Chevalet marquetry 101

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Blog entry by stefang posted 07-20-2014 09:35 PM 2674 reads 1 time favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch


Shortly after finishing my Chevalet Paul aka Shipwright asked me if I would be interested in doing a little project where I could learn a few basic marquetry skills and use my Chevy to do the cutting with. I think he knew that I was a little worried about working with thin veneers and he thought this would help me get started. The only serious marquetry I have done prior to this was my chinese dragon cut from solid wood about 5mm thick which you can see Here. I was kind of proud of it, but it was a road to nowhere because using solid wood is very expensive and you can’t get the hundreds of different species available as veneers which are necessary to create more complex marquetry works. Here is the completed project and some other pictures taken underway. You can see that I unwittingly mitred the tops of the box sides. I guess I got carried away. Anyway that explains why the finish box has a much reduced height to the sky. Another error was that the grain of the 4 motif veneer was supposed to run in the same direction, but I got one wrong anyway. I’m not too worried about it.

My purpose for blogging this is not to brag about my work shown here, but rather to catch the interest of those who are sitting on the fence trying to decide if they want to give marquetry work a whirl. I am hoping this will take away some of the fear of the unknown and maybe encourage them to go for it. I am trying to convey my own doubts and subsequent learning experiences. This is not a how to blog. I have just done the best I could with whatever skills I possess at this time. I think you will see here that you don’t need to be and expert or have all the answers to get an acceptable result.

Chevalet Marquetry 101
The project Paul gave me seemed real simple, actually more simple than what I was thinking about to start with. But after thinking it over i realised that there were a lot of elements involved that I had never tried before and knew nothing about. Here is the work that was involved.

  1. Preparation of veneers (4 in this case)
  2. Sharpening a veneer saw
  3. Cutting veneers to rough size (oversize)
  4. Making up a marquetry packet for cutting (could also be done on a scroll saw)
  5. Cutting on the Chevy
  6. Sand shading
  7. Hammer veneering using hot hide glue
  8. Gluing the marquetry motif

Here is my personal experience with the different stages of this beginner project listed above.

Preparation of veneers
In this case I cut them to size first, but details later. After cutting I used hot hide glue to glue white paper on the back of each of the 4 motif veneers for the outside a the project box. This is done to reinforce the veneer so it wouldn’t shatter while sawing. The other 4 veneers for the inside of the box were left plain with no reinforcement paper as they would only be cut to approximate size on the edges before the mitring cuts on the table saw.

Sharpening a veneer saw
Before cutting the veneer to the rough size I first had to sharpen and tune up my new veneer saw. I learned to do this from a great video. I followed the instructions and got a great result. Here it is.

Cutting veneers
I used a self healing cutting matt and a hardwood fence to guide the cuts with my veneer saw. As you can see I clamped one end of the fence to my bench and holding the veneer in my left hand to position it under the fence at the cut line. I then put downward pressure on the other end of the fence temporarily until I could hold it down with my left and and saw with my right hand. This was very easy and accurate. I did have a problem on the first cross grain cut with blow out at the end of the cut. I solved that problem by putting a small piece of masking tape around the edge where the cut exits. You can see the tape if you squint.

Patrick Edwards says he doesn’t like veneer saws with round and offset handles which are awkward to cut with and which also have exposed row of teeth on the top edge of the blade which can cut your other hand resting on the fence if you aren’t careful. I totally agree with him, but I can’t justify the $100 cost for the one he likes just now, so I will just have to use the one I have. It works fine, but yes, it is a little clumsy.

Making up a marquetry packet for cutting
I followed Paul’s instructions here. You don’t have to reverse the top veneer for this project. after putting the packet together as shown sandwich the 4 motif veneers between a top and bottom sheet of 1/8” plywood before taping all around the edges. This made for a well compacted and stable packet to be cut on the chevy. Here is pic of packet after I cut the marquetry out.

Cutting on the Chevy
Paul has posted some demo videos showing this that you can look up. Here is what my marquetry looked like after assembling just after cutting it out.

Sand shading
This didn’t go so well for me. I did learn to only use perhaps a 1” thick layer of sand instead of the 3 or 4 inches I actually used. The result was shading is place I didn’t want and not shading where I wanted. I did find out beforehand that the paper on the back of the veneer doesn’t cause any problem and the shading is the same as for the un-papered side afterward. When removed from the hot sand the pieces curled up like potato chips. To counter the effect I immediately remoisturized them by stroking a little water on them with my finger and then placed them between a couple of clamped Melamine platers to reflatten them. That part went well.

Hammer veneering using hot hide glue
The insides and bottom of the box were hammer veneered onto the oversized mdf substrate with hot hide glue prior to cutting the box to final dimensions. Instead of a regular veneer hammer I use the paint scraper shown below. I removed the blade and filed the business end round and smooth. Everything went extremely well. Not a surprise since these were very small pieces. The knob on my makeshift veneer hammer (suggested by Paul) made it easy to apply good pressure while squeezing out the excess glue

Gluing the marquetry motif to the box sides
I assemble all 4 marquetry picture and then I taped over the paper reinforced side with veneer tape to hold the cut pieces together for gluing to the box sides. The papered/taped side is the face side while the other side gets glued to the substrate. I then spread hot hide glue on the bare box sides and centred the marquetry motifs on the box sides.

The 4 box sides were then placed in my shop made veneer press shown below. I first placed a sheet plastic onto the lower caul then the box sides with the marquetry motifs up, then a piece of baking paper to prevent glue squeeze out from getting onto the upper caul and lastly three layers of felt padding to even out the pressure. I left it overnight and it came out perfect.

This was a great learning experience for me and I now have a pencil pot for the shop and a reminder of the fun I had making it. Many thanks to Paul aka Shipwright for suggesting this to me and also supplying me with the line drawing of the motif and the advice contained in his photos.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

23 comments so far

View Brit's profile


7789 posts in 3326 days

#1 posted 07-20-2014 09:52 PM

I’d say that was pretty damn good for you first project Mike. Well done! That really is a great achievement.

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

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

23219 posts in 3588 days

#2 posted 07-20-2014 10:01 PM

That is a really nice box, Mike. thanks for showing all the steps. When Danny Biddle (LJ dingle) visited Paul in Green valley we cut that same pattern at his house but Paul did all the layup and I made the following frames for mine:

Nice work, Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View changeoffocus's profile


467 posts in 2100 days

#3 posted 07-20-2014 10:09 PM

Mike, Interesting narrative including the sound advice from Paul, I’ve been watching many of the posts on this subject with a inkling of trying it someday, the visions I had for first attempts have been downgraded substantially thanks to this article. I appreciate your work on this and I only hope that when and if I give it a try I’ll do half as good as you did.

View Roger's profile


21010 posts in 3287 days

#4 posted 07-20-2014 10:10 PM

Wow Mike! That’s awesome!

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

View Druid's profile


2141 posts in 3278 days

#5 posted 07-20-2014 10:22 PM

Well done blog Mike. Not boring at all, and I’m looking forward to more of your work.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

View johnhutchinson's profile


1243 posts in 2112 days

#6 posted 07-20-2014 10:43 PM

Great tutorial, Mike !!!

I’m still amazed by the quality of some of the blog entries on LumberJocks—like this one. I’ve been involved with woodworking publications to some degree for more than fifteen years, and you guys do it better than the “pros”.

-- John - Central Ohio - "too much is never enough"

View robscastle's profile


6308 posts in 2687 days

#7 posted 07-20-2014 10:54 PM

Oh yes I am one of the fence sitters.

So the blog is certainly not in the boring catagory for me.

I have done one initial read,then will re read and possibly ask some questions, but was so impressed I thought it was worthy of an preliminary comment !!

-- Regards Rob

View SPalm's profile


5334 posts in 4365 days

#8 posted 07-20-2014 10:55 PM

Well done Mike.
Sounds like you were thrown some curves and handled them quite nicely. Good on you.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View shipwright's profile


8358 posts in 3281 days

#9 posted 07-21-2014 12:31 AM

Excellent rendition Mike.
The pleasure was all mine.
So cool to have my little coyote living in Norway. I hope he’s up to the somewhat different climate. ..... :-)

-- 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

11764 posts in 3912 days

#10 posted 07-21-2014 01:23 AM

That little coyote sure gets around.
Very cool read, Mike. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Brings back some nice memories.

-- 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 Dale J Struhar Sr's profile

Dale J Struhar Sr

503 posts in 3613 days

#11 posted 07-21-2014 01:42 AM

Nice job Mike. Can’t wait to see the next project.

-- Dale, Ohio

View tomd's profile


2210 posts in 4253 days

#12 posted 07-21-2014 01:55 AM

Great work Mike, looks like you’ll have a lot of fun with that machine.

-- Tom D

View MShort's profile


1797 posts in 3901 days

#13 posted 07-21-2014 03:04 AM

Nice work Mike !!!

-- Mike, Missouri --- “A positive life can not happen with a negative mind.” ---

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 4313 days

#14 posted 07-21-2014 04:24 AM

Nicely done Mike you are well on your way! You have all the steps now and from here on it’s just a question of patience and practice.

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

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3817 days

#15 posted 07-21-2014 07:42 AM

Wow, thanks for all those positive comments everyone. I was worried it was just a blow hard blog. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the actual work underway and I was worried that it wouldn’t be very well received. I will try to do better next time.

John I wondered if it was you who designed the wonderful toy ‘Camilla the Cantering Camel’ which I made about 13 years ago for my grandson Vidar and posted it on LJ shortly after joining a few years ago. Sure enough, it was you! Here is my project post. And yes I did give you credit for the design in the write up. It is much loved. I had to repair it a couple of times over the years and Vidar, who is now 15 still has it on display in his room.

Mathew Sorry I forgot to give you credit for your veneer press design that worked so well for me.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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