How to Build a Chevalet From Scratch #1: How hard can it be?

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 03-05-2011 06:18 AM 19088 reads 39 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of How to Build a Chevalet From Scratch series Part 2: Blade Clamps, Sliding Mechanism and Adjusters »

Update: See also Chevy II, The Canadian Cousin. and Building Some Chevalets, a Class Action

I first saw a chevalet in Sorrento, Italy about ten or eleven years ago. I was very impressed with the machine and the work being done by the master marqueters there but never dreamed that I would ever find myself building one. Well, retirement has it’s ways of taking you places you never thought you’d be going. After a working lifetime of more or less “creative woodworking” who knew I’d be this interested in persuing it in retirement?
Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I became interested in inlays and marquetry. First I built a few pieces of furniture exploring the use of router bushing inlay sets for something more akin to marquetry.

When I realized the limitations of that method I moved on to double bevel marquetry with a scroll saw.

Then I happened once again upon the idea of the chevalet and wondered if it might enable me to attain the fine cuts that seemed to be evading me on the scroll saw. After looking at the few photos and one short video that I was able to find on the internet and reading the few snippets I found here and there I decided to go for it.
How hard could it be?

There is a lot of mystique about old tools like this and it is very easy to think of them as diabolically clever creations that you should not attempt without some sort of plans or specialized training. The fact is that it is a jig that keeps a reciprocating blade in a single plane. It may have taken a great mind to conceive of the wheel, but once it was invented any fool could build one. So I decided to be the fool.

The chevalet can be broken down into two basic and completely separate devices. The first is a heavy, rigid wooden structure that the operator sits on and that supports the working parts of the saw. The second is the moving parts of the saw itself. The dimensions of the first part are more about the worker than the work. I chose to make mine as adjustable as possible to be sure it would fit my body size. Since this was a shot in the dark I chose to go on the cheap and use recycled wood from an old beam that I had lying around.

Here are some photos of the frame structure. This is the tenoned vertical post.

This is the main base piece where your toes go.

This is a dry fit of the basic frame elements.

And this one shows the arm’s first fitting.

Between the operator and the saw is a clamp mechanism to hold the veneer packet while it is cut. It is foot operated and again is not very dimension critical.

The frame part is rounded out by the arm and carriage base (my terms, I don’t know the real names) that support the working parts of the saw.

The big frame parts are about 3 1/2” x 4 1/2” and most parts are dimensioned more to suit your size than anything else. You can see that I left lots of room to raise and lower the arm and filled the space with graduated shims and two very shallow wedges to allow adjustment of as little as 1/8” up or down. Also the design allows for the arm to be shortened or lengthened to accommodate saw frames up to 30” deep.

Next time I’ll get into the trickier second part which is of course the moving saw mechanism.

Thanks for looking in.

Ask all the questions you like, I’m retired.


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

23 comments so far

View Broglea's profile


695 posts in 4549 days

#1 posted 03-05-2011 06:40 AM

And to think of all the time I’ve spent walking the aisles of Rockler, Woodcraft, Sears and HF and have never seen one of these! This is very interesting. I can’t wait to see it in action.

And as always Paul, Thanks for sharing with us.

View driftwoodhunter's profile


273 posts in 4144 days

#2 posted 03-05-2011 06:52 AM

Thank you for starting this blog series, it will be fascinating!

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 4380 days

#3 posted 03-05-2011 07:05 AM

Paul, Thanks a lot for this.. How nice to know that those times in the past can solve what problems we are facing today. I like to make one that is small and portable…

-- Bert

View larryw's profile


335 posts in 4120 days

#4 posted 03-05-2011 08:54 AM

Hey Paul, Thanks for posting this. I think a lot of us LJer’s will be building one of these. I have to be honest with you, I had never heard of one of these machines, before seeing some of your remarks on the subject. I had always assumed that all early marquetry was cut using some type of fret saw.

-- "everything is beautiful, but not everyone sees it" ~confucius-551-449 b.c.~

View Dandog's profile


250 posts in 4232 days

#5 posted 03-05-2011 08:55 AM

Thanks for putting in the time. That thing looks seriously solid. what are some of the advantages over a scroll saw?what did you mean about fine Cut’s? Keep them coming Paul.

-- life an woodworking is one big experiment

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile (online now)


24599 posts in 5134 days

#6 posted 03-05-2011 09:01 AM

Interesting blog.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View shipwright's profile


8816 posts in 4256 days

#7 posted 03-05-2011 12:23 PM

Dandog, To me the advantage over a scroll saw is that I have absolute control over the blade speed. I can go so slow that I can count the teeth as they cut (sound) and I can stop at a very exact spot and make a 170 degree turn on the spot and leave a very sharp pointed cut. I was never able to accomplish this with my scroll saw. I realize that there are people on this site who can but it would take me a lot of practice to get that good and with the chevalet I could do it first time out. Doing that on very small pieces is what I meant by “fine cuts”.

It was also about $500 cheaper than my scroll saw.

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

View Schwieb's profile


1925 posts in 4919 days

#8 posted 03-05-2011 01:40 PM

I thought I had made a post before but I guess I didn’t actually post it. This is fascinating to me, I commend you for what you are doing here. I’ve had a longtime interest in marquetry and am building a vacuum press as we speak. I’m having a real problem visualizing how you hold a large sheet at an angle relative to the saw blade to do the double bevel cuts. I made my own saw with a deep bow and have angled platform that I use to support the sheet. This works pretty good but maintaining the angle is a challenge. I’m betting this becomes more clear as you proceed.

Great work as always,

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View shipwright's profile


8816 posts in 4256 days

#9 posted 03-05-2011 05:44 PM

Ken There are at least three different ways to saw cut marquetry. Two of them require the saw to be at exactly 90 degrees to the material. I’m not sure, but I think that double bevel is the most recent and the chevalet may predate it. You can adjust the angle of attack, but I believe that these adjustments are primarily to aid in squaring the blade to the work. I’m going to try some double bevel today, so I’ll keep you posted.

As for controlling the sheet, that’s what the foot clamp is for.

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

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 5288 days

#10 posted 03-05-2011 06:41 PM

Paul thank you, thank you, thank you! As I have been developing my own skill, I have been thinking about building one . I have actually seriously considered ordering the chevalet hardware kit from Patrick Edwards, but honestly the thought of spending $500 for it turned me off. I have the plans from Pierre Ramond’s book Marquetry and between them and your blog I’m sure I could build one. I’m really looking forward to part 2, and am very interested in the type of linear bearings you used and how you manufactured the blade clamps.


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

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4573 days

#11 posted 03-05-2011 11:50 PM

hey didn´t you changed some pictures ….. LOL

thank you anyway for making this serie and as usual a pleasurre to read
its up and favorred know for later use if you don´t mind :-)

have a great weekend

View shipwright's profile


8816 posts in 4256 days

#12 posted 03-06-2011 12:09 AM

Yes Dennis, MsDebbieP PM’d me about how to turn the links into photos… kind of a long story.


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

View BigTiny's profile


1721 posts in 4346 days

#13 posted 03-06-2011 10:29 AM

Hi Paul.

Here’s an idea for you. Make a spring attachment to redraw the blade after a stroke and a foot pedal to make the stroke for a cut. This would allow both hands free to manipulate the packet. Obviously, the pedal would be for the other foot to the one used for the clamping. Using this in addition to the more traditional method would give more flexibility to your methods of working.

A friend of mine over on Tommy MacDonald’s site attends the
Boule school in Paris and has kindly sent me some hints for marquetry. Attached is a picture of my very first attempt at a marquetry project, using the “Louis cubes” pattern with the help of my friend Ronaldo.

It’s a table top for an occasional table.

Paul (not you, another Paul)

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2874 posts in 5050 days

#14 posted 03-08-2011 03:42 PM

Hi Paul, Great looking Donkey! I always wanted to make one of them, but have never found the time.

Have you ever read “Marquetry” by Pierre Ramond? I think I’ve read that book 50 time are more. The book has a blue print of a Marquetry Donkey in the last pages.

It looks like your having a fun retirement! I have about 20 years to go.

So do you find it easier to cut on a Donkey, versus a scroll saw?

-- Dennis Zongker

View shipwright's profile


8816 posts in 4256 days

#15 posted 03-08-2011 04:26 PM

Thanks Dennis, No, I haven’t been able to locate a copy other than to see them online at really high prices. I think you’re saying that it’s worth the price. Is that right?

Yes, many times more control (for me anyway). Check out my “test drive” blog for photos of the cuts I was able to get first time , with no practice. I also have to make some of the available adjustments to better suit my body size. I’m glad I built them in.

Thanks again Dennis.

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

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