Monday, March 26, 2012
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!)