Parchment and Ebony Desk

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Project by vipond33 posted 09-22-2012 06:51 PM 13193 views 6 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was a recent collaborative project made at my work in conjunction with a master leather worker from the same building. He was the recipient of my Reifelholz and has supplied me with the leather used on many of my own projects shown on this site. The desk was for a client in Germany.

I was responsible for the under structure, trim and assembly while he made the covering panels. The basic construction was with three mdf torsion box’s, mitre joined with internal hardwood “L” reinforcement brackets and a mitred facing strip applied around the perimeter. The main panels were 1/2” maple veneered PC while the 1/4” ones were BB plywood. Macasser ebony trims it off. A 1” x 1/4” square steel tube is epoxied inside the top over its length.





Parchment is an very, very old material, dating back to about 2500 BCE. Basically it is goat skin which has been flayed, limed to remove hair and then soaked, stretched and dried. To make furniture panels with it the veneered boards are first covered with multiple thin coats of gesso and sanded smooth. Because parchment is mildly translucent, colour may be added to the gesso and thereby tint the overall appearance. The skins are then soaked and stretched over the panels with staples holding them in place on a back bevel. The adhesive most commonly used is rabbit skin glue.

While the skinned panels were still wet I full glue spread and clamped them one at a time onto the torsion box’s with cauls and mdf pressure pads. About a 4 hour curing time. This is done because the drying skin will contract smooth and tight but the panels will warp horribly if left unrestrained.
The wood finish is shellac, oil and wax. Drawers are lacquered BB plywood running on hardwood strips with false fronts. Coved undercuts on the drawer carcase bottoms allow for a pull.

The rear of the desk shows the same as the sitting position with identical false fronts.

Try an inlaid parchment panel on your next box lid or drawer front. It is uncommonly beautiful with a visual texture and feel like no other material.

24” x 30” x 60”
About 44hrs.
Build on LJs.

Detail showing the side trim construction. Ebony on softwood then mitred.
In looking at the rear of the pictured piece (left side) you may appreciated with me the virtue of tightening the shaper fence before turning on the power feeder. There is nothing like the sound of a rapidly increasing cut, to snap open your eyes and tighten your gut.

Parchment at Wikipedia.

-- [email protected] : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

27 comments so far

View shipwright's profile


8747 posts in 4007 days

#1 posted 09-22-2012 07:34 PM

Very nice collaboration Gene.
Is this something that we mortals could actually try without the aid of a master leather worker?
The idea is intriguing and the result is I am sure, even better than the photos show. We can’t feel the photos after all.

Thanks for the inspiration.

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

View Kookaburra's profile


749 posts in 3434 days

#2 posted 09-22-2012 07:57 PM

Wow. I read the first paragraph and looked at the pictures. I was wondering what your covering material was – not interpreting “parchment” literally. It is really beautiful. How will the parchment hold up over time and use? Meticulous workmanship. What inspired you? Or did the client already have the design in mind?

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View Terry Ferguson's profile

Terry Ferguson

203 posts in 3877 days

#3 posted 09-22-2012 08:02 PM

Beautiful project. Clean and deceptively simple looking until we learn about your efforts in the construction details. I really like the ebony trim against the light color and the soft edged panel joints that reduce the scale . Thanks for the informative write up and I appreciate learning about parchment.
As a designer and craftsman you continue to amaze. Quick reflexes with the shaper and powerfeed too!

-- Terry Ferguson, Bend Oregon

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 4179 days

#4 posted 09-22-2012 08:02 PM

Fabulous piece of furniture Gene, classic retro look to it.

View gbear's profile


544 posts in 5309 days

#5 posted 09-22-2012 08:07 PM

Very nice job Gene. And, as Shipwright noted, I’m sure it would be even more so if we could feel it.
Unfortunately, I am well aware of that feeling you get when you forget to tighten down the fence! :o(

-- gbear, Carmichael, CA

View vipond33's profile


1405 posts in 3707 days

#6 posted 09-22-2012 08:10 PM

Paul, I think anyone could do this with a little reading and moderate skills. You need gesso (easy), rabbit skin glue (or fish glue) and the skin. These can be puchased whole from a few suppliers e.g. or for small pieces you could phone around to custom leather shops for scraps. A whole skin, about 20” wide runs about $100.

-- [email protected] : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

View jaykaypur's profile


4017 posts in 3617 days

#7 posted 09-22-2012 09:20 PM

A great piece. Very very nice workmanship.

-- Use it up, Wear it out --------------- Make it do, Or do without!

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3808 days

#8 posted 09-22-2012 09:42 PM

Another good one Gene. Nice variety and skill set on your projects.

View BarbS's profile


2434 posts in 5295 days

#9 posted 09-22-2012 10:10 PM

Beautiful piece, Gene. and thanks for all the details. That was an interesting build!


View DocSavage45's profile


9068 posts in 4052 days

#10 posted 09-22-2012 10:11 PM

Da_n you’re good!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View LittlePaw's profile


1572 posts in 4288 days

#11 posted 09-22-2012 11:55 PM

You’re not just good, Gene. That beauty took attention to the smallest detail and the know-how in furniture making. Great job – looking forward to more of your creations, Gene.

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View ronniebo's profile


130 posts in 3874 days

#12 posted 09-23-2012 12:41 AM

Yes, very beautiful piece.
I empathise with you over the feeling of the “wedge cut”
My effort snapped the bike chain drive that operates the bits `n bobs in my Ryobi thicknesser.
The Huon Pine wedge was not immediately apparent-perhaps I didn`t look carefully and just assumed it wasn`t there.
Made lots of interesting noises and grunts before seizing up. Fortunately it is as simple as a bike chain to repair.
RB in Hobart

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4013 days

#13 posted 09-23-2012 12:46 AM

Super nice, inventive

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View chopnhack's profile


375 posts in 3604 days

#14 posted 09-23-2012 12:56 AM

An interesting collaboration Gene, well done!

-- Sneaking up on the line....

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3899 days

#15 posted 09-23-2012 01:07 AM

That is a first for me. It is absolutely beautiful and I can only imagine how nice it feels. That looks like a piece of furniture that belongs in a household with no children!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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