BOULLE MARQUETRY WITH BRASS, PEWTER AND FAUX TORTOISE SHELL - a beginners approach #1: Starting point - My Chevalet, and the boulle style design that I used

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Blog entry by madburg posted 03-20-2017 01:00 AM 3924 reads 8 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of BOULLE MARQUETRY WITH BRASS, PEWTER AND FAUX TORTOISE SHELL - a beginners approach series Part 2: Materials used, making up the packets, sawing the packets, assembling the design »

The first Boulle style box

Engraved Boulle marquetry box lid


I am always looking for something small and complicated to make. I have made a few items over the last 5 years that have featured marquetry panels of one sort or another. See my Woman in Gold Klimt on a box and the interior of the doors on my Curiosity Cabinet You can see from these examples that complexity is something that I get totally engrossed in – it keeps me stimulated and busy.

However having recently started using different materials as well as wood veneer in my marquetry so I decided it was time I embarked on something Boulle. Most Boulle posts on lumberjocks miss what for me is essential element of Boulle style marquetry, the use of BRASS, PEWTER and TORTOISE SHELL. Painting in wood, and Stack Cutting veneers is what most are about, rather than the use of brass, pewter and tortoise shell in the packets.

I had thought the use of these materials was a bridge too far when I first came across it, but I decided to have ago. The basic concept is that you cut a sandwich materials – stack cutting, so you potentially end up with as many different colour combinations of the pattern as you have layers in your stack. So I decided to make some Boulle style boxes incorporating brass, pewter and tortoise shell for each of my three great nieces. Well three for them, and a few spares I hoped…………

My main inspiration and starting point was Pierre Raymond’s books, Marquetry, and his three Masterpieces of Marquetry volumes. As I started to understand the full process certain critical details, were to my mind missing, or were dealt with rather too quickly. Many lumberjock blogs on the subject only deal with wood veneers in the packets, or the restoration of boulle artifacts that include brass an /or pewter and tortoise shell, rather than starting from scratch with a ‘real’ project. So I needed more information.

While I like antique designs and particularly marquetry, and make quite a bit of ‘reproduction’ antique furniture, I am not at all concerned about sticking to traditional techniques. There are certainly a whole load of these traditional techniques in Boulle work that includes metals – fish and hide glue, garlic, the use of soot and charcoal, and of course the use of the traditional French Marquetry horse, the Chevalet. While antique restorers and traditionalists will want to connect with, and use these traditional methods, I wasn’t at all concerned about finding different more modern solutions.

What follows is my journey in making a set of Boulle style marquetry boxes that include metals, and the processes and techniques that I learnt, adapted and used. What worked for me, may not work for you, and you may want to stick with tried and tested traditional methods, but I felt it worth sharing my journey. It may save the reader an awful lot of time in their own research!


My starting point for the boxes, was to make myself a chevalet. I decided was the way to go rather than using a fret saw or scroll/jig saw that I had tried in the past The Chevalet Clubhouse on Lumberjocks – was invaluable for this, and I must say a really big thankyou to Paul Millar its founder. Always helpful and knowledgeable and with some inspirational work to back it up. Similarly blogs and post by both Patrick Edwards and Patrice lejueune are also well worth searching out.

While I used the basic chevalet concept I incorporated a few modern elements into my design, not to every ones taste I might add. So, linear and self-aligning bearings, a carbon fiber saw frame, and light weight blade clamps/holders. I designed an adjustable frame which could take the commonly available 130mm blades as well as the longer 160mm blades. In the end I used the more readily available 130mm blades as they were easier to source at reasonable prices off eBay. Finally my chevalet had to be bench mounted rather than the tradition free standing design, as my small workshop, well actually the corner of my garage, doesn’t have room for a free standing version.

My bench mounted Chevy

Its high-tech bearings and frame

The blade clamps


While making the chevalet was progressing I started my research into what marquetry design to use. I decided to cover the whole box rather than just the lid – which would have been far easier and half the work!! I looked a lot at Islamic art and arabesque designs on the internet for inspiration, particularly FOTOSEARCH and Pinterest.

I have become quite adept at tracing images using the basic tools in the Microsoft Word package. This enables you to produce your own version of a design which can then be manipulated by, cutting and pasting, resizing, cropping, flipping and rotating, and varying line thickness. Boulle designs are usually symmetrical, so I only had to ‘trace’ a quadrant of the design, as copying, pasting, rotating, and flipping enabled me to make up the other 3 quarters of the design.

I worked out that you actually need two designs, one for the sawn outlines, and another for the engraving detail/shading lines. Better to have them as separate drawings than one – saves confusion. Though once the design is in Word, you can use different colours and or thicknesses of line for the sawn, and engraving cuts.

Deciding which pieces of the metal design to cut out as a whole piece, and which to cut into smaller pieces was done before I started sawing. In the end cutting the metals into smaller pieces wouldn’t have been a problem as when the metal is engraved and filled, any cut lines appear just the same as engraved lines. Its possibly quicker doing engraved lines than it is sawing on the chevalet, so leaving the metal as bigger pieces is the way to go.

The design sheet glued on the stack for the box tops.

The sides, back and front were based on elements of the tops design.

A top, side and front, showing the use of the same design elements.

In the next of the series I’ll talk about the Materials I used, Making up the packets and the Sawing.

Thanks for looking …....

-- Madburg WA

7 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile


9053 posts in 4005 days

#1 posted 03-20-2017 01:17 AM

Great blog! Have you met Paul aka Shipwright? That would be interesting!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View shipwright's profile


8734 posts in 3961 days

#2 posted 03-20-2017 01:25 AM

That looks great Martin. Is that the faux tortoiseshell from eBay? Did you underlay it with something white or light to show the red? It looks good. Haven’t got around to using any of mine yet. So many challenges …. so little time.
I know you know what I mean. :-)
Thanks for the blog, this is a great looking piece.

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

View madburg's profile


335 posts in 2006 days

#3 posted 03-20-2017 01:56 AM

Doc - I’ve not met Paul in person but I think we know each other quite well now from our posts and web-based interactions. I may have to make a trip to Canada…...........

Paul – More to follow on the materials, when I get back from S Africa where I’m delivering that flute case to!
But yes the tortoise shell is off eBay – it worked far better than expected. Sanded and polished well. There’s nothing behind it though, I was concerned about yet more scope for delamination. Any how the light ply substrate shows through grain and all. I think backing it with gold leaf or coloured paper could have emphasised the differentiation more but it may have gone over the top. Perhaps next time!

-- Madburg WA

View tinnman65's profile


1415 posts in 4577 days

#4 posted 03-20-2017 02:03 AM

A great blog! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the next one.

-- Paul--- Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. — Scott Adams

View TheFridge's profile


10863 posts in 2649 days

#5 posted 03-20-2017 02:26 AM

A great blog! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the next one.

- tinnman65


-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View DocSavage45's profile


9053 posts in 4005 days

#6 posted 03-20-2017 02:31 AM

Martin, Paul,

The Masters of Marquetry together.

This is a great place.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DonSol's profile


249 posts in 2405 days

#7 posted 03-22-2017 11:44 PM

Martin, that is going to be one beautiful piece when done.

-- Don Solomon, New Castle, IN; Quality is not an act, it is a habit. Aristotle

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