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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Marquetry

                                       December 2010  

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.      

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.




This month we look at ……Marquetry

Cheshire Models pictureMarquetry is a form of art based on the creation of wooden pictures; it is a wonderful hobby especially for the winter months and something that is coming very much back into fashion.

Marquetry is also known as intarsia, and is basically the production of pictures and decorative designs by the clever use of different woods – thin veneers of wood and sometimes other materials which have different grains and shading.

In marquetry, the design is usually applied on top of a prepared base material and differs from inlay, where the patterns are incorporated within the base material.

Marquetry is a very old art; while its origins are unknown, it has been seen as far back as caskets in ancient Egypt. .In the 14th Century marquetry developed in Northern Italy as a method of decoration for cathedrals and over the next few centuries schools developed in France, Germany and Holland. During the 16th to 18th centuries exquisite work was produced to decorate furniture.

Today there is limited professional marquetry undertaken, but amateurs provide a wide range of beautiful items to keep the tradition alive.

The good thing about marquetry as a hobby is that it required no expensive machinery and you can start in a very simple fashion with cheap veneers and progress as your skills increase.

To start, the easiest way is to buy a beginners kit, these are available in many arts and crafts shops and also on line and provide all the materials you need to create that first lovely wooden picture. Alternatively you can start in an ambitious manner, in which case the first thing is to choose the picture you want to create. It is a bit like painting by numbers, the design needs to be separated so that it will be portrayed by sections of different colour woods stuck onto a base. Once you have sketched out your drawing you can then buy your veneers separately. Again these can be ordered online and can come in packs offering great choices of colours and textures for creative work.

When choosing veneers, there are some woods that beginners should avoid, such as ebony and wenge which are very hard to cut with a knife, and western red cedar which loses its colour quickly.

Before you start cutting and sticking, you need to choose a base board for your picture. This should not be too thick, especially if the picture is small, as it can spoil the balance of the finished product. Generally, a picture of around an A5 size or less should be mounted on boards of 6 mm thick or less; while larger pictures up to A4 size should not be mounted on boards thicker than 12mm.

For the base board of your picture, you can choose solid timber, plywood or a composite such as chip board. As it is going to be covered over, colour and texture is unimportant but it is vital the piece of wood you use as a base is flat and warp free.

Once you have traced the outline of the picture, usually with black carbon paper, it is time to start cutting and fitting in the veneer shapes to create the picture you have chosen.
To cut the veneer to the exact shape you require, all you need is a sharp knife. Any craft blade with a straight blade such as an Exacto blade or a Swann Morton craft blade is excellent for beginners. Bear in mind some blades have a bevel on just one side while others are bevelled on both edges. The aim of good marquetry is to make a perfectly vertical cut so that different veneers fit cleanly together, and so many prefer to use a single-bevel blade.

Then of course comes the exciting part of fixing or “gluing” your veneer pieces together to create the picture. There are several methods of doing this but again hints, tips and directions are readily available on line or in the many marquetry instruction books that are available in good book shops.

While the concept of marquetry might seem very simple indeed, as with any worthwhile hobby, as you progress it can become quite complex with all sorts of additional techniques and terminology coming into play. But creating a lovely wooden picture is a definite achievement, and the hobby is well worth undertaking by anyone who is keen to do something creative.

Anyone involved in this hobby is usually very willing to pass on tips, and there is an official Marquetry Society which has an online site which can be very helpful – Groups around Britain can also offer advice and some also have good online sites, for instance the Staffordshire Marquetry Group on Most hobby shops offer advice and books on marquetry, so it really is a very easy hobby to start.


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