Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Own Marquetry Project with Paul Schürch

Paul Schürch recently returned to Phoenix at the Southwest Center for Craftsmanship to teach his marquetry class again.  This is the same class I took a couple years ago and wrote about here.  Yes, he's flipping a 1½" chisel in the air in the photo :)  He's a professional; don't try this at home.

Since this would be a repeat class for me, I sent him a private video beforehand to ask if I could come up with something more advanced and do that in the back of the class getting guidance from him as he milled about.  The video also included my project proposal.  He was all over that idea.  Plus I benefited from watching the original class all over again.

Decided on a selfie photo to prove I was there :)

My idea was to build a small half-round-ish table with four legs. This is the cartoon on my packet before cutting.  The red curve line indicates where the border of the table top is located. There's a leg in each of the back corners as well as on the front curves.

The birds are Downy Woodpeckers and the trees are Birch.

On its own, this marquetry wouldn't be much more advanced than the marquetry presented in the first iteration of this class other than total piece count.  This marquetry has a little over 80 pieces.  If you count the pieces in the drawing, you'll find many more, but that's where some explaining is needed.

The cartoon includes three lines sweeping down from the upper left corner. This divides the cartoon into 4 regions we'll call A, B, C, and (wait for it!) D from left to right.

The idea is that this marquetry progresses from an idea or drawing through increasing levels of detail while simultaneously going from grayscale through full color.

Section A is a very light Holly veneer and is a single piece; the bird and tree parts in that section will be drawn on the veneer after it is veneered to its substrate.

Section B has a light gray background and different shades of gray for the entire bird portion and whites for trees. Details will also be drawn in those "coarse" grayscale units.

Section C has a darker gray background and each detailed part of the marquetry is cut out of grays and whites. Nothing in this layer is drawn in after the fact.

Section D is normal marquetry in full color and detail.

But wait, there's more.

A woodworking friend we'll call the bearded one was nice enough to peel a bunch of Birch bark off his trees and mail it to me. In my project proposal to Paul, I mentioned wanting to use real bark in place of veneer for an added look and texture.

In preparing the packet for packet cutting, I included 2 sheets of veneer for the trees. One will be included in the initial glue-up then later routed out; it's necessary to have it in the initial glue-up since you need a full skin for proper parts placement and so you don't have some big place for glue to ooze out.  The second duplicate piece that matches the trees will be used to contour-cut the bark to the same size to be placed in the routed recess.  At least that's the theory at this point since I just completed a first pass at the skin on the last day of class.

This is the skin as of today; you are looking at the glue-side of the skin, which is why it is a mirror image. The section A piece (here on the right) will be replaced with a piece of Holly I had decided on after the packet was in one piece. Contour-cutting that one piece will be easy.

To explain contour cutting, remember that the packet is formed by carefully placing veneers between two pieces of chipboard (the gray board at the back of a pad of paper) with a copy of the cartoon glued to the top. Naturally when you cut out pieces, you get matching pieces of chipboard.  If you lose a piece or change your mind on a veneer, you can create a new packet with new veneer, glue the cut piece of chipboard to the top to be your pattern, then cut carefully around the contour to create a replacement part. The photo is of the back of the big packet I made for this; the bits of tape cover clenched brad nails that help keep things from moving since using too much tape gums up the blade and makes the packet thicker reducing the number of veneer sheets you can cut at once.

In my case, I also sand shaded a number of veneers. Two of the veneers in the B section I decided should not have been sand shaded but rather shaded with the pencil to hold to the cartoon's design. I'll contour cut those two pieces for replacements.

The birds lack detail unless you open the picture and look carefully as there are black pieces next to black pieces. However, I'll use white glue to glue it to the substrate so they will be outlined.

Paul had an additional suggestion for the tips of the wings' inner features: bleach the black out. I'll be trying that with two-part wood bleach on some scraps... I kept every scrap out of the packet in a special garbage for dumpster-diving replacement parts!

I'll say that the veneer for most of the wings is the prettiest I've seen: fumed figured Eucalyptus; the figure's striping looks like rolls of feathers so it was perfect. The image here is from; the sheets I used looked like this but more black.  booyeah!

Darker wings like those further back behind foreground wings were done with a very thick Ebony veneer. Brittle, hard, difficult to knife for replacements. You could tell when the scrollsaw hit it. It won't be fun to level after the glue-up, but that's another day.

Here's the parts board partway through.

Various pieces for scale.

By the way, Paul recommends keeping the smallest detail to ¼"x¼"... I can see why!  I have a few smaller than that; a few is okay, but not after two extra-large Dunkin Donuts coffees.

I'll veneer this skin onto Medex, a water-proof higher-quality MDF.  This will be framed in solid wood, though I want to see the panel before deciding which species.

The apron will be a bent lamination. I already tried the bent lamination, but my glue (ahem, couple years old) failed.  I dropped the apron twice and it completely came apart and the 'glue' could be brushed off with your hand like powder. Bought some new from Paul so we're ready for round two.

My lamination uses an external form made of a couple "tubafors".  An external form means I'll have the glued-up lamination strips in the bag then clamp the bag to the form. When I did the dry-run, everything bent well, but with the glue, it needed coaxing with creative vocabulary. I'll cut a few notches where it will help before the next try.

An external form has a benefit that you don't need to put it in the bag. The bag can be smaller and the form doesn't need to withstand atmospheric pressures from all directions. Contrast this to an internal form. In this photo, Paul is creating an internal form he'll use in a class to be taught in November creating curved doors.

You can see the ribs every 4", two layers of ³⁄₈" bending ply, and a layer of smooth hardboard.

Another benefit of the external form is sometimes it is the only option. For example, Paul created a bent lamination for a spiral staircase. It was laminated on-site against the built staircase. In this case, he had a shop-made bag 6" wide by 30'+ long.

Here's the curved door internal form in the bag when it was getting the final hardboard layer glued on.

Back to the curved apron... it will also have a marquetry inlay in it. This is new for me. The marquetry will be simply some wings out of that fumed Eucalyptus inlaid directly into the Maple after turning the wings into plywood.  However, I'll follow the design of the main marquetry in that the inlay on the right side of the table will be complete.  On the left side of the table, the design will be drawn in.  In the front, we have the transition from drawn to full detail with the left half drawn, a small transition section in grayscale, followed by the full fumed Eucalyptus wings.

The legs will be tapered Maple legs.  There will be an inlay on each, I have some ideas, but will wait for the rest to be completed before deciding. However, they will follow the design with the left legs having drawn patterns, the right-front leg having inlay plus drawing while the right rear leg gets full detail.

Naturally, there are no photos yet of what's to come of this project. However, I've started recording the steps with the marquetry assembly. The episode(s) will cover everything after the basic marquetry portion; Paul's two-volume collection covers everything I've done to the marquetry so far. Get both volumes if you are new to veneer. Also remember that the booklet (or PDF for the download version) contains more information than is in the video so leaf through that, too.

Do keep in mind this is only my second marquetry. I thought my first (the infamous crocodile scene) was good.  That said, follow his DVDs and give it a go with your own cartoon or one from his site.

I have half of the next Angle Madness episode recorded for some finishing experiments so that's next on the block to record. I think this table will wait until I'm done with the Angle Madness build, which will go faster now that the day job calmed down.  Gee, just in time for Arizona summer heat :-/

Paul is my favorite instructor (don't tell Frank!)  Very lively, fast-paced, and with all the rope you get in marquetry to hang yourself, he has solutions for all of them and actively makes sure all of them happen in class so people learn.  That's an instructor.  Very funny guy, too, so we got along pretty well, which likely biases my opinion :)

Also, I ran across some lost photos of the Michael Fortune seminar last November. I've since added them to the article.  If you read it in an email subscription, you would have missed them.