the Christopher Schwarz wrote about doing a dovetail joint every day for 30 days.  I made it less than a week before I was feeling discouraged by the pile of kindling accumulating on the floor.  I’ve since gotten competent at dovetailing, although as I type this I wonder if I should go back to practicing.  But I digress.  Jump in, feet first.

And it’s competency that I’m after with Marquetry.  And I’m actually designing a series of experiments and practice projects to test the waters on different processes so that I can build a real project with confidence.  Marquetry is very understandable process, but there are a lot of little fussy steps and opportunities to screw up.  Ask me how I know…

So, with that mindset I identified a couple of activities I wanted to practice with:

  1. Sawing using the “coarse” 32 tpi Pebeco blade instead of the finer 72 tpi Escargot
  2. Sand shading, especially when the shading is the only think that will differentiate the elements in the image
  3. Boulle practice of contrasting dark and light, part and counter-part

So, first off the blades.  The blades for the Chevy are longer than both other similar fret saw and scroll saw blades.  They are 160mm, and in my (humble and seriously limited) experience are usually 2/0.  I’ve heard of others using finer blades for marquetry, down to 8/0.  I can’t imagine.  They are thin, I should have included a pencil line for scale.  I’m actually surprised the teeth show up in this picture, I need a magnifier to see them in the shop.

2/0 ("two-ought") blades for the Chevy.  The one on the left is the coarse tooth

2/0 (“two-ought”) blades for the Chevy. The one on the left is the 72tpi, the one on the right is 32tpi.  This photo is about 1.25″ of the blade.

In class we used both, and I struggled to cut at all accurately with the coarse tooth blade.  It’s the classic tradeoff between speed and control.  Both blades seem to leave identical kerfs, but I found that the coarse blade needs a really light touch to be able to saw on the line.  Even then, my cuts with this blade were wandering around like a drunken sailor on a moonless night.  I did better than in the class, but still not great.

Flowers and asymmetrical shapes are really forgiving.  No one will notice if a petal is slightly wonked.  The picture below is the worst from this project, the rest of the cuts obliterated the line, but weren’t as regular as they should be.  With the Boulle technique all the parts are guaranteed to fit.  I want to work up to the the “piece-by-piece” method where individual parts are cut, well, individually.  I have a ways to go.

This is the *worst* of the cuts from this project.  A moment of inattention and I'm all over the map.  The error here is maybe 1/16" at the worst.  No big deal in this case, but if this was lettering or a regular shape it would be a problem.

This is the *worst* of the cuts from this project. A moment of inattention and I’m all over the map. The error here is maybe 1/16″ at the worst. No big deal in this case, but if this was lettering or a regular shape it would be a problem.

When I did the last marquetry experiment I used the 72tpi blade as I wanted to be as accurate as I could for the practice.  With eight layers of veneer plus the waster veneer on the front and back of the packet it was really slow going.  Probably a couple of minutes for each little piece.  For the approximately 40 pieces in that picture it was easily three hours of sawing.  With this project the (approximately) 40 pieces took maybe 45 minutes to cut.  I was just getting in the groove.  Granted, there were only four layers of veneer, plus the wasters, in this packet.  I’ll have to do a timed comparison that is fair, but suffice it to say it more than twice as fast to use the 32tpi blade.  If I can get to smooth, accurate cuts with the 32tpi blade it will be a happy day in the shop.

I also practiced laying out the parts in an "exploded diagram" of the image as I sawed them out.  I had these first pieces sawn out before I thought to take a picture!

I also practiced laying out the parts in an “exploded diagram” of the image as I sawed them out. I had these first pieces sawn out before I thought to take a picture!  (I’m only doing the main rose, none of the other elements — this is a section of a larger image I want to use on a project soon)

Here are most of the parts of the rosebud laid out for sand shading.  After this the pieces were too confusing to know where they went.  I'm wasting too much time here shuffling parts.

Here are most of the parts of the rosebud laid out for sand shading. After this the pieces were too confusing to know where they went. I’m wasting too much time here shuffling parts.

...and the rest of the parts.

…and the rest of the parts.

I’m further along than this, I’ll wrap up the sand shading and assembly in the next post.  Then I’ll be designing some practice experiments with pocket hole screws.

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