12 Feb 2013
February 12, 2013

The use of dyed veneers in marquetry

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Tom Wessells

Installment #1:  The use of dyed veneers in marquetry

            I have been designing and building furniture since the early 70s.  A parallel interest that I pursued as an undergraduate was photography.  Some four years ago I decided to combine my furniture design with a graphic element inspired by photography.  I became interested in marquetry, a technique using veneers to make decorative elements often found in period furniture.  Much of traditional marquetry is geometric or stylized.  I wanted a more contemporary take on this traditional technique.  What I discovered was the availability of dyed veneers.  They come in a wide variety of colors.  The veneers used for dyed veneer are often porous and open grained which adds a minor challenge to their use in marquetry.

Most woodworkers doing marquetry use a power scrollsaw for curved lines and a veneer saw for straight lines.  I was drawn to a different technique called the windowpane method.  This method employs a surgeon’s scalpel.  The basic method in the windowpane method is to begin with the background veneer.  From the background veneer you cut a shape you wish to depict.  Once the hole in the background veneer is cut out, a contrasting veneer color is taped to the back of the background veneer.  With the scalpel one uses the background veneer hole as a form or template to score the outline of the hole on the taped veneer piece.  When the taped piece is scored, it is untapped from the background veneer.  Using the scalpel the shape is cut out along the score line.  If done well, the cut out fits neatly into the background veneer hole.  It is held in place by lightly dabbing glue around the seam made when the veneers are assembled.

The reason for giving so much detail on the windowpane method is to explain how this method better suits my  design ideas for marquetry.  I want to produce organic images that have few if any straight lines.  While this can be done with a scrollsaw, I believe the windowpane approach allows for better execution of these shapes.

Most of my marquetry combines dyed and natural veneers.  If we were selecting colors for a painting, there would be no problem in finding the right color for a marquetry work.  Paint is available in infinite hues where as marquetry is limited to the dyed colors produced.  This at times may limit your subject choice; however, compromises can be made to offset the problems of a limited pallet.


Installment #2:  Sand shading and veneer direction to create a sense of three dimension

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