Monthly Archives: October 2014

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.



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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