ASFM Followup and Progress: Piece by Piece Marquetry

Piece by Piece marquetry work

Fig. 3 Piece by Piece marquetry work 

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

Piece by piece marquetry is pretty intense. This is both mentally and physically more demanding than packet cutting.  Picture 3 shows the finished result so that the subsequent pictures make sense. The concept is pretty straightforward: multiple copies of the picture pattern are made, and cut up so that each piece has all of its lines visible. Three additional copies are made: one for the background, one to mark the shading, and a third one showing wood selections, which can also be studied while cutting then assembling the picture(s).

Figure 4 - Prepped & nailed packet

Figure 4 – Prepped & nailed packet

Veneer packets are made up in each wood used in the picture. There needs to be one layer for each desired final copy of the picture. We made three, so our packets had three pieces of the same veneer, with a grease paper sheet and a backer board. The packets we used were 6” square or so, big enough to allow many parts to be cut but easy to handle in the chevalet. Packets that are bigger than about 9” in any dimension are more difficult to handle, though the saw capacity is 28”. I haven’t worked a large packet yet. Anyway, each piece of paper is laid on the correct wood packet, oriented for the grain. Since you can’t see the figure on any but the top level, this technique works best if each layer is the same is grain and figure. All of the paper pieces are laid out and then glued to the top layer of the correct veneer packets. The packets are then nailed together, between the pieces. The packet gets floppy very quickly as it is cut, and the nails help to counteract that. The nails are cut off then clinched to hold the packet tight. Figure 4 shows the leaf patterns glued to the packet, which has been nailed. Each leaf piece is then cut clockwise, just cutting away the line. In theory you should leave half of the line, but it’s only 0.1 mm wide, far thinner than the blade. In practice even Patrice mostly cuts away the whole line. Patrick no longer does piece by piece – he feels that his eyes aren’t good enough. He uses Painting in Wood, and his work is stunning.

Since the outside of each piece is waste, the saw blade can be taken into the waste area whenever is useful. Most frequently this is done to turn the blade around, allowing very tight inside and outside corners. In principle one can be relaxed when cutting, since duplicate pieces can easily be made if the saw wanders. In practice, each piece takes long enough to make that making extras is very unappealing. Laserbeam focus when cutting is the result. Hand cramps are also common. Frequent breaks are necessary to keep your hands and eyes working well, as well as using Magnifer glasses.

Figure 5 - Piece by piece, foreground cutting completed

Figure 5 – Piece by piece, foreground cutting completed

Figure 6 - Shading completed

Figure 6 – Shading completed

Once all of the pieces are cut they are placed in the assembly tray in the correct place and orientation, figure 5. Once all of the pieces are cut they should be sand shaded, using the diagram you prepared as a guide. Traditionally the light source for shading is coming from 10 o’ clock – the upper left.  Figure 6 shows the sand shaded pieces.

Figure 7: Cutting the background

Figure 7: Cutting the background

Only now is the background cut, since it has a nasty habit of expanding or contracting. Contracting is particularly bad, given that our foreground piece cutting is as tight as we can manage. The background has nails through the foreground areas, to stiffen the packet. It is cut counterclockwise, so that the waste is to the right of the sawblade, the same as the foreground pieces. Since our view is unobstructed to the left of the blade, the right side is always the reject side. Lefties of course have a saw configured the other way around. Figure 7 shows the background in the chevalet, being cut.

Figure 8: Background cut completed

Figure 8: Background cut completed

Once the background is cut the packet can be disassembled. Figure 8 shows the background panel during disassembly of the packet. The pictures are immediately assembled the same way as packet cut pictures. The clearances are less regular though, so there is potential excitement. It is important to have knife to pry or lift pieces as needed.

Mastic is then applied, to fill in the vein lines (and any imperfections in the picture).  Once the mastic is dry the picture can be glued to a substrate. The paper on the front is removed once the glue has dried.

For a first piece, the result is impressive. The chevalet provided sufficient control by this point to make a decent picture, and that will only improve with practice. It would have been nice to complete a second piece, but some of the students labored on this one, so Patrick kept the pace moderate. It took 4 hours of prep time then 8-10 hours of cutting to make this piece. With practice it would take less than half as long. If 12 copies had been made that would translate to just more than an hour per picture even at my speed, which would translate to a reasonable price while I improve my technique.

Since we had some time on Friday, Patrick also demonstrated how to glue up columns and panels using hide glue. Since hide glue tacks very quickly but dries very slowly, it is ideal for sequential layouts. Piece one is glued, piece two laid next to and on top of it, then the overlap is cut off. Since both pieces of veneer are cut at the same time, there is no gap. This can be repeated for hours, so complex panels can be assembled, the bandings applied, and then crossbanding, all with no gaps or veneer tape.

Figure 9 - The Chevalet

Figure 9 – The Chevalet

ASFM’s teaching methods are accessible to any level of student, but I really feltl I got much more out of it by having some experience already. This was the best class I’ve attended, and I highly recommend it. Since returning home I have built my chevalet (figure 9) and am making marquetry pictures using both packet cutting and piece by piece approaches. My intent is to design modern pictures but make them using the chevalet, since it is more precise than any other I know of.



Heller & Heller

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Heller & Heller

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