Marquetry Tutorial 101 ... Window Style #1: Marquetry Tutorial 101 ... Window Style

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Blog entry by justoneofme posted 02-16-2013 03:07 AM 9678 reads 11 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Marquetry Tutorial 101 ... Window Style series no next part

Hi Lumber Jock Buddies!

I thought it might be interesting for those wanting to dabble a bit with veneers, especially in the creation of Marquetry ... to pass along some (what I hope are) simple steps to follow, using a simple method I learned many years ago at the hands of a Latvian Master.

By now you are all familiar with Shipwright’s fabulous Marquetry, and incredible cutting skill using his hand built Chevalet!! I hope Paul won’t mind me bringing his talents into my blog :) ... but he has also blogged the varied ways in which Marquetry can be approached, which I have found interesting and very informative. It might help to brush up a bit by reading them again … especially ’Marquetry Cutting Styles #3’. This ‘Classic Style’ is quite similar to the ’Window Method’ I’m about to explain … but with a slightly different twist.

For the beginner, there’s no need for any fancy tools other than a pen-sized Exacto knife, sharp pencil, a piece of cardboard, tracing paper, a cutting board, low-tac masking tape, glue & sawdust, a paint scraper, some weighty books, a design … and of course a variety of veneers.

That’s how I started off creating Marquetry pictures ... although my slightly arthritic hands have been spoiled since the introduction of my Excalibur scroll saw into the workshop. We’ve been through thick and thin … literally!! over these past 30 years!!

However … long before I was able to afford that beauty, I managed to cut my very first commissioned piece on an old electric Singer sewing machine! The jewellers blade replaced the sewing needle, and a foot peddle gave me very basic speed control. Sorry about the photo. It was taken BDC … Before Digital Cameras!! Many of the photos I’ll slip into this blog are from the past, so the fine cutting lines are not very visible. That may be a good thing!!

I don’t have a Marquetry design on the go right now, so just quickly set this up (mainly for Lumber Jock Stefang), as Mike has expressed an interest in this Window Method … and after going into a great wordy explanation of how it ‘works’, I’m thinking pictures are worth a thousand words! ... and may be easier to follow. Stefang has been doing a wonderful blog … and now would be a good time to check out his beautiful Marquetry Dragon!! Actually I think Mike is well beyond what my blog has to offer!

You start, of course by drawing up a design … make it simple! Now I have to explain, for those actually reading this and not just looking at the pictures! This whole blog idea started off just wanting to show how cutting through a pad or stack of veneers can be done without too much prep-work, and still produce crisp, sharp points without breakage. I wasn’t thinking design at all, so just went ahead with a free-hand cut. Then decided that an explanation of the ‘Window Method’ would be helpful. Yikes! Like I said … make it simple until you feel ready to spread your wings. Because I started off “bass-ackwards’, my sample is more complicated than it needed to be!!!!

The Window Method of cutting can be used whether producing one Marquetry design … or cutting multiples. Here is a sample of my stock on hand, ready to use. Pads of 4, 6, 8, 12 and 24 veneers have been formed and used throughout the years, with boxes of them ready to use whenever I am.

As you can see … each individual pad holds the same type of veneer, with the grains running in the same direction. For the purpose of this blog, I quickly grabbed a pad of poplar. The top veneer has darkened with age, but you’ll soon see the green veneer appear. As stated previously I just as quickly free-formed the cut with no actual design in mind. This pad is held together with masking tape … thicker ones are stapled together (and clearly marked where the staples are!).

I’m too wordy … look at the pictures!!

Okay … now don’t expect to cut something like this right away! Actually … go ahead, because it’s easy to free-form cut without a line to follow. Play around turning corners, and as you become more confident, turn tighter corners. Stop the scroll saw mid-way through cutting … then start up again. You’ll quickly learn how much firmness is needed to hold that pad of veneers in place while the machine is running! I’ve been playing for years. Even play needs practice!!

Because I started this tutorial (and I say that loosely because Teacher-I-Am-Not!) all wrong … I’ll now put that piece just cut into an (after the fact) drawn design.

When you’ve decided upon your design, transfer it to cardboard with tracing paper. This is your pattern to follow. It doesn’t really matter where you start within that design. There’s usually some sort of focal point … a boat, building, tree, etc. Just go ahead and cut one little section out. Of course you know what little section I cut out ... pretend you haven’t seen the previous pictures!! That first section removed from the pattern is always the easiest to cut because you are following the pencil line that has marked that window.

Cut that section of veneer ... whether it be one veneer cut by hand, or several padded together and cut by machine. Cutting by hand is not hard to do, but your fingers will tire from the pressure needed to cut through the harder veneers. Be patient! Once cut, insert that veneer into the pattern and hold it in place on the back of the cardboard with masking tape.

The next step is to cut another section from the pattern ... usually neighbouring the first cut piece. Then place this windowed area over the veneer chosen for it. In this way you can move the pattern around to see what grain pattern (or colour as well) looks better. Once you’ve found that perfect placement, use masking tape to hold the pattern down while scribing the area where wood meets wood with the fine bladed Exacto knife. This will be an exact line to cut … pencil in the rest of the window’s perimeter.

You can see the pencil lines that I’m not really bothering to follow exactly. You can if you want, after all … practice makes perfect! You can also see the blade-scribed line that has to be exact as possible. I’ve marked an ‘x’ on the outside of that line so you know while I’m cutting … I’m not cutting on the inside of that line. This is something you’ll figure out on your own with practice.

Even after all these years I sometimes slip off that exact line. But that’s okay too … just try as best you can, and know that white glue and sawdust are your friends!!!

Time for distraction! Stefang (Mike) asked to see some of my Marquetry, so I’m trying to do just that along the way!
Here’s a design ready to be transferred. Work in mid-stage. And the finished dining table and chair set.

Now back to the Window Method of cutting ... and the 2nd piece is ready to tape into place. Taping from the back allows full vision of your design while working. Notice there are only two extra pieces of this section … because I cut from a pad of 3 veneers. I used this same method (and pad in 3’s) when cutting commissioned work because those extras come in handy if one piece doesn’t look just right, or has broken.

I know you’ve got the picture now as to how the Window Method works, but I’m cutting one more section to add a helpful tip … making that impossibly fine scribed line easier to see for cutting. Note the magnifying set-up I have for scrolling (1st photo) ... that’s a big help at times too!!

When you know where the scribed line has to go, place masking tape firmly over that area beforehand, scribe the line … then sparingly use black shoe polish to rub over the cut, wiping away all excess. Make sure surrounding areas are protected from the polish because it cannot be removed from unfinished wood!

Another distraction … for Mike’s benefit!! This poor little occasional table had been exposed to the elements in an old barn and was destined for the garbage bin by the time I found it, took it home … and gave it another lifetime of use!

So now we go back to the Window Method ... soon the cardboard pattern will be completely transformed into veneer! I’m not going to go that far, because you know the routine. Cut a section, pencil and scribe your chosen veneer, cut and tape in place.

Patience! This tutorial is just about finished, but you need to know how to prepare your work so it’s ready to be glued onto a backboard … or incorporated into furniture. To explain this as quickly as possible, I’ll show you pictures of one of my multiple designs already prepared.

Pretend (again) the whole cardboard pattern is now a patchwork of veneers ... held in place with your small bits of masking tape on the back side. Using the masking tape, cover the design on the front. This not only holds everything in place, but all those cut lines are covered too, and ready to accept filler from behind. Low-tac masking tape is used because it’s easier to remove (later) without damage to the veneers. Press the tape firmly in place especially along all those cut-lines. Flip it over and remove all the little bits of masking tape. Brush the back surface with a fairly stiff brush to remove any grit left over from sand-shading.

I know! I didn’t go into sand-shading because that’s another whole blog on it’s own!! But you’ll soon see how effective sand-shading is…...........

With the back of your design exposed, press a mixture of white glue and sawdust into all the cut-lines. I mix it into a fairly heavy paste, and add powder Tempera paint to darken the mix if accent lines are desired. If working a large design, do this in stages … filling, then scraping excess off, cover with waxed paper and apply some (weighty books) overtop to keep the veneers from buckling (moisture causes all veneers to buckle) while it dries.

When all the cut-lines have been adequately filled, and excess quickly removed before it dries … cover the area with waxed paper and a clean board. Leave it under pressure (I use 2 big cement blocks on top of that board) until completely dried. Use a paint scraper to scrape away any excess buildup of filler … you may have to refill some lines that got missed. They’re easy to see if you hold the design up to the light! Do the refill and let dry under pressure again.

When dried and scraped, the design will hold together all on its own ... so now is the time to remove the masking tape from the front of your Marquetry design. Carefully! Although low-tac is used and minimal pressure has been applied … there still remains the risk of pulling out some veneer with the tape. Go slowly and that won’t happen.

Now you can see the accent lines that the darkened sawdust filler created ... and the effects of sand-shading! This Marquetry design is now ready to apply to whatever surface you desire. Because I use to cut multiples of one design, each was covered with waxed paper and placed between sheets of doorskin (thin wood) to cover the entire work.

This sandwiched packet of prepared designs is then labeled and placed under constant (but not extreme) pressure until ready for use.

There ya go … give it a try!! And just to cap this off, here are a few more samples of my Marquetry Art.

Many thanks for reading this tutorial blog!! I hope this has been helpful! Don’t be shy … if something isn’t clear please let me know and I’ll do my best to clarify! Remember … Teacher-I-Am-Not! I may have missed out a step or two?!!

Best Wishes to all my Lumber Jock Buddies :)

-- Elaine in Duncan

18 comments so far

View shipwright's profile


8381 posts in 3311 days

#1 posted 02-16-2013 04:16 AM

Fantastic tutorial.
I get to live 20 minutes from Elaine and have access to all this knowledge and talent first hand.
How did I get so lucky.
Some day, Elaine, I will discover how you do the magic.
For now I’m happy to learn from you with everyone else.

.......I did use this method on my rose box after Elaine explained it to me.
It is an excellent style for any marqueteur to have in his / her repertoire.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3531 days

#2 posted 02-16-2013 04:24 AM

Good golly Elaine, this is very informative and I find it interesting. Your work is very well done and I’m very impressed! This blog is very well done and I found it easy to understand and follow. Thanks for taking several hours to put this out (I know it took several hours cause I recently did one) to teach us who have never done this type of thing.

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2701 days

#3 posted 02-16-2013 04:26 AM

Good blog Elaine (at least the parts I did read !). Didn’t read it all, as Lyn would kill me if I took up yet another side interest . . . beautiful pictures too !

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View Michael1's profile


403 posts in 3173 days

#4 posted 02-16-2013 04:29 AM

Outstanding Blog!!! Very well put together and your work is fantastic!! I am really looking forward to future blogs on this subject. Cant wait to read the next one!

Thanks for taking the time to teach us all this process!

-- Michael Mills, North Carolina,

View Dez's profile


1167 posts in 4590 days

#5 posted 02-16-2013 05:57 AM

Thank you for the time you spent just to share this with us. Lovely works of art!

-- Folly ever comes cloaked in opportunity!

View stefang's profile


16752 posts in 3847 days

#6 posted 02-16-2013 11:18 AM

I can’t thank you enough for this tutorial Elaine, and the added bonus of seeing some of your fantastic work! You make the technical part seem so rational and yes, even easy. Now I am even more excited about marquetry than before. I am aware that the artistry is the most important factor here to get the kind of results your work reflects, but even we lesser gifted souls should still be able to turn out some reasonably nice pieces if we start with a good design and take our cues from the artist’s work.

I love the scoring cut with masking tape and shoe polish technique. Great stuff! I think I have some shoe polish…somewhere. Using the cardboard waster like that is also very cool and seems to allow assembling of smaller parts of a larger motive as well. I learned a lot here. What a great help towards towards moving forward.

This a wonderful blog and I am so looking forward to the next one! How lucky we are to rub elbows with such talented and generous people like yourself Elaine. I enjoy the humor too.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3379 days

#7 posted 02-16-2013 11:48 AM

This tutorial is great, Elaine. Thanks for the trouble that you’ve gone to and I look forward to the upcoming parts in the series. You’re doing a wonderful job and your work is beautiful.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2520 days

#8 posted 02-16-2013 01:17 PM

Wow. I DID read it all and as beautiful as I know these things can be, I must admit that I doubt that I’d ever be able to develope the patience and persistance to do this kind of detailed work.

Beautiful work! Thanks for taking the time to blog and share this.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View ~Julie~'s profile


617 posts in 3547 days

#9 posted 02-16-2013 02:59 PM

Elaine you do fabulous work and you explained it all so well. This is not something I’ve done before, but feel I could tackle by following your directions (you ARE a teacher!)
My only problem is that I only have a really lousy Mastercraft (Canadian Tire) scroll saw and I don’t think I could do such fine work on it.
Two questions… is there a specific blade used for this process, one that seems to be very, very fine?
And… where does one find different veneers such as you have used? Lee Valley?

-- ~Julie~

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 4343 days

#10 posted 02-16-2013 03:35 PM

Elaine, thank you so much for taking the time to document this method and share your work with us. I picked up some tips here that I will have to add to my repertoire…the shoe polish to accent the scribed line and the use of Tempera paint to accent the mastic are techniques that I definitely will want to try.

Elaine how thick are the veneers that you are working with? In my experience working with thin commercial veneers I can’t cut them directly on the scroll saw like you show without re-enforcing them with paper or tape.

One other tip that Paul and I have discovered is that clear Con-tac shelf liner adhesive works very well during assembly and is much easier to work with and cheaper than low tack painters tape.

The big advantage I see in the window method is the ability to fully leverage the grain direction to best effect for every piece. When we cut a pad on the chevalet we don’t have the same degree of artistic selection available.

Elaine, I like your press…where ever did you find that, or did you have it made for you? I’d love to see some more pictures of it please!

Please keep blogging Elaine, you are very entertaining and make me smile :)

-- Aim high. Ride easy. Trust God. Neale Donald Walsch

View Nate Meadows's profile

Nate Meadows

1132 posts in 2719 days

#11 posted 02-16-2013 03:46 PM


You have some serious talent!!!! Your work is beautiful!Keep up the blogging. Contrary to your beliefs, you are a teacher!


-- "With a little bit of faith, and some imagination, you can build anything!" Nate

View justoneofme's profile


798 posts in 2993 days

#12 posted 02-17-2013 04:21 AM

WOW Dear Buddies! Where do I begin?! Thank you all so much again! for such supportive words and praise!!! I’ll try to be quick and answer a few questions from the gallery :)

Erwin: You’re right about blogging taking quite a chunk out of the day. The very first blog I ever did on LumberJocks was an experience that has left a huge question mark in my mind that just maybe you can give some reassurance. It was late, I had spent a block of time getting so far into my blog. There seemed nowhere to tap “save”, so figured it was automatically saved. I shut things down for the evening, only to find absolutely nothing the next morning! Yikes!! Now when I blog I’m afraid to leave it and continue at a later time to finish. Even though I’ve read the statement saying it’s automatically saved … dare I test it?! Will it save??!!

Mike: You are more than welcome for this tutorial, and I’m glad you found it helpful! Make sure to let us all know when your much anticipated veneers arrive … and what your next project will be with them! But hey … how’s that Marquetry Dragon?!... not that I’m trying to rush an artist!!

Julie: 30 years ago I ordered a gross (12 dozen) of fine blades for my Excalibur scroll saw from J. Philip Humfrey International Inc. (Scarborough, Ontario) ... #2 /.029 width /.012 thick / 20 teeth per ”. Finer blades are available, but these I find work wonderfully well. They are considered jeweller’s blades, and should fit in your scroll saw if the blade chucks (top and bottom) are the open type that screw the blade tight. I don’t know if Humfrey is still in business because my Excalibur is like Speed Queen … never needs servicing!! Believe it or not I still have 3 dozen blades left from that order. Most likely you should be able to purchase blades at any outlet that sells scroll saws (and I believe Lee Valley does). If not, they should at least be able to order them in for you. Or try a jeweller!

As for where to get veneers … well … you can (apparently) order them online, but try some lumber stores as well. My veneers were purchased in a variety of ways … and again many years ago. There was a Marqueteur in the States who was retiring, and sold me a large supply of popular and holly. Closer to home, a furniture manufacturing company went out of business and I purchased (literally a flat-bed!) worth of flitches in mahogany, oak, olive ash, walnut, cherry, maple and pine. The more exotic veneers were purchased during various trips to Seattle. I have a room entirely devoted to an extensive variety of veneers collected over these years. Shipwright (Paul) calls it a candy store!!

Mathew: I forgot to take pictures of my presses to pass along right here … may have to wait until my next blog, eh?!! I have 2 of the kind seen in my blog … passed down to me when my Latvian mentor died. Then I have a much larger press that was built for me by a friend who owns a hydraulics shop … unfortunately without the hydraulics! And one more floor press (hand built) for panel pressing, which fortunately comes apart for storage because it’s seldom used, is a pain to set up … and has to be adjusted perfectly for equalized pressure or it doesn’t do a good job. I would really like to invest in a vacuum press!!

Considering you and Paul are the ‘connoisseurs of French Marquetry’ ... I feel honoured that my tutorial was able to pass along some helpful hints … and make you smile as well!! Am I right in believing that you and Paul plan to attend another learning experience through the American School of French Marquetry?! I am quite envious!!!

As I told Julie, my veneers are very old ... approx. 1/32” thick (some a bit thicker) and the holly is very thin at approx. 1/64”. Sometimes, to be on the safe side, I glue 2 thicknesses of holly together when using it in designs. I believe the ‘newer’ veneers are thinner than mine at 1/32”, and come complete with paper backing to reinforce them? I’ve not purchased any of these, but have viewed them online.

The use of Con-Tac shelf liner sounds interesting! I don’t use painter’s tape, but just ordinary masking tape, and purchase it at our $Store. The cheaper the tape, the less tac!! One $ roll goes a very long way!

-- Elaine in Duncan

View stefang's profile


16752 posts in 3847 days

#13 posted 02-17-2013 10:53 AM

Hi Elaine. I forgot to mention how much I loved your past projects. The horses were fantastic and what you did with that old two tier table is nothing short of a miracle! Actually it’s hard to pick a favorite. All your works are so well done. I have seen some similar flower motifs, but most don’t hold a candle to your very artistic versions.

I’m really looking forward to you next blog. Much like a vampire anticipating his next meal! I know that preparing these blogs are time consuming, but I think they leave you with a good feeling, especially the tutorials when they are appreciated so much by others and even more so when such talented people as yourself have done them.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View justoneofme's profile


798 posts in 2993 days

#14 posted 02-17-2013 03:40 PM

More the inspiring comments from others that give us that warm fuzzy feeling, eh Mike?!

Many years ago I use to be a member of The Marquetry Society of America, which unfortunately folded … having struggled with aging membership and a somewhat obsolete art. Members were encouraged to send in photos and write up about their projects. My first offering was the scariest thing I’d ever done!, but became a total thrill for me when published … the Editor wanting more!

It’s been a very long time since loosing that companionship with others in this unique art, I’ve felt that particular thrill again … but more so this time because with LumberJocks there is such great and positive (not to mention almost immediate) interaction!! Paul was the person who introduced me to this fantastic site! It’s great that for a few months each year he and I can ‘talk shop’ in person over our mutual woodwork interests.

I recognize your enthusiasm as my own when I first started Marquetry art, Mike! Our communications have been great fun … that I hope will continue as you play with your veneers! I look forward to that!!

Digital cameras do such a fine job … it’s a shame my old photos aren’t as clear, but I’m glad you liked what you saw of past projects. Thank you for such glowing praise over them :) As for more blogs … I’m working on a Marquetry design I hope may turn into a future series. But you know what a very slow an exacting process Marquetry is … so don’t whither away vampire!!!

-- Elaine in Duncan

View stefang's profile


16752 posts in 3847 days

#15 posted 02-17-2013 09:20 PM

I hear you Elaine. I’m glad that you are getting fired up again. It will give us amateurs something to look forward to. We need our woodworking super heroes/heroines to set a good example for us to follow.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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