Marquetry Class Day One (and Minus One)

I left about 9am Sunday from Santa Cruz to drive to San Diego.  I plugged my first planned stop into the GPS, put on an audio book and put the pedal down.  I’m listening to “The Alloy of Law” buy Brandon Sanderson — the “Mistborn” trilogy that this is and follow-on to is one of my favorite fantasy stories, up there with the Sword of Truth and the Wheel of Time series.  More action and better magic.  Anyway, it was easy to get caught up in the story, which made the long drive pass enjoyably.

I just made it to Pasadena just in time to visit the Crow house, built in 1909 by the Greene and Hall brothers.  It’s on the market for $2.7M, and while it’s not as elaborate as the better known Gamble house it’s still very nice.  I especially liked the layout of the house, and the large garage in the back.

20_214024284_0_1403564589 20_214024284_1_1403564589 20_214024284_2_1403564589

After visiting the Crow house I was just in time to sit in traffic to San Diego, making the hotel by about 7pm.  This morning I got up and after liberal quantities of coffee I found Patrick Edwards’ shop where the class is held.

Patrick Edwards' Shop

Patrick Edwards’ Shop

We spent the morning talking about some history related to Marquetry, and Patrick gave everyone a lot of information about using hide glue, which is essential to assembling marquetry as he teaches it.  The five main types of marquetry he described are:

  1. Tarsia Certosina, apparently the earliest method which involved excavating an area using a knife and chisels, inlaying a piece into the solid wood background, leveling it and then repeating.  This would probably the the ancient equivalent of modern-day inlay as seen on guitars and other instrument work.
  2. Tarsia Geometrica, this covers both complex geometric designs, like a field of 3D cubes, and elaborate patterns of veneer where the slices are arranged in patterns to produce different designs.
  3. Tarsia a Toppo, this is generally “banding”, where veneers are arranged in a pattern and glued together into a block, then strips are sawn from the block to produce banding that is used as a border
  4. Tarsia a Incastro (the Boulle method), this involved assembling a packet of contrasting veneers and sawing out the design through the whole packet.  The individual layers are then assembled to produce the finished design.  In a packet with two colors, you end up with essentially a positive and a negative image.  The saw kerf is visible, and is filled with glue and sawdust of mastic.  Double-bevel marquetry and “painting in wood” are probably both variants of this method.
  5. The Classic Method, this involves producing several packets, one of background veneers, and one for each color in the design.  The individual parts of the design pattern are cut out and glued to the appropriate packets, allowing you to product multiple copies of the same design.

If all that sounds like confusing gibberish, that’s ok.  I’ve only got a tenuous grasp on the differences myself.  The interesting point is that this week we’re only doing Boulle (pronounced “bool” not “bool-ley”).  Over the course of the week we’ll do three different projects, and after we took a lunch break we started on the first project.

Packets for a "piece-by-piece" project (not mine).  The top packet is the background, maybe 4 or 5 backgrounds.  The lower is a set of leaves for a different project.  You cut away half of the line in each packet, and the parts should fit together (yeah...ok)

Packets for a “piece-by-piece” project (not mine, we’re not doing this technique this week). The top packet is the background, maybe 4 or 5 backgrounds. The lower is the leaves.  There would be a different packet for each color in the project. You cut away half of the line in each packet, and the parts should fit together (yeah…ok)

Part of my mission this week is to sample fish tacos at as many places as I can, as San Diego is the home of the fish taco in the same way that Kansas City is known for BBQ at places like Arthur Bryant’s.  I tried the fare at a place near the hotel last night (not great) and today at El Comal, about 6 blocks from Patrick’s shop.  El Comal good, although there is room for improvement.

Lunch at El Comal

Lunch at El Comal

After lunch we started assembling and cutting our Boulle packet.  The packet has a 3mm backer board, a piece of newsprint treated with lard folded over on itself to lubricate the blade, three layers of thick veneer, and a front board with the design laminated to it.  These layers are taped together into a packet, and pilot holes drilled for the blade.  We started cutting, and I quickly discovered it takes a certain level of coordination to operate the clamp with my feet, move the saw with my hand and rotate the packet to follow the line.  More that I could muster today.  I was feeling a little frustrated, but I wasn’t doing any worse than anyone else in the class.

We all cut three or four pieces from our packets and called it a day, with Patrick’s promise that by tomorrow our bodies would be quickly getting acclimated to the process.  Actually, by the last part I cut it already felt more comfortable, the first few it was more like a drunken roller coaster than any kind of precision operation.

My Boulle packet with the first four sections cut.  It's sloppy, and I broke one of the parts.  It's no different than anyone else's though.

My Boulle packet with the first four sections cut. It’s sloppy, and I broke one of the parts. It’s no different than anyone else’s though.



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5 thoughts on “Marquetry Class Day One (and Minus One)

  1. Sounds like a steep learning curve. I’m sure you’ll do great. Plus San Diego is a great place. I learned to fly at Montgomery Field, just north of where your at. The best tacos I’ve ever had came from the street carts in Tiajuana. Of course this was back before NAFTA when it was much safer. Never fish from the street cart though. That would be pushing my luck.

    I love the photos from the Crow House. Looks like a great place to experience.


  2. I will enjoy your blog about your experiences at ASFM. I was a student there in 2002 but have not made a lot of progress since then. Not anybody’s fault but mine for having way too many interests many of which are woodworking oriented. Observe and learn all you can especially from Patrice and Kristen who tried to give this old chemist some art instruction.

    I have followed many of your projects via your blog for some time. Thank you for writing.

    Chuck Walker

    We used to live in San Jose. A delightful experience until it was necessary to relocate 40 years back to upstate New York.

  3. Jonathan

    Hey Joe,

    I’m glad to see that your class is off to a good start. Thanks for blogging about it… It’s sort of like we get to experience it to. San Diego is a great town, and hopefully you’ll get to see some of it.. But with class during the day and blogging afterwards you’re going to have a full schedule. Have some fish tacos for me.


  4. Ditto on Greg’s comment on tacos from Tiajuna. I had my first ever one there and all the others since don’t measure up. Are there going to be any pics of you at the “I don’t know how to spell the name of the machine”?

  5. Roy

    On your way out of town, drop by Fish 101 in Encinitas for some good tacos. I’ve heard the best fish tacos outside of TJ is a food truck called Mariscos German in San Ysidro. It’s on my list 🙂

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