The Art of Marquetry
Marquetry is an art that forms pictures by combining different colored veneer pieces but may include anything from bone, tortoiseshell, pewter, brass, ivory or fine metals. In fact there is record of some marquetry that was created with colored straw in some specialty European spa resorts near the end of the 18th century, so you see this art form can be made up of a lot of different materials. It is said that marquetry was inspired by the ancient art of intarsia. As some of you may know Intarsia is a technique in knitting that uses multiple colors to create unique patterns but it is also a woodworking technique where different materials are fit together like a puzzle to appear to be inlaid in one another. As with so many of our crafts and arts the techniques have changed and in most cases with modern technology some parts of it have gotten easier and the same holds true for Marquetry. In the beginning the craftsmen were hired by wealthy people to make them a unique and beautiful piece of art. Because the craftsmen needed to go thru a long process of taking larger pieces of different types of hardwoods and slowly carving them down to the roughly 1/4" thickness that they would use it took a lot time and there were many steps involved so it was an expensive art. Marquetry became more economical with the invention of the jigsaw blade and other tools that made it possible to save time on labor and also not to have to carve away so much of the exotic hardwoods that are used.
Sample of Veneer used in Marquetry
To get started doing marquetry you will only need a few basic tools. Glue, two types of wood veneer, a knife and a board to mount it on such as a piece of plywood. My suggestion is that when you are a beginner, select a simple design to do with only two different colors of wood. Draw or if you have carbon paper trace your design on to your background veneer first (Usually the darker of the two veneers) and cut out the outline very carefully. From there it is a matter of laying your background piece on the top of your other color and trace the outline of the design with a knife so you are cutting thru your top piece of veneer and scoring the piece below. Once you have all the lines scored with your knife separate the two pieces and proceed to cut out the veneer that you have scored your pattern on. You will end up with two designs that are alike and you can interchange the pieces of the darker veneer with pieces of the lighter veneer to create your design. You may have to do some fine trimming to make some of the pieces interchange correctly. Once you have mastered the basics of marquetry by working with just two different veneers, start experimenting with more shades of veneer and adding other mediums as well, such as shells or metals.
No matter how you prefer to spell it marquetry or marqueterie you can create some inspiring works of art that are breathtaking. If you have time do some searching on the internet look at some of the beautiful pieces that have been photographed over the years. With some of the photos that I have seen of marquetry it was hard to believe that it was made from several small pieces of veneer and not just painted.