Marquetry workshop sign

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Marquetry is a form of decorative art, made commonplace in furniture between the 16th and 18th centuries. It involves the use of veneers,

cut into small pieces to form pictures and patterns, like

a jigsaw puzzle, which can then be applied to wooden objects. Although the primary material is veneer, elements of a design may be accentuated with the use of bone, ivory, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and brass, etc. Parquetry is a similar technique that involves a design of geometric patterns and shapes rather than a picture or flowing form.

The conventional technique for creating marquetry was to use a marquetry donkey with sawn cut veneers. But thanks to the advancements in woodwork machinery, veneers can now be cut down to under a millimetre in thickness, a technique commonly referred to as 'knife-cut'. These are more frequently used in contemporary practice and require methods other than the marquetry donkey to be applied when cutting them.


The 'window method' used in this project for cutting the veneers involves a scalpel. It is important to always cut at an angle away from yourself to avoid the blade slipping and causing a nasty accident!

When gluing up the marquetry, contact adhesive gives off incredibly strong fumes, so always work in a well-ventilated area.

You will need

No less than five photocopies of the paper template/ design

Six varieties of 'knife cut' veneer; preferably five natural woods, a red dyed veneer and a 'waste' veneer to be used as a balance veneer

Veneer tape

A scalpel with 10A blade

Cutting mat

Veneer hammer

Carbon paper

Technical drawing pencil

Bandsaw or coping saw

Contact adhesive

300 x 210mm MDF or plywood, approx. 5mm thick

Sandpaper and sanding block

Renaissance wax

Mutton cloth

The technique

The best way to understand the 'window method' when working on an aspect of a design, is to envisage a foreground and a background; these layers each represent a veneer that will be cut out one over the other. It is always easiest to start with the background veneer and cut the foreground layer to slot within.

Begin by cutting out your chosen design element on the paper template itself then lay over the background veneer. It may help to tape them together to stop the design moving when you cut it out. Use a scalpel to cut the element out of the veneer through the gap within the template. Remove the template and stick the foreground veneer behind the background veneer. Cut out the element exactly like before, slotting the foreground veneer into the background from the front; this should give a nice tight fit to the marquetry.

Cutting the letters

Steps 1-2. To cut out the lettering, two paper templates will be required – they can be cut out at intervals of every other letter. The letters that have an inner shape will need both elements cut out, one on each page.

Steps 3-4. One by one, place the templates onto the veneer

that will be used as the wooden sign. Cut each letter out then place the 'lettering' veneer underneath the 'sign' veneer. When these are all cut, they should slot together.

Cutting the wooden sign

Step 5. Apply the wooden sign template to its designated veneer (lettering already included) and cut out the rectangle. Use a ruler over the template to give a straight line.

Step 6. Cut out the four nails and using another template lay the 'nail' veneer underneath and cut from within the holes. Choose a dark veneer for the nails to stand out against the wooden sign.

Cutting the clamp

Steps 7-8. When cutting out the clamp, to make sure it fits tightly with the signed lettering, cut out the pieces of the clamp starting with the sections that touch the sign. Lay the appropriate veneer underneath the sign to cut out the conjoining lines then as before, finish the section by overlaying and cutting from the correct template. Continue to cut out the clamp by working piece by piece from the centre out. The screw thread should be the last piece to insert.

Cutting the groundwork

Steps 9-12. To cut out the groundwork precisely, place a complete paper template onto your chosen groundwork (MDF or plywood) with a sheet of carbon paper in between. Using a technical drawing pencil to give a clean, accurate line, draw onto the template along the outside edge of the design. This will mark the shape of the design onto groundwork, which can then be cut out with either a bandsaw or coping saw. Smooth the edges using sandpaper and a scalpel.

Gluing up

Step 13. Marquetry would traditionally be glued down using a protein-based glue; the 'window method' should mean the marquetry slots together tightly and does not require a long glue opening time. Contact adhesive works almost instantaneously and is able to hold the veneers flat rather effectively. Glue both the groundwork and the back side of the veneer and wait until the adhesive feels tacky then press together. Use a veneer hammer to press out any air or excess glue. It may help to clamp the marquetry up for extra precaution while the glue is drying. A piece of scrap board approximately the same size as the design is ideal for spreading out the pressure of clamps evenly. Place the board over the design and apply a clamp around each side.

Steps 14-15. Remember: the moisture in the glue

will make the groundwork bow; to prevent this as much as possible,

add a scrap veneer to the back of the groundwork with the grain running in the opposite direction to that of the marquetry; the majority. Glue this piece to the back as before, but keep the veneer as a whole. When it is dry, cut away the excess using a scalpel.

Smoothing out the surface

Step 16. When the marquetry has been put together, you will find that not all of the veneers are the same thickness and that the surface doesn't feel smooth. To solve this, in a careful manner that will prevent pieces of veneer chipping off, use the scalpel blade pressed almost flat on its side to scrape off layers of the thicker veneers until the pieces all seem on an even level. Hand-sand down the surface with sandpaper wrapped around a block, using a coarse grade of paper and finishing with a finer one, making sure not to be too rough with the marquetry. Remember to always go with the grain when you are sanding or scraping.

Adding a surface finish

Steps 17-8. When the marquetry is complete and the surface is finally smooth, there are a number of surface finish options available. For a glossy finish, several coatings of shellac would

be appropriate; however, when producing a panel of marquetry rather than for an item of furniture, a wax polish can be more appealing as it gives a rather lovely soft sheen to the finished design.

Renaissance Wax is a highly regarded wax polish that has endless possibilities and applications. Its main advantage over other products within the same category is that it does not leave behind a sticky residue that other waxes can be known to build up over a period of time.

Apply a thin layer of wax across the marquetry using a rubber made of mutton cloth, being careful not to risk sections of the veneer breaking away by getting snagged. Leave the polish to harden for a few minutes and then buff off gently with a clean piece of mutton cloth.

Step 19. Here you have your finished workshop sign, ready to adorn the entrance to your shop. Although it has been designed for interior use, it may also be hung outside. However, for this purpose it would require to be protected by a layer of glass, which would prevent the veneers from peeling away. The groundwork would also need to be a good quality marine ply to withstand the outside conditions.