Oeben Boxes #1: Getting the top marquetry done

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 03-18-2017 06:04 AM 3798 reads 13 times favorited 40 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Oeben Boxes series Part 2: Shading and Border Assembly »

My latest project will be a set of four boxes that may be used for collectables, silverware, or jewellery. They will feature the marquetry tops and parquetry sides of an iconic Jean François Oeben mechanical table. Because I am cutting the marquetry in piece by piece technique, I will be getting four identical copies. All the veneer is 1/16” (1.5 mm) and is either shop sawn or from my Paris stock.

As I have detailed this process before, I will move quickly through the steps covered so far.

This is the table that inspired the project. It is now in the collection at the J Paul Getty Museum in LA.

This is a scientific re-creation of the top marquetry as it would have looked new a couple of hundred years ago.

My box tops will be a challenge as they will be only half the size of the table top but will have almost all the detail and all the pieces.

So let’s get started.

The first thing I did, after making my Inkscape tracing of the motif was to assemble the required veneer. This involved selecting some of my Paris sawn stock and cutting some of my own. The Paris veneers used are Pink Peroba, Araracanga, Holly, and Olive. The shop sawn veneers are Amaranth, Tulipwood, Boxwood, Poplar (which I dyed) and native Arizona Agarita, a member of the Barberry family and bright yellow.
Here are a few photos of that part of the job.

As the Agarita is in very small pieces I jointed and glued up pairs to make my yellow packets.

As well as the natural veneers I also needed to dye some greens, purples, and blues.This is necessary because dyed veneer cannot be found in 1/16” material. I used textile dyes heated by warming trays and dyed for four to seven days.

Then it was on to the cutting. These photos took place over a couple of months.

That about covers what I’ve been up to this winter, almost up to date. The top motifs as seen here are not yet complete. There is still a Tulipwood border and some bone stringing to be added but that will have to wait for the next installment.

Thanks for looking in.


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

40 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4341 days

#1 posted 03-18-2017 06:46 AM


Damn your good! wondered if you used stains or dyes to achieve varied colors. Is there any worry about significant fading. I know the woods often change color and that is factored in. Correct?

You’ve become a master at what you do. congratulations sir!

I might attach a wood or MDF board to my saws resawing fence as it looks like it might help when getting thinner and thinner veneers?

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View madburg's profile


367 posts in 2341 days

#2 posted 03-18-2017 07:02 AM

Another super project Paul, get at least four from one lot of cutting is certainly the way to go! Exceptional as ever. Looking forward to seeing it progress. Are you sand shading anything?

-- Madburg WA

View Dutchy's profile


4399 posts in 3667 days

#3 posted 03-18-2017 07:18 AM

I’m enjoying!


View Mark Wilson's profile

Mark Wilson

2971 posts in 2562 days

#4 posted 03-18-2017 09:41 AM

Paul, I’m astounded. Shocked, I say. Shocked.

-- Mark

View Bob Collins's profile

Bob Collins

2847 posts in 5182 days

#5 posted 03-18-2017 10:05 AM

Brilliant work Paul, I never realized how much goes into to cutting the veneers , getting then dyed before even starting the cutting of the pieces. Thanks for taking us through your procedure with the photos, bloody brilliant and look forward to the next installment.

-- RIP Bob C, Australia. Your best teacher is your last mistake.

View MontanaBob's profile


875 posts in 4182 days

#6 posted 03-18-2017 11:08 AM


View Redoak49's profile (online now)


5626 posts in 3487 days

#7 posted 03-18-2017 11:18 AM

Great work and love the explanation. I will likely never try this but love understanding the process and pictures. Thanks for posting

View SPalm's profile


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#8 posted 03-18-2017 11:20 AM

My gosh, that is a real project.
It looks wonderful.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View English's profile


695 posts in 2976 days

#9 posted 03-18-2017 12:06 PM

Paul, your work is beautiful !!! . I don’t have the patients for this much detail. My hats off to you.


-- John, Suffolk Virgina

View a1Jim's profile


118334 posts in 5075 days

#10 posted 03-18-2017 01:49 PM

Beautiful an outstanding work of art,fantastic workmanship Paul.


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312 posts in 3213 days

#11 posted 03-18-2017 01:50 PM

Truly amazing work, Paul. Thanks for sharing with us.

-- Visit my Youtube Channel:

View Longcase's profile


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#12 posted 03-18-2017 02:22 PM

Outstanding work Paul, I think the table by Oeben is fascinating how it works.
A couple of questions, why didn’t you photocopy the drawing from Pierre Ramond’s book (Masterpieces of marquetry) and scale to size, I would have thought less work than inkscape. I haven’t heard of Agarita , what size does it grow too.I have been using yellowheart for yellow,how do they compare with keeping there colour

View shipwright's profile


8822 posts in 4296 days

#13 posted 03-18-2017 03:06 PM

Thanks everyone, this one is fun.

Tom, the textile dyes I am using (Tulip and Rit) are both advertised as colourfast and I have some veneer that a friend dyed this way years ago that is still good. Also it all fades and changes if allowed to sit in the sun so ….

Martin, the shading is interesting on this piece. I will go into that a bit in the next segment for you but the short answer is yes, there is sand shading.

Keith, the drawings in Ramond’s books aren’t IMHO cutable. I did scan the Ramond drawing but had to do a lot of “clean up”. They would work better for Boulle or painting in wood but not for piece by piece. Many lines aren’t “closed” so the pieces aren’t distinct from each other. In the other techniques you can just close them as you cut but in piece by piece you would have to do it identically in different packets.
Also scaling a photocopy doesn’t give you control over the line thickness.
Agarita is of the Barberry family. Barberry (berberis vulgaris) is what the French masters used for yellows and was used by Oeben in the original of this. I haven’t used yellowheart but from what I have seen of it, it isn’t as yellow.
It does not come in very big pieces, nor is it easy to find. It is basically a shrub.
I can’t speak for their comparative longevity.

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

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12648 posts in 4927 days

#14 posted 03-18-2017 03:35 PM

Beautiful, as always, paul.
Glad you found the Agarita. Where was it?

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1137 posts in 3811 days

#15 posted 03-18-2017 04:10 PM

Yet another wonderful set of boxes in the making. Are you planning any secret compartments?
As always a very detailed exposition of the process – so helpful for those of us who dream!

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

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