How To Make A Faux Marquetry Backsplash
An alternative to tile, especially if you love the warmth of wood.
What you will need:
An MDF board at least 6mm thick the size and shape of your backsplash, plus a perimeter the width of the melamine ( 1.7cm for me)
Access to a lasercutter-- many universities offer public access
A program or combination of programs that lets you design to the millimeter and pump out vectors
Veneer mounted on a softwood
Stains, dyes, polyurethane
Sandpaper from 80# to #320
Dremel with sanding heads
Step 1: Measure Space
Measure out the space for your backsplash, noting where each stain line of your cabinetry falls if you’ve done crazy cabinet staining. Don't forget to include data like lightswitches or outlets.
Step 2: Draw the Plan
Open a new doc on a vector-friendly program, hopefully moreso than Sketch-Up. Set the file in millimeters or inches so you can build a scale 2D model on your screen. Set your line width to be a big broader than default width on Sketchup, so go from 0.5pts to 0.7pts. (Now even if the wood is a little warped, the pieces will still fit together.) Transfer your data points, and design away. Think about how you can use grain orientation, eg horizontal for water, vertical for tree trunks. Make sure everything has a color even if it isn't your final color.
Step 3: Research Lasercutter and Lumber
Research your lasercutter. How thick a piece of wood can your local lasercut cut? Many laser cutters can't cut more than 6mm-thick pieces of veneer-on-a-softwood. Also learn how big a sheet of wood your local laser cutter can handle. My local university's Fablab handles a max of 60cm x 30cm, so I farmed out the longer pieces to a firm with a bigger machine.
Research lumber. What wood is available? I had to hunt around just to come up with oak and walnut veneers on pine. Some US lumberyards have dozens of species to choose from, already in veneer-on-softwood form. Some lucky humans can even choose figures in the wood to incorporate into your design.
Step 4: Lasercutting Your Drawing
Make your sketchup or other drawing into a jigsaw puzzle with no one piece exceeding your lasercutter limits. Avoid straight lines.
Above your drawing, create blank 2D forms the maximum size of the laser cutter bed for each species of wood and each orientation of wood grain. Now copy and paste the center, not the outlines, of all puzzle pieces onto the correct board and orientation. You know you are done when there is no more color in the design.
Import the panels into Inkscape, save as .svg files. Go lasercut them.
Step 5: Dryfit Your Pieces
Dryfit the pieces together on a level MDF board the size of your future backsplash plus a perimeter of melamine.
Step 6: Dye/ Stain
Take it apart and dye/stain all like-colors at the same time to reduce variation. Nota bene that veneer can only hold so much aniline dye before the glue under it starts reacting, which is why you can see some odd green under the blue "water" dye. Once you are happy enough with the aniline dye, give it a coat of polyurethane so the dye stops coloring everything if you just look at it funny. I also realized that my oak and walnut were never going to stain like the ash cabinets, so I started changing the design to try to delineate different redwood hues. Better to match cabinets and veneer if possible.
Step 7: Create Form for Epoxy Pour
Think about how thick you want your epoxy resin to be. Epoxy resin is not that cheap. Add the thickness of your veneer pieces, the MDF and however thick you want your epoxy, plus 5mm for enthusiastic epoxy spreading and that's the height of your melamine fence. Rip that melamine to create the perimeter, screw the strips in. Now you should have the exact dimensions of your backsplash inside the perimeter. Caulk the inside perimeter edge very lightly. Paint the bottom a color you won't mind showing through if it happens. Rub/spray the melamine with a release agent. If you will have outlets, use a knock-out form for them. I didn’t, and afterward had to saw a slot for a light switch, causing an unsightly gap between resin and wood.
Step 8: Do the Puzzle
Starting from the top down, glue the pieces in. I used weights on scrap wood as clamps. There's a better way, I am sure.
If you wind up with gaps, use the dremel to whittle some veneer-on-softwood to fill them, stain/dye, glue and weight it in there, and you're back in business. If the veneer pops off the softwood, you can still shape it-- just be sure to put painter's tape on both sides to support it.
Step 9: Prep to Pour Epoxy
Paint entire completed puzzle with polyurethane. I switched from matte to satin at this stage. You can go in that direction, but not the reverse.
Step 10: Pour Countertop/Hard Epoxy Resin on Wood So It Lasts As Backsplash
Pour epoxy resin per manufacturer's instructions. I used Resion Giethars, a Dutch product for countertops. Let it cure. Demold. Cut off excess MDF.
Step 11: Hang It
Screw it on the studs in your wall. Or glue it on, using supports until dry.
I wish I had had more species of wood and had stained the rocks less, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I hope to sell one, one day. In the meantime, I’m sure other people should just go for it and make their own. If you do, it’d be great to see what you make!