Monday, March 26, 2012

What I learned from Paul Schürch

Good grief, where to start?  That should give you a clue of the awesomeness of this class.

Paul Schürch came to Phoenix to teach a 5-day seminar on decorative veneering and marquetry.  For those of you who don't know who Paul is, he's a marquetarian who can do the classics, but excels at playing with the classics to make them come to life.  His break-through piece was the ribbon cabinet that caught the judges off guard by draping the ribbon throughout the piece instead of staying in the confines of the filetti.

The photo to the left is his spinning cabinet, one of three.  Click the photo to get to his gallery for it.  Nice stuff :)  He had this design rolling around his head for 7 years before committing it to a blueprint and ultimately build it.  Glad I'm not the only one with projects swimming around in my head forever.

The class started with getting familiar with the tools we'd use; the key being a veneer saw.  That's mine sitting on two of his booklets.  It's a common Two Cherries veneer saw.  While it seems perfectly obvious after the fact, the start of the class is correctly sharpening that saw.  World of difference.  The saw came in a kit of tools sold for the class along with all the boards and veneers we'd use.  Someone couldn't find their saw.  Paul said to look around for a saw with blue tape on it... because in every class, people put a bit of blue tape on their saw to mark it... guilty!

The first project was a marquetry panel based on one of several patterns he brought to class.  These are simple as far as marquetry projects go since the petals can have some cut drift or over-shading and still look pretty good.  This photo is of my panel; it has only had a minimal sanding and needs more before a shellac finish.  I'll be finishing it later along with my second panel described below.

While simple, the project takes you on a fast tour of everything needed for marquetry: 4-way bookmatch background, mitered filetti (the border), packet cutting all the part veneers at once, sand shading to express a light source, and all that is involved in assembly, gluing, repairing, sanding, and finishing.  By the way, 'fast' is appropriate: Paul keeps a very good pace; nobody gets left behind, but you won't find yourself yawning much either.  Very much appreciated.

Repairs are inevitable in any project, but with thin veneer or burls with voids, you have repairs to do as a natural course of work.  What made the seminar so much better was Paul's constant demonstration of how to fix problems in a number of ways.  He's a funny guy so the demo would usually go, "how are you going to repair that void?" "what void?" Whack! as the chisel comes flying down to put a monster hole in your project "that one?"  Best part? he'd immediately get down to showing you 2-3 ways to fix that hole then went ahead and fixed it in record time in front of you.  After the first panels came out of the vacuum press, we went back to find the repairs; though we knew where they were, they were next to impossible to find.  Any instructor who makes a point of showing repairs or how to fix a project when something goes wrong scores points with me; Paul went well beyond that.  I may be biased because I never received a surprise chisel whack, tear of my border, intentional removing of my glue as it went into the bag or any of the other surprises... or did I? hmm...

Though commercial raw veneers are just 1/42" thick, Paul's more than a little rough with it.  Previously, I always handled it gently, but once the stuff is properly flattened (day 1 topic), it's quite pliable and resilient to abuses.

Paul taught us packet cutting for creating the marquetry; in a nutshell, sandwich all the veneers properly aligned in a packet bound by paper chipboard and cut everything at once.  You aren't cutting individual pieces to be placed later, you are cutting both the void in the background and the part that fits it from stacked veneer.  Very fast.  Both of my projects were very comfortably cut with a single packet.  If you don't have many veneers in a single project, you can make duplicates by stacking multiple backgrounds and veneers for the parts and cut them at once.  Very useful for production work on, say, small gifts like I'd make or for semi-repeating marquetry borders Paul puts on tables.

Speaking of semi-repeating marquetry: Paul spent a great deal of time describing what the eye sees and what it ignores.  Keep these in mind and you can speed your work.  For example, a table with a complicated leaf-n-vine border was created as a number of different patterns, but some patterns were repeated on the table.  If you divide the table top into, say, 5 instead of 4, the eye has a difficult time locating or noticing the duplicate.  If you do it in 4ths, it seems the eye can catch the repetition.  Further, when cutting multiple of a pattern to repeat on the border of a table, Paul is able to sometimes place a leaf over the filetti (the border) or place it under by knifing in the piece of filetti that was cut from the packet.  Makes for an excellent way to reduce the cutting labor in a project without compromising the variety of the pattern.

Another interesting tidbit: at Marc Adams, Paul has a 36" diameter table with a radial match intentionally off center.  Even when telling students to find what is intentionally wrong with the table, most struggle awhile before noticing.  In this case, the radial match's center is off by 1.25".

Speaking of labor, I found it interesting that for Paul's average piece, the marquetry is only 5% the effort.

The second project was to be student designed.  Some class members grabbed sketchbooks for existing drawings or kid's coloring books.  All are good sources of simplified drawings that can be moved to marquetry easily.  I had a goofy idea in my head of trying to use the filetti as an element.  I drew up something... I can't draw!  At lunch, I drove up the street to work and asked the graphic designer to clean up the sketch.  Damn, took Evan all of 3 minutes to draw a perfect comic picture after I struggled for an hour and killed two erasers!  (thx, Evan!)

As you can see, I chose a bird for my subject :)  The numbers are part numbers for keeping them in order (I think I left most unnumbered as I later realized).  The copy framed in blue tape is the bottom of the packet; I used the copy of the drawing to place the veneer accurately.

This is the packet loaded with veneer, edges, background.  Pieces are blue taped in place.  By the way, you will go through an amazing amount of blue tape doing marquetry.  Same with gum tape (the white tape in the dual dispenser above the packet); gum tape is a white paper tape with hide glue adhesive that you wet with the dispenser (or lick it if you like that rustic BBQ taste :)

Topped the pile with another copy of the drawing attached to paper chipboard then hit the scroll saw.  The box to the right is just a partitioned parts box; I put numbered parts in each box.  Some numbered parts had tiny parts near them so I'd toss them in the same compartment (e.g., the shoe and ankle... kinda easy to tell apart).

I did this packet at night in my shop and cut it until 4:30am (didn't feel like it, but I'm a night owl!)  I wanted to do it on my own instead of in the class for a couple reasons: sink-or-swim and not so crowded. You think your projects can occupy all available horizontal space? Try marquetry! :)  ...and don't sneeze.

That saw is really nice.  An Excaliber 30" scroll saw.  Paul had mixed experience with Excaliber before, but the new design intrigued him so the store owner brought in the 30" for him to (literally) whack around and burn out blades to see how well put together they were.  I believe you'll be reading a full review later in FWW, but let's say I'm betting there's one in his shop now to replace his 21" scroll saw.  I grabbed the saw he abused; got it signed :)

So Paul's daily saw is (was?) a 21" scroll saw, but he has access to a 9' scroll saw.  Yes, 9 feet.  It is built as part of the shop that houses it with a spring on the ceiling beam and reciprocating unit under the table.  When you are packet cutting a large dining table, you effectively have the skin of the dining table in your packet (good grief, think of the blue tape...) Apparently some artisans in Italy he visits use an equally large scroll saw daily.  One brother maneuvers the packets while the other gives "driving directions" looking at the blade.  Can't imagine that.  I think if it was me, I'd use the webcam and flat-panel in my shop to put the blade on the screen and steer directly.

Back to the saw, many of us hadn't used a scroll saw before so we all have a cut-test to pass before we can cut our packets.  Consists of a lot of tight straight lines, 90º corners, then weaving curves all on a space the size of a postage stamp.  Takes some practice; my personal panel helped a lot with that as some angles were more acute or required swinging through the oblique angle to keep pressure off a small piece of keeper veneer.  What is interesting is that packet cutting works best with at least 4 layers in the packet; less than that and you'll get drift more easily.

Ah, yes, my panel... this is what it looked like before going into the vacuum bag to be veneered to a Medex panel.  It has some placeholder veneers.  The guy's eyes and 'gator's teeth will be routed out for mother of pearl inlay.  Once that's done, I'll route out the pupil of all the eyes ('gators', too) and fill them with black epoxy to get a nice glassy look.  I'll post details when they're done.  It'll end up on the shop wall :)  Some of the things to note in the picture are the change in grain direction to really enhance something; look at the guy's pants and you'll see the Poplar grain flowing with the leg through the knee.  I think if you didn't do that, something would look 'wrong', but not be immediately obvious.

The above picture was the glue side; the back is covered in gum tape to hold the pieces together during glue-up assembly and gluing.  This is the panel assembled.  The tape comes off easily enough with a sharpened scraper especially after soaking in water.

As fine luck would have it, Paul has an article "World-class marquetry made easy" in the April 2012 Fine Woodworking magazine (number 225).  I got him to sign mine; that modified picture of him? yeah, he looks like that right before plowing a chisel into your project :)

That article is a great whirlwind tour of doing a nice marquetry project.  It turns out that specific project is covered in great detail on his Marquetry DVD that comes with a 35-page booklet you can use in the shop rather than trying to use the DVD as a shop reference.  It's volume 2 with volume 1 being Decorative Veneering (also with a 46-page booklet).  The two make a great set.  They are well produced and I've watched them both at least twice already (had them long before the class).  They are easily among the best woodworking DVDs I have.  The tool/veneer kit we purchased for the class is also available on his site and is enough to do at least a couple panels like the ones shown in the DVD; it would be the second best way to learn this second only to taking his class.

Speaking of taking his class, if you get a chance, I highly recommend taking a seminar with Paul.  Rumor has it that he will be teaching for two days at WIA'12 in Pasadena.  If you are going, sign up early for this class.  It's a lot of fun.

By the way, we had a contest for best marquetry panels based on different criteria.  My 'bird' panel won the humorous category.  It was a grueling competition in that category... I was the only one :)  My prize was a copy of his Practical Furniture Design book along with a nice drawing set.  The book is a bit of a misnomer.  Sure it talks about design, creativity, and several project studies, but it also covers custom furniture orders, pricing, shipping, and designing with shipping in mind.  I'm not all through it yet, but so far, it looks like a very worthwhile read.

Thanks, Paul!  (and thanks to the Arizona Fine Woodworkers Association for bringing him here)

(Gave him a bottle of Arizona wine as a thank-you, from Cochise County; fortunately he looked happy because in his other hand is the 'void maker' chisel!)


  • Anonymous said...

    Thanks - interesting read. Posted a link to this over at woodworking cafe

    Tom Crawford

  • ChrisHasFlair said...


    You are such a goof! :)

    Good to see another entertaining and informative post from you.


  • Anonymous said...

    Thanx for the post. I will be taking his course in June at the Wiliam Ng school in Anaheim. (still some openings left if anyone is interested)
    Marc- did you find the DVD's just a simplified version of the class? Or what I mean to ask is, is it worthwhile if you plan on taking the class?

    Thanx, Kevin Rehmann

  • Anonymous said...

    sorry. I meant Paul...

    Kevin Rehmann

  • Andrew Reynolds said...

    I am jealous - Paul did a one day design class for our marquetry club and a local woodworking club. I learned a lot in one day. I hope to find time to take one of his five day classes.

    And I like the piece you did.

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks for the comments!

    Kevin, his DVDs aren't a simplified version of the class. In fact, I'd say the pair of them go further than the class in some respects for the basics. The class, however, goes far more into practical repairs, things like hearing bubbles under the veneer, and a lot of one-on-one time with Paul; he floats around the room (not literally, Chris...) and gives everybody a lot of one-on-one time. I'd listen in on nearby 1-on-1 and learned a lot. Actually, I brought a fresh half-size notepad and it is full. Like all classes, the tangent conversations, say, about his spinning cabinet's bent laminations, or his creative use of Ablam, or doing marquetry with stone veneers (!) all go beyond the DVDs (do ask him about all those, btw). But the DVDs go a little further in the basic steps, the steps you'll need for every project. The booklets could act like detailed quick-reference guides to the many steps.

    Dunno... I watched both DVDs twice about 6 months ago then watched them again before the class started. I'd recommend doing that... you won't be bored in class; rather, you'll already know the gist of some step and can now focus on some of the better techniques he'll also discuss. Nothing better than reinforcement.

    Frankly, I'd be surprised if the DVDs aren't part of the course; we got ours along with the tools and supplies. Write him an email... he's good about answering (between midnight and 3 :)) See if the DVDs are part of the course and if so, can you get them early.

    Thanks, Andrew... the piece is goofy, but it works for me :) I think the design class you are talking about is what we got a short version of the night before the seminar starts. He comes out here to teach for 5 days and because he got here early, we all got a last-minute invite to this special design presentation. Too, cool.

    Between now and taking a class with him, you likely could easily pull off a panel using the DVDs and kit he has. It's pretty complete though a couple 'nice' items are available separately (like the brass cutting edge). If you are going to WIA'12 in Pasadena, look to sign up for his class. If I get a chance, I'll sneak in there, too :)

  • Mark Rhodes said...

    Very interesting post Paul, and it now makes the package more relevant. So I will get it in the post this week, shame, as it has made a great raised shelf on my bench. My grandfather used to buy little marquetry kits and make old english scenes come to life in timber, very clever. Do you have satin wood veneer available to you?

  • HalfInchShy said...

    I was scratching my head a bit, Mark! Then I remembered 'the package'. I'm more intrigued than ever now.

    Satinwood is a beautiful veneer. I have a bit in my kit, but planned on ordering more from Paul since it will accent the veneered panels of my current project nicely (no, no video of it yet... actually filming it now). Satinwood has such an iridescence (the cool kids call it chatoyance, but I'll spare the French when chatting with a fine English craftsman :)

  • Ron Wenner said...

    I thought I already posted a comment however I must not have proven I'm not a robot.
    Great timing Paul -- I've been looking into buying a scroll saw & the Excalibur keeps floating to the top of the list. I was thinking the 21" but maybe I'll wait for the FWW review of the 30". I originally was thinking a small Inca bandsaw but the scroll saw seems more versatile.
    Keep up the great work!

  • Anonymous said...

    Ron, ScrollSaw magazine has a scroll saw buyer’s guide in their Fall 2010 issue (issue #40). I don’t think they’ve published any buyer’s guide since then, but occasionally the do single reviews on a particular saw. If you can find a copy of that issue, it starts on page 31. There’s also a good comparison matrix on page 38 & 39. The don’t go in depth, but it’s good for comparisons, and how each saw did in the various tests they ran (the explain how they tested). It covers from the least expensive saws to the most expensive in price range categories. The Excalibur EX21 & EX30 are tested also. There’s a bulleted list of “Beneficial features for different types of scrolling” at the bottom of page 38 for the intended use of the saw. The types are: “For fretwork”, “For intarsia”, “For relief and inlay”. FYI

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Good info, Anonymous... thanks for the detail! I'm new to scroll sawing so I relied heavily on Paul's recommendation. Ron, Paul mentioned that he might do a review of that Excaliber, but of course that depends on whether the magazine wants it and publishes it in a timely fashion.

  • Anonymous said...

    Looks like I forgot to add my name to the ScrollSaw magazine recommendation.


  • Brian Q said...

    Very well done review. Both of your marquetry projects came out great as well.

  • Ray said...

    You can read the scroll saw magazine guide for free on Scribd at

    What I'm curious about is the dust collection of the Excalibur or the lack of it - how does it fair?

    The 21" Excalibur is about the same price as a Hegner Multicut 2S but the Hegner at least claims to have a DC port in it.

    Anyone have experiences of the Hegner dust collection?

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Ray, the Excaliber does not have a dust port on it (or it is exceptionally well hidden :)

    When I did that marquetry packet, there was a fair amount of dust, but all of it right under the throat for the most part. Table top was clean. It would be a pretty easy thing to add. I have some modifications I want to make to this Excaliber so I'll add a port while making them. There'll be a video, but only after my next project's intro video is done!

  • Ray said...

    Heh, figured one can count on you to modify anything you touch and make a video out of it ;-)

    Looking forward to seeing your ideas of the ultimate scroll saw!

  • Vic Hubbard said...

    Great post! I really hope to take a seminar with Paul. I got to meet him quite a few years back at AFWS in Las Vegas. It was only a short class, but entertaining and very informative. Now that I understand much more, I'd love to spend a week, at least, soaking up his knowledge.

  • Unknown said...

    Hi Guys,
    Someone told me to read this and I am glad some buzz is still out there! It was truly a great class for me as as well, the creative endeavors were exceptional, as shown in this blog by Paul-Marcel on 1/2" !
    I have shown that croc bite pic to several groups so far...( always a good reaction !)
    A couple of comments on the scroll saw - vac idea, Better not to have the vac suck all those little pieces you need away, unless you are cutting shell. One option is to put a 1/8" hardware cloth over the nozzle.
    *FWI, a note about 2013 classes, I am taking a break from off-site teaching for the year.
    I have too many great projects to build in my own shop, like a 6' diameter 'Clamshell Pod' cabinet,finish two Jewelry armoire's, and last but not least, that quilted maple dress....

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks for jumping in, Paul! Definitely was a great class... now if I can remember all the details as I make all these panels for Angle Madness :) I'm going to WIA'12 as a demo dude (as in dude doing demos not a demo of what is a dude :) I'm going to try sneaking away to catch your class or at least go give you a hard time... I'll bring some more Arizona wine this time from Caduceus Winery, Maynard's winery (of Tool!)