ASFM Followup and Progress

working on a chevalet

Cut­ting a veneer pack­et on a chevalet

When Dave set out to write this piece I had only sched­uled one post, but he got unusu­al­ly ver­bose!  I decid­ed we’d try for two posts, one today and one Fri­day — be sure to stop back then for a con­tin­u­a­tion of his dis­cus­son of piece by piece. — Jenn

The first week of the ASFM class teach­es the stu­dents how to cut mar­quetry using a chevalet, and gives 15 – 20 hours of prac­tice.  By the end of the week you can cut along the line and man­age the very small pieces that are one of the ben­e­fits of using this approach. As men­tioned in the pri­or review of the school, the chevalet auto­mat­i­cal­ly cuts iden­ti­cal pieces by insur­ing the saw is per­pen­dic­u­lar to the veneer pack­et. If the cut line is very pre­cise­ly avail­able in iden­ti­cal mul­ti­ples and the lines are fol­lowed pre­cise­ly, piece by piece mar­quetry is pos­si­ble. By the end of the first week, it is pret­ty clear how accu­rate­ly each stu­dent can cut.  In week two, the more pre­cise stu­dents do piece by piece mar­quetry, and the oth­ers learn “Paint­ing in Wood”, a more sophis­ti­cat­ed ver­sion of pack­et cut­ting. We had both in the class I attend­ed, so I can com­ment on both.

Piece by Piece marquetry work

Piece by Piece mar­quetry work

Piece by piece mar­quetry is an ear­ly mass pro­duc­tion tech­nique.  If mar­quetry pieces could be cut very pre­cise­ly, it would be pos­si­ble to ori­ent bun­dles of veneer, each of one type, so that a dozen or more of each piece could be cut at once with ide­al grain ori­en­ta­tion. All of the pieces would be cut this way. These pieces could then be sand shad­ed to add depth to the design. The back­ground pieces would be cut last, then those shad­ed per­fect­ly cut fore­ground pieces could be insert­ed into the back­ground.  The fit could in con­cept be much tighter than in pack­et cut­ting, since there is no need to leave a saw kerf gap. The result is a dozen or more of iden­ti­cal pic­tures with ide­al grain ori­en­ta­tion, no gaps, and no lim­it on the use of mate­r­i­al type- there is no rea­son that small amounts of many woods could not be used.  The key con­straint to doing this is that the pieces need to be cut very pre­cise­ly.

Laying out the design for a Painting in Wood piece

Lay­ing out the design for a Paint­ing in Wood piece

Paint­ing in Wood” involves insert­ing opti­mal­ly ori­ent­ed pieces of veneer into filler lay­ers. Each lay­er could have 5 – 10 veneer inserts locat­ed only where they are required, and sep­a­rat­ed by filler pieces of veneer. Two lay­ers are shown in Pic­ture 1. When the pat­tern is cut, each pic­ture ele­ment is in the cor­rect col­or but very lit­tle valu­able wood is dis­card­ed. A typ­i­cal pack­et could have 6 – 8 lay­ers but only pro­duces one fin­ished pic­ture.  In the day, incor­rect­ly col­ored pic­tures were not accept­able, so this tech­nique min­i­mizes the use of valu­able mate­ri­als but takes more time per use­ful pic­ture than piece by piece, which was devel­oped lat­er.

Picture 2 Painting in Wood complete-1388

The key advan­tage of paint­ing in wood is that your eye­sight doesn’t need to be as good, and the pic­ture always fits togeth­er, since the fore­ground and the back­ground are cut togeth­er.  The sec­ond pic­ture shows the com­plet­ed Paint­ing in Wood piece from my class. Also, if you only want one final pic­ture, this uses expen­sive mate­r­i­al effi­cient­ly.

Dave will be back on Fri­day with more on his expe­ri­ence with the piece by piece mar­quetry tech­nique!

ASFM Followup and Progress: Piece by Piece Marquetry | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] Wednes­day we talked about the first part of Dave’s ASFM expe­ri­ence – today he’s back with more detail on piece by piece mar­quetry tech­nique. – Jenn […]

Project Update: Oeben Desk | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] My chevalet only has an 18” throat so unless (until?) I make a big­ger (and heav­ier, and more unwieldy) saw, so I am lim­it­ed in the size of what I can cut. Since the pat­tern with­out the bor­der was 17”, I made it with­out the bor­der, and I plan on inlay­ing the pan­el into the bor­der once I get some pur­ple­heart, which should be soon. I may regret this approach, but that’s why you make test pieces. I hope to have the pur­ple­heart with­in the next few weeks, and have time to work on the bor­der in July? […]

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Course Review: The American School of French Marquetry

working on a chevalet

This arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared in the newslet­ter for the Wash­ing­ton Woodworker’s GuildThe Wood­en Word.

The Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry is locat­ed in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia and offers class­es focus­ing in the tra­di­tion­al French 18th cen­tu­ry mar­quetry tech­nique as well as in the newest meth­ods for con­tem­po­rary designs. All stu­dents at the Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry are taught on the “chevalet de mar­que­terie” (Mar­quetry Easel for Paint­ing in Wood), or cut­ting horse. It was the tool used by the Parisian “ébéniste” and “mar­que­teur” and was unique to the French trade, which was very secre­tive. The chevalet allows the work­er to cut out very del­i­cate pat­terns in exot­ic woods and oth­er mate­ri­als with a high degree of accu­ra­cy.

The Instructors
chevalet-0747 - Copy

The school is run by Patrick Edwards and Patrice Leje­une, who are both out­stand­ing mas­ters in mar­quetry. Patrick left his career in High Ener­gy Physics in 1973 to repair and restore fur­ni­ture in
his native San Diego. With his avowed­ly pre-indus­tri­al per­spec­tive he became involved in muse­um qual­i­ty restora­tions ear­ly on work­ing with J. Paul Get­ty Muse­um and oth­ers. There he met a French con­ser­va­tor who gave him hints of the depth of knowl­edge still avail­able in France. Patrick became aware of the chevalet, a tool devel­oped in Paris before 1780 that allows very con­trolled cut­ting of veneer. After years of learn­ing from books, a con­tact at the Get­ty arranged for him to meet Dr. Pierre Ramond who, in addi­tion to writ­ing the sem­i­nal text “Mar­quetry”, Pierre was the chief mar­quetry instruc­tor at the Ecole Boulle, the Har­vard of French tech­ni­cal col­leges. He invit­ed Patrick to attend the school in 1992, which he did for a three month term. He was then invit­ed back for the three sub­se­quent years. In 2000, with Pierre’s bless­ing, he found­ed the Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry. The school teach­es tech­nique using Etudes (stud­ies), the same approach as the Ecole Boulle.

Patrick’s part­ner in the busi­ness is Patrice Leje­une. Patrice has two degrees from the Ecole Boulle. His tech­ni­cal train­ing is broad and very deep. Both of these men are extreme­ly tal­ent­ed crafts­men, pas­sion­ate about their work, and first rate teach­ers. They con­stant­ly dis­agree about details while being com­plete­ly aligned on big pic­ture views.

Etude 3 after cutting-1211 - Copy
Etude 2-0736 - Copy

Stage One: Boulle Work

This is also known as pack­et cut­ting, and is the basic way of mak­ing a mar­quetry pic­ture. A stack of veneers is trapped between two thin backer boards. The pat­tern is glued to the front board. A hole is drilled in the pack­et, and the fret­saw blade insert­ed. The pack­et is cut into the con­stituent pieces, which are care­ful­ly orga­nized. Some com­bi­na­tion of pieces is insert­ed into each back­ground piece, and mul­ti­ple copies of the pic­ture are pro­duced.

Any mar­quetry teacher would teach you those things. What is unique about ASFM is that both of the instruc­tors have made 6000 piece pan­els this way. There are tools, approach­es and orga­niz­ing tech­niques to make this hap­pen.

About the Chevalet

The heart of the sys­tem is the Chevalet. It is a sophis­ti­cat­ed hand-pow­ered scroll saw. The jaw sys­tem allows you to hold the pack­et so that very small and com­plex pieces can be cut accu­rate­ly with­out the veneer shat­ter­ing. The pre­ci­sion pos­si­ble is far beyond any scroll saw I have expe­ri­enced. I now have about 40 hours of expe­ri­ence using the chevalet at the school, but have spent $700 on parts and plans to make my own. This tool is unique and I believe worth the floor space, time, and mon­ey to con­struct. At its heart this is a hand tool and requires dex­ter­i­ty and prac­tice to mas­ter. Decent vision is also handy, though an Optivi­sor helps a lot.

Week one con­sists of three stud­ies. The objec­tives are to prac­tice using the chevalet and learn to deal with dif­fer­ent tricky issues. Some draw­ing skills are also taught by Kris­ten, Patrick’s wife and a for­mer art teacher. Keep­ing parts orga­nized, fix­ing mis­takes, assem­bly boards, mas­tic, glue­ups, hide glue tech­nol­o­gy, and pad pol­ish­ing are also cov­ered.

Etude 1 -1201 - Copy

Skill Level Required

This course is an amaz­ing intro­duc­tion to mar­quetry. If you were to take it with­out any back­ground, you would know how to do basic mar­quetry (using a chevalet) at the end of the week. How­ev­er, it is a much bet­ter class if you already know basic tech­niques. If you were to attend a Cor­don Bleu cook­ing school with no back­ground, you would learn to make an omelet. If you were already a rea­son­ably accom­plished cook, you could learn to make fab­u­lous food. Patrick and Patrice can do either, so it’s up to you which you’d like to learn from them.

This class is taught in a very spe­cif­ic way for very spe­cif­ic rea­sons. The key imped­i­ment to this method is actu­al­ly the chevalet itself. It is large and expen­sive. A scroll saw or a deep-throat­ed fret saw is suf­fi­cient for sim­ple mar­quetry of up to 200 pieces. A chevalet is more pre­cise and opens up oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties, which you can best appre­ci­ate when you’ve done mar­quetry some oth­er way. For real pre­ci­sion hand work, the chevalet is quite the tool. (Yes, a laser could do even bet­ter, but I don’t con­sid­er that rel­e­vant. I make things with a chevalet, I’m just feed­ing a machine with a laser.)

Etude 3 assembled-0777 - Copy

Final thoughts:

ASFM teach­es class­es four times a year in two week chunks. Patrick also teach­es for two weeks each year at Marc Adams’ school in Indi­anapo­lis. That is much clos­er to the East Coast, but San Diego in Feb­ru­ary is pret­ty nice. If the top­ic appeals to you this is the best train­ing avail­able in the US.

I would sug­gest that you read up and prac­tice ahead of time so that you can learn at a high­er lev­el. To be hon­est, these guys are wast­ed teach­ing at this lev­el, but there aren’t many oth­er teach­ers prep­ping for them. They also exhib­it no frus­tra­tion at teach­ing basic mate­r­i­al – their enthu­si­asm for their sub­ject is gen­uine and deep. They do offer high­er lev­el class­es to grad­u­ates of the ini­tial two class­es- there was one stu­dent there work­ing at a much high­er lev­el than the rest of us.

We’ll be back next week with more on Dave’s 57 Chevalet and what he’s done with the instruc­tion since leav­ing the school. — Jenn

ASFM Followup and Progress | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] the line and man­age the very small pieces that are one of the ben­e­fits of using this approach. As men­tioned in the pri­or review of the school, the chevalet auto­mat­i­cal­ly cuts iden­ti­cal pieces by insur­ing the saw is […]

Meet the Maker: Cville Arts Co-Op! | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] Enter the Char­lottesville Arts Coöper­a­tive Gallery – this is a store full of art and arti­sanal goods cre­at­ed by arti­sans who share a store­front space and oper­at­ing costs and labour. Heller and Heller joined and set up our space there at the begin­ning of March. (Read­ers of the blog will remem­ber that Dave was in San Diego the sec­ond half of Feb­ru­ary at the Amer… […]

Project Update: the Oeben Desk | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] And it is applied to curved sur­faces, often com­pound curves! This was one of the main rea­sons I went to the Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry in 2016 – to under­stand how to cut mar­quetry for curved sur­faces. One of the instruc­tors there, […]

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Finding Inspiration in Masterworks: Part IV, the Ruhlmann Cabinet D’Etat

For the last seg­ment of our Mas­ter­works series (for now — Dave and Eliz­a­beth are head­ing back to Europe this sum­mer!) we’re back to talk about Dave’s new ambi­tious per­son­al project(s): the Oeben Sec­re­taire a Cylin­dre and a Ruhlmann Cab­i­net D’Etat. In our pre­vi­ous install­ment at the Musée des Arts Dec­o­rat­ifs Dave had just decid­ed that instead of tak­ing away 1 project from these mas­ter­pieces, he would take on two.

If you missed any of the pre­vi­ous posts, you can catch them here: Part I, Part II, Part III. — Jenn


Deci­sions, deci­sions — Ruhlmann’s Cab­i­net D’Etat on the left, vs. Oeben’s Sec­re­taire a Cylin­dre on the right.

I’m not 100% sure which I will start first. At this point I intend to col­lect infor­ma­tion on both pieces, and start mak­ing test or sam­ple parts when I know enough to feel it would be use­ful.  I also need time from the items I need to run my dai­ly busi­ness, so that I can work on these longer term vision­ary items.
The issues with the Ruhlmann pieces are sim­i­lar to the Oeben piece. The struc­ture isn’t clear, and the mar­quetry is of an extra­or­di­nary qual­i­ty and size. From my inspec­tion at the time I con­clud­ed that the flow­ers are made in small­er clus­ters then inlaid into the back­ground. There has been remark­ably lit­tle pub­lished about Ruhlmann’s cab­i­net con­struc­tion.  He didn’t make any fur­ni­ture him­self, he designed the object then skilled employ­ees trans­lat­ed the con­cept into fur­ni­ture.  Ruhlmann select­ed the mate­ri­als, but it isn’t clear to me yet whether he was involved in review­ing the con­struc­tion details.  I need to spend some time review­ing the mate­ri­als in the dec­o­ra­tive arts muse­um library to under­stand this bet­ter.

A side-by-side look at the marquetry styles

A side-by-side look at the mar­quetry styles

This blog will be help­ful by mak­ing me think things through.  So far it has made me real­ize that I need to con­tact the cura­tors at both muse­ums to see if addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion is avail­able, and pos­si­bly to have a pri­vate view­ing of these pieces when we go back to Paris for our 35th wed­ding anniver­sary. Also, that there is an online cat­a­log for these muse­ums that will be much more use­ful now that I am inter­est­ed in par­tic­u­lar pieces rather than every­thing in gen­er­al.

Oeben was also famous for his mechan­i­cal com­po­nents.  Mov­ing parts and hid­den draw­ers were stan­dard.  I am not yet aware of any in this piece, but it seems unlike­ly that some­thing with such a com­plex design would not have any spe­cial fea­tures.  It will be fun to find them.


In preparation for my time at the American School of French Marquetry, I began a sample Ruhlmann panel motif first.

In prepa­ra­tion for my time at the Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry, I began a sam­ple Ruhlmann pan­el motif first.

For more behind the scenes, be sure to fol­low Dave on Insta­gram! We’ll be back next Tues­day with a review of Dave’s time at the Amer­i­can School of French Mar­quetry in sun­ny San Diego!


Project Update: Oeben Desk | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] I had expect­ed this piece to be a Ruhlmann piece. His work is exquis­ite, very fine and very com­plex. There is a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of his pieces at the Musee des Arts Dec­o­ratif, and I spent sev­er­al hours with them, and have sev­er­al hun­dred close­up pho­tos from every angle, so that I could in the­o­ry make any of them. In the end, that wasn’t what real­ly grabbed me though. […]

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Finding Inspiration in Masterpieces: Part III, Musée des Arts Decoratifs

Part III of our series is here, and our next stop is the Musée des Arts Dec­o­rat­ifs! Next week we’ll be back to talk about Dave’s next steps for his ambi­tious per­son­al project(s). — Jenn

By D4m1en (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By D4m1en (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://​cre​ativecom​mons​.org/​l​i​c​e​n​s​e​s​/​b​y​-​s​a​/​3.0)], via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Half hour out­side and I was ready for the next stop: the Musée des Arts Dec­o­rat­ifs, down the street from the entrance to the Lou­vre (and lit­er­al­ly with­in anoth­er wing of the same palace. )

The lay­out in this muse­um is not as attrac­tive as the ear­li­er two – pieces are pret­ty much just lined up by peri­od. In most cities the col­lec­tion of 15th to 18th cen­tu­ry fur­ni­ture would be amaz­ing, but not after see­ing the oth­er two muse­ums in the same day.


This col­lec­tion unique­ly con­tin­ued on to cur­rent works. French 19th c fur­ni­ture was less deriv­a­tive than British or Amer­i­can. The Art Nou­veau col­lec­tion was very good — Galle, Majorelle, and oth­ers. There was ear­ly art deco from 1910 that I had not been aware of. The rea­son that I was vis­it­ing my third fur­ni­ture muse­um in one day though was to see the Art Deco pieces. I was hop­ing to see some Ruhlmann as well as some of the oth­er design­ers that had exhib­it­ed at the 1925 World’s Fair in Paris.


The Art Deco exhib­it was at the fur­thest end of the build­ing, in sev­er­al large rooms. Ruhlmann had pride of place, as he should. There were four beau­ti­ful pieces lined up along a par­ti­tion.  The first was a roll top desk, a direct descen­dant of the Oeben desk.  It unfor­tu­nate­ly was dam­aged — the joint hold­ing the front to the side was open. Scan­dal!  The joint had failed because it was a sin­gle dow­el! That makes some of the very thin con­nec­tions more clear — he was will­ing to sac­ri­fice func­tion for form. The piece was extreme­ly ele­gant, but the fin­ish was also marred. The tam­bours in the roll top must have flexed and the ebony slats were rub­bing against the hous­ing. With very fine tol­er­ances, wood is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a great mate­r­i­al, only the most beau­ti­ful.


There were sev­er­al pieces along the wall. I went around to the oth­er side and there were five more Ruhlmann pieces. The first was the very famous cab­i­net état, a tri­an­gu­lar cab­i­net almost four feet tall, three feet wide, with the most amaz­ing mar­quetry on the door. Unlike some muse­ums, this piece was so acces­si­ble I could have touched it. I didn’t.  The mar­quetry looked frag­ile, and deserved to be left alone. I was able to pho­to­graph the entire piece exte­ri­or at very close dis­tance, close enough to see the saw cuts in the mar­quetry.


I had gone to Paris to find an art deco piece to repli­cate, and had found the Oeben desk instead. In for a pen­ny, in for a pound.  I would make this piece also!

Inspiration from Masterworks: the Art Deco Marquetry of Ruhlmann | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] you missed any of the pre­vi­ous posts, you can catch them here: Part I, Part II, Part III. – […]

Museum Review: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] want to see it, but it’s not good if you real­ly want to appre­ci­ate the details. By com­par­i­son, in the Musee des Arts Dec­o­ratif in Paris you could get close enough lick the pieces, though I don’t rec­om­mend it. Less­er muse­ums […]

Project Update: Oeben Desk | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] had expect­ed this piece to be a Ruhlmann piece. His work is exquis­ite, very fine and very com­plex. There is a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of his pieces at the Musee des Arts Dec­o­ratif, and I spent sev­er­al hours with them, and have sev­er­al hun­dred close­up pho­tos from every angle, so […]

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Finding Inspiration in Masterpieces: Part II, the Louvre

And we’re back!

You may won­der why we took a blog­ging hia­tus when I promised you a 4 part series, and the hon­est answer is that my son, prize grand­child Owen, learned to crawl. Now I have to chase him around the house instead of pol­ish­ing up blog posts for pub­li­ca­tion.  We’ve hope­ful­ly resolved this issue with bet­ter struc­ture for my sched­ule and the blog’s sched­ule (and a playpen): from today on we are intend­ing to post some­thing new on Tues­days every week!

We’re pick­ing up where we left off with Dave’s vis­it to 3 great muse­ums of Paris, and I’m sure the Lou­vre needs no intro­duc­tion. Dave doesn’t have all that much to say about it either because hon­est­ly it’s fair­ly over­whelm­ing, so we’ll leave you with some pic­tures and be back next week with Part III, Musee des Arts Dec­o­rat­ifs! — Jenn


From the Musée Nis­sim de Camon­do I went to the Lou­vre. Unlike the Musée Camon­do which is very focused on a spe­cif­ic time peri­od,  their fur­ni­ture col­lec­tion is much larg­er, cov­ers a much broad­er peri­od of time, and is in a series of small rooms that can be viewed from both ends.


Again, these were glo­ri­ous pieces, and many were com­pan­ion pieces to those in Musée Camon­do.  View­ing posi­tions were lim­it­ed for many pieces because of the inevitable crowds. They were real­ly fine fur­ni­ture, but some­how weren’t as inspir­ing as the more inti­mate set­ting of the small­er muse­um.

Editor’s note: As an archi­tect, I have some thoughts on this: most fur­ni­ture is not designed for the scale of the Lou­vre.  Fur­ther, most his­toric fur­ni­ture is intend­ed as part of a tableau, to set a spe­cif­ic scene — it’s not meant to be seen against blank walls with no accom­pa­ny­ing pieces.  While many oth­er works of art look bet­ter the clos­er you can exam­ine them, objects that are both beau­ti­ful and meant for use, like fur­ni­ture and build­ings, lose their impact when removed from their real sur­round­ings. The pieces in this post shown in dec­o­rat­ed rooms to me imme­di­ate­ly seem more impact­ful.


By the time I saw all of the Louvre’s fur­ni­ture, I need­ed a break.

We’ll be back next Tues­day with more mas­ter­piece inspi­ra­tion!

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Finding Inspiration In Masterworks: Part IV, The Ruhlmann Cabinet D’Etat | Heller And Heller Custom Furniture - […] you missed any of the pre­vi­ous posts, you can catch them here: Part I, Part II, Part III. – […]

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