Finding a method that works for me

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Blog entry by stefang posted 01-04-2013 03:35 PM 3253 reads 2 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have been doing a little scroll sawing here and there for quite a few years along with my regular woodworking. This has been mostly fretwork to date and a couple of experiments with marquetry type work, so my skills are still under development. I am not sure that the project picture below can be called marquetry, but it isn’t inlay or intarsia, so it’s that’s what I’m calling it for now.

I can only get veneers by mail order. I feel that this is somewhat like buying a cat in a sack, plus I’m a little shaky on the planning side so I’m not sure how to go about choosing and ordering the appropriate veneers beforehand. I can easily cut veneers in my bandsaw from solid wood, but the selection of interesting woods available to me is extremely limited here in Norway. Another issue is that I like the idea of using thicker wood for my work for reasons even I don’t fully understand.

My answer to these ‘perceived’ problems is to cut the pattern cut-outs and the inserts separately with a heavier blade, #5 for example, instead of the usual double bevel or stacked 90deg. cutting like with packets. This has an added advantage that I can use a relatively thick blade even with very detailed patterns because I am not forced to made continuous cuts and turn sharp corners.

Cutting pattern cut-outs and the corresponding inserts separately creates a new problem, namely accuracy. First I tried doing the pattern cut-outs and then tracing them from the top using semi-transparent paper to make a pattern for the insert piece. That didn’t work out so well. Next i tried using two copies of the pattern, one for the cut-out and another for the insert piece. Using this method, I cut the hole on the pattern line and the insert on the outside of the pattern line. This produced better results, but it didn’t account for inaccuracies in the original pattern cut-outs.

My final and successful method was to double tape a 1/16” piece of veneer the same size as the workpiece on the bottom with carpet tape. That left me with a perfect and detachable pattern of the pattern cut-outs, similar to a stencil. I used separate veneer pieces for each set of non-adjacent cut-outs. The cut-outs were then easily traced around the inside edges of those cut-out veneers onto to the insert work pieces and cut outside the line. This method worked extremely well with the following pro’s and con’s:

1. The veneer patterns were easy to mark with such a thin stencil and accurately reflected the cut-outs to be filled.
2. An insert piece could be easily retraced and re-cut when a better match was necessary.
3. No blade insert holes to drill or patch.
4. There are no gaps left between the cut-outs and the inserts.
5. Blades are thicker and stiffer and therefore last longer and cut better.
6. Saves wood, as inserts can be cut from small and random pieces.
7. Grain orientation is easy to determine as the stencil-like outline pattern is actually a window.

1. This method requires twice a many cuts as the double bevel method, so not as productive.
2. Some re-cutting of insert pieces is still necessary, how much depending on skill level and concentration.

This first piece is not as well done as I would like, but I know I will get better at it with practice. The worst part is the tail with the thin white line. I had to piece that in due to it’s winding complexity which prevented me from cutting it out as a single insert piece. I will probably have to avoid patterns with problems like this in the future.

I doubt that my method is original, but I did arrive at it on my own.

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on what I’ve done here and any suggestions for improvements. . At the same time I hope you will find some merit with my approach.


-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

19 comments so far

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 4408 days

#1 posted 01-04-2013 03:56 PM

Great job on the execution of the piece Mike, I just started to explore the world of marqueterie about a year ago and just finished building a chevalet (well worth the time and material invested). First I have found it much easier to control, second the results have been much better. Aside from that I find it very soothing when music is playing I feel like I’m playing an instrument along with the music. Thanks for the posting.

View patron's profile


13650 posts in 3825 days

#2 posted 01-04-2013 04:02 PM

nothing like a simple pattern
to start out a new idea mike

it does look good however

can’t wait for the really hard ones
(like tomorrow when you are a master at this)

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3818 days

#3 posted 01-04-2013 04:06 PM

Thanks Sandhill. I love the idea of a Chevalet, but I have no room for one in my totally filled shop plus I paid so much for my scroll saw that I wouldn’t think of using anything else for this type of work. I also have the veneer selection issue, so I guess I am doomed to my own devices. I do feel that marquetry is better suited for the more artistically endowed while my own efforts will likely remain in the realm of craft work, and that is ok as long as I’m having fun.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3818 days

#4 posted 01-04-2013 04:17 PM

Hi David. It’s good to hear from you.Yes, and they will probably get simpler and simpler until I give up! Scrolling is my back-up plan now that I have to sit more while working. My grandkids are better at it than me, but I’m trying to catch up. I’m still angry that so many of my family got the ‘art’ genes like yourself while I only got the f### genes. Maybe in another life.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View a1Jim's profile


117713 posts in 4061 days

#5 posted 01-04-2013 04:19 PM

Good work Mike and good info too.

View sras's profile


5157 posts in 3613 days

#6 posted 01-04-2013 04:23 PM

Looks like an excellent result. Good job on adjusting techniques to find what works for you.

As for being artistic, I have found that trial and error make up for a good deal of what I lack in “genetic” skill…

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3818 days

#7 posted 01-04-2013 04:40 PM

Thanks Jim and Steve. It is true that even those without the art gene can still come up with some very impressive results, and we can of course use other’s artwork, but I get more satisfaction when I can design something myself. Now when was that then? I’m sure I will remember something given enough time!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View shipwright's profile


8358 posts in 3282 days

#8 posted 01-04-2013 04:48 PM

Well done Mike and some very creative problem solving as well.

The way you did this is basically “classic” or “piece by piece” style with some of your own innovation thrown in.

One of the great advantages of piece by piece is that you can produce several identical motifs at one cutting.
It won’t work very well with 1/4” thick veneer but when you get some thinner veneer, the possibilities will really open up for you.

The usual way to cut this style is to make identical paper patterns, which is easy these days with printers and copiers, and then cut the inside or outside half of the line for the background and infill pieces. Your idea will still work for you as you could use one of the actual pieces that you cut in one packet as your pattern for the next. That’s a very clever idea to make up for slight “indiscretions” in line following on the first piece.
I may use it myself.

That white line will be a problem for anyone. The best way to keep it together, when using thinner veneer at least, would be to glue paper to the back of the veneer first. I prepare all my veneer for packets by applying newspaper to what will be the good side with HHG. This is the traditional French method and works very well at holding very fragile parts together.

Veneer supply is a tough one. Where I live there are no veneer suppliers nearby and I too have had to depend on mail order. The good side is that they seem to be very good and often have photos online of the exact piece you will be buying. I would encourage you to jump in and buy a sort of starter set of various colors at about five square feet each and go from there… if you want to go the veneer route.

You are off to a great start and welcome to the wonderful world of marquetry but be warned… it can be habit-forming. :-)

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

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3818 days

#9 posted 01-04-2013 04:59 PM

Thanks for the encouragement and ideas Paul. I have actually figured out the thin tail piece problem in the last hour. The solution is simply to do exactly what I’ve done for all the other pieces, except that if I do the tail piece line first I can then use all the waste generated for the other inserts. Breaking is not a problem in this case because of the thickness of the wood.

I can see your point about multiples. I guess you mean I can cut a stack and still use my method on another stack for the inserts? A great idea if I got it right. I can cut 4 layers of 1/4” wood at a time if it’s not too hard with a fairly thin blade or with a thicker blade, if the pattern allows, for the really hard stuff.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Dave's profile


11432 posts in 3324 days

#10 posted 01-04-2013 10:42 PM

Mike I have been in the shop with a problem and conclude the fix myself. I bet somewhere, someone has fixed the problem the same way. There are to many people out there that face the same problems as we do. It doesn’t matter how we get to the destination but that we got there.
The way I see it is, it was your idea and a great one.
Man that snake looks good. I an so happy to see you have the time to play with a bit of wood.
“Cat in a sack”
That was funny!

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3818 days

#11 posted 01-04-2013 11:12 PM

Thanks Dave. I love to figure things out for myself when I can, but always with the knowledge that there is probably nothing new under the sun when it comes to woodworking.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 3340 days

#12 posted 01-05-2013 09:14 AM

Mike very impressive

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View Brit's profile


7789 posts in 3326 days

#13 posted 01-05-2013 10:45 AM

I’s say you are well on your way Mike and the results are amazing considering this is one of your first projects. I hear what you’re saying about buying veneers and hardwood by mail order. It really is pot luck on what grain patterns you end up with and whether they will work in your project or not and it can be expensive if they don’t. I have the same problems here in the UK. Often retailers just post a generic picture of the type of wood you are buying when I’d rather see the actual piece I’m buying.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3818 days

#14 posted 01-05-2013 11:50 AM

Thanks Andy. After thinking about it, this opens up a lot of new possibilities for me. I’m thinking of how easy it could be to make banding and other articles for inlay work on projects. This is going to be fun to explore. I am on a mission to get more woodworkers to add scroll saws to their shops as it can do so many different types of work.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Roger's profile


21010 posts in 3288 days

#15 posted 01-05-2013 01:23 PM

Gr8 info stefang. That snake is sssssssss-super

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

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