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The Basics of Marquetry

Marquetry Basics


Marquetry is an artistic form of woodworking that is enjoyed by many. An age old practice, it is the forming or creating of pictures using various wood veneers, or other mediums. Often, parts are cut together in layers, or packets, on a scroll saw to ensure a tight fight between the various parts.

The difference between marquetry and intarsia is the thickness of the wood being used, and the fact that the intarsia parts are typically thicker and rounded over on the edges. Much like a child's puzzle. Also, intarsia often does not cover the entire substrate. Intarsia is defined as the craft of using varied shapes, sizes and species of wood fitted together to create a mosaic-like picture.

The difference between marquetry and inlays is that the marquetry forms the entire design and is applied to a substrate, while inlays are accents let into the surrounding area.

Marquetry is made using either homemade veneers, resawn on the band saw, commonly up to an 1/8" inch thick, or with commercial veneers which can be as thin as 1/40 of an inch in thickness. When cutting the mating parts, forming packets of the different veneers allow the pieces to be cut together, resulting in perfect fitting parts. The blade in the scroll saw is held at an angle, which is determined by the veneer thickness.

Commercial veneer is cut at around an angle of 18 degrees. Thicker veneers use less of an angle. Cutting in this fashion helps to hide the joints. Cuts that don't come to the edge of the parts require a small hole to be drilled next to the cut line. The fact that the veneer is cut on an angle means that the holes can be drilled in the waste section of both pieces.

To do this, make certain the back round part is on the top, in the infill piece is on the bottom. Drill the hole on a slightly less angle than the saw cuts. This eliminates the task of filling the holes. A common scroll saw blade for marquetry is a number 2/0, but finer blades, all the way down to 6/0 are also available.

The drill bit used for the 2/0 blade is a number 68. This is slightly larger than a needle, so as you can imagine it is difficult to fit the blade through the hole. It helps to countersinking the back side of the holes, and even draw a circle around it on the back side. Fitting such a fine blade through these tiny holes are almost impossible for many people, without these extra steps.

When forming the packets, or layers to be cut, try to orient the grain of the parts to emphasize the design. Sand shading the parts can add much to the design, giving it a 3 dimensional effect. Sand shading is done by inserting the veneer parts into hot sand, causing the pieces to get scorched. The longer they are dipped in the sand, the darker the shading.

This requires a hot plate, some fine sand, tweezers with which to hold the parts, and scraps to practice on. A thermometer is helpful as it makes it easier to duplicate work done at different times. The shading only requires the piece be dipped into the hot sand for a few seconds.

Testing is necessary to get good results. The heating source need not be a fancy one. The sand is playground sand from a local home center. Very complicated designs are possible with practice, and are only limited to the person doing the work, also known as a marquetarian.

One of the beauties of this type of woodworking is it doesn't take much in the way of equipment or materials. It is a very relaxing and artistic form of expression.


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