Letter Box

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Project by sharad posted 09-17-2009 05:13 PM 2891 views 1 time favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My uncle was an accomplished wood worker and among his wood projects he used to do fretwork with a fretsaw. He had made a letter box about 70 years back and I happened to get it about 35 years back through my cousin. One day accidentally one side of it was broken and but for my awareness it would have been tossed in the trash box. I preserved it for the last 25 years thinking one day I will repair it. That day came last month and I decided to complete the job. This required some experience in fret work which I lacked. While searching for information on this art I came across a book Fretwork and marquetry, A PRACTICAL MANUAL OF INSTRUCTIONS IN THE ART OF FRET-CUTTING AND MARQUETRY WORK by D. Denning. LONDON L. UPCOTT GILL, 170, STRAND, W.C. From the contents and the language of the book it looks to be published in the earlier part of 20th century or even earlier . The book is so lucid that I wasted no time in getting a printout and reading it thoroughly. The instructions were very neat and specific. I started practicing on a few pieces of trash plywood and learnt that it was not so easy as I thought. I broke a few wires (blades) and holding the work vertical to the cutting blade was very challenging. After some days of practice I decided to construct a new side for the letter box. I did not have the original drawing from where to trace the design on a plywood. I took a photograph of the other side, took a printout and pasted it on the ply and did the cutting. I did not get a plywood of the same thickness as the original and had to be content with a thinner one. I assembled the letter box. The letter box is now on my wall. I was happy that my will to repair the box was fullfilled and I have saved a beautiful piece of fretwork done with a fret saw as old as the box.. I have not yet decided how to finish the box. Any suggestions will be helpful
This was the reason for my silence on LJ for some time. I have ventured to make a few more projects after this experience and I will post them one by one. I am no where near perfection in fretwork and hope to improve day by day.

-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

16 comments so far

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14188 posts in 4949 days

#1 posted 09-17-2009 05:50 PM

very nice … beautiful work … I would use shellac to impart a amber appearance.. Maybe three coats and then follow with a couple coats of brown paste wax to fill and darken giving it an antique feel.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4991 days

#2 posted 09-17-2009 06:29 PM

A beautiful example of early 20th century fretwork! Your addition matches very nicely. Color matching with old pieces is always a challenge.

I agree with Dan on the shellac. An amber or garnet would give a dark, rich color, and hand-rubbing would allow better control over color with fewer runs over the edges of the open areas than brushing would allow.

Your book was actually published in 1895. Not surprisingly, many excellent books on different aspects of manual woodworking date from this period. Paul N. Hasluck in particular wrote several excellent works on manual crafts. If you’re interested in learning more in this area, his books are a very good place to start. As I get older, I find myself tending more and more towards hand tool techniques, rather than power tools. <chuckle> Maybe I’m just getting more patient.

By the way, see if your book mentions a “bird’s mouth”. This simple fixture will make it MUCH easier to saw with better control. These turn-of-the-century craftsmen did this kind of work for a living, and had generally figured out the best techniques as a matter of necessity.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5266 days

#3 posted 09-17-2009 06:32 PM

A terrific job on the fretwork. You’re very ambitious, not too many people do this by hand anymore.

I also like the way the pieces join together.

Thegravedigger mentioned birds mouth, so I looked it up. It is in this book.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 4988 days

#4 posted 09-17-2009 06:40 PM

What and intriguing design!
Sharad, you did a spledid job of restoring this piece.
I especially like the way the parts link into each other requiring a great level of skill.

I look forward to more of your projects.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Devin's profile


166 posts in 4495 days

#5 posted 09-17-2009 07:26 PM

Sharad, beautifully done. You’ve done an excellent job repairing a piece of family history, and in doing so have added your own story to the piece. Very nicely done.

-- If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

View sharad's profile


1119 posts in 4771 days

#6 posted 09-17-2009 07:56 PM

TheGravedigger, thank you for giving the date of publication. My guess was correct. I did make a V-table for doing the fret cutting. I did not know it is also called birds mouth.
Dick, & Barb Cain, Bob and Devin, I felt so encouraged by your remarks thank u so much.

-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

View littlecope's profile


3115 posts in 4469 days

#7 posted 09-17-2009 10:28 PM

Nicely done, Sharad!! You’re a braver man than me, using a fret saw! That’s why I got a scroll saw in the first place, because I couldn’t do this very well… :)
A wonderful story regarding your family history, too! Thank you for sharing it!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View Pdub's profile


926 posts in 4146 days

#8 posted 09-17-2009 10:53 PM

Wow! When I first saw this I thought “cool” another scroll saw project. Then I find out you did it with a Fret saw and it is even more impressive. You did a fantastic job of matching the original design. Thanks for the story also.

-- Paul, North Dakota, USAF Ret.

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4252 days

#9 posted 09-18-2009 01:36 AM

Sharad, Very impressive! You did a great job on such a unique family piece. Can’t wait to see what you have coming.

-- John @

View a1Jim's profile


118153 posts in 4544 days

#10 posted 09-18-2009 05:31 AM

very nice work Yours and your uncles


View sharad's profile


1119 posts in 4771 days

#11 posted 09-18-2009 07:21 AM

I have no words to express my gratitude towards all of you for your positive comments on this project. I wish all of you should try using hand tools once in a while to sharpen your sense of judgement, test your patience and improve your skills.
I am leaving for Myanmar tomorrow for a week. I will try to post one more piece of fretwork before I leave.

-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5185 days

#12 posted 09-18-2009 02:32 PM

What a wonderful family heirloom!

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Heidi Neely's profile

Heidi Neely

550 posts in 4141 days

#13 posted 09-18-2009 05:54 PM

At first glance I assumed this was done on a scroll saw, but after reading the description I was amazed to learn that you actually did this by hand with your old fret saw! Wow…It’s amazing to me that you can saw such delicate details and not have chip outs or break pieces off by mistake. I know I most definately would!! Great job!

-- Heidi :) “The only source of knowledge is experience”

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6873 posts in 4946 days

#14 posted 09-18-2009 11:18 PM

Hi Sharad;

A fine job. I’m glad you took the time to repair this.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4552 days

#15 posted 09-18-2009 11:28 PM

The indian nation are like many old nations very extremely clever and well gifted artistically you are an extension of proving that Sharad well done beautiful work Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

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