I wanted to try out marquetry so for my first project I made this box. I found a few good videos so I wanted to try it out and make a box that could hold maybe some pendants and a bracelet or two.
This was my first attempt at making a veneered box and my first try at marquetry. Overall I am pretty happy with it so far, there areas that could be improved but it turned out well.
This project took a bit longer than expected. If you take your time it will turn out well it is all pretty easy steps. It will take a lot of time especially when you keep getting stuck at these points where you have to wait an hour for glue to dry. It gets a bit frustrating working for 10 minutes and then sitting for an hour cyclically.
Step 1: Materials
On Ebay there are a few vendors that just sell sort of small pieces of veneer that are remnants from other projects. Getting veneer this way means you aren't going to name the species you get, but it is a lot cheaper, they just stuff a flat rate box full of veneer and send it your way.
I ended up with a fair amount of variety. The species I probably had the most of was Wenge, rotary cut Bubinga, and Walnut. I think I had somewhere from 12-18 different types of veneer in that package.
Veneer will cover every part of the box that isn't felted. The majority of the box was covered in Kevazinga (rotary cut Bubinga) with part of the lid on the inside covered in some rotary cut rosewood.
The actual marquetry on the top used:
Sapele, Mahogany, Kevazinga, Shedua, and some rotary cut Rosewood (not sure on the specific species) made up the wings
A small pieces of ebony is in the transition from the body to wing and the eye were made of ebony
The body was a piece of yellow pine
The head was I think made of sapele
Walnut is used for the antennae and legs
The branch is made of some unknown fairly open grained wood. I can tell it is rotary cut because of the bark inclusion, but beyond that I don't know what it is.
And finally the background is made from what is called Karelian Birch Burl.
I used a .25" by 2.5" poplar for the structure of the box. None of the underlying wood will show so there was no reason to use anything pretty. Poplar is also very easy to cut. Because it is so soft you can easily split it to far if you cut improperly, but it isn't as bad as something like pine.
I used some sort of fancy felt for the lining. It has a much less uniform color and texture than the craft felt, the plastic stuff available in every color at the craft store.
For adhesives I used primarily liquid hide glue. Liquid hide glue is different from regular hide glue which you have to heat to I think 140F to melt. And keeping a hotpot of glue can smell a bit bad Hide glue is supposed to creep less than regular PVA wood glue. Wood shrinks and expands as the relative humidity changes, and the plasticity of some glues allows things to move around a bit. Apparently you want something like hide glue or urea formaldehyde for marquetry for this reason. This is my first attempt so I am just going with what I read.
Superglue and double sided tape are used to attach the felt to the poplar. Double sided tape helps you position it nicely and I used superglue because I thought it would be easier to control the bleed through. If you just pour on too much of any glue it will soak through the felt to the face side, so you have crusty mess. Every site seemed to recommend a different glue, some people recommended a 3M spray on adhesive, tacky glue and contact cement were also popular.
Blue tape was used a lot for temporarily holding things together. There isn't any left in the box, but it was used to back veneer when cutting so it wouldn't split, to attach the various pieces of the marquetry together, and to clamp pieces during glue ups. Most sites recommend that you buy veneer tape for assembling the marquetry because it slightly shrinks while drying, pulling your pieces close together. I thought I would try out just blue tape first and it seems to work decently.
Right now I just have applied the Tung Oil, but I think I'll maybe put two or three coats of shellac on top of that with a bit of wax to finish it.
Step 2: Tools
The tools you will need vary on the style of cutting veneer you want to do. They have some specialized saws designed for marquetry where you move the saw with a treadle. You can also just use a standard scroll saw or cut with hand tools, either a knife or a saw.
I tried out knife cutting at first but later switched to using a saw. I have a bit of experience using a jeweler's saw and it seemed to work a lot more easily for me.
If you are using a knife, you probably want the standard exacto #11 blades. When you are using the blade, you will really be dulling only the tip. You can sharpen the blade not by changing the beveled side but by taking away part of the back of the blade to expose a new tip. I did this on a pretty standard fine/coarse wet stone I found at a yard sale. I'm not sure if it makes a difference but I think it was in a youtube video the recommended sharpening this on the push stroke, so you are pushing a burr back away from the tip. I found that when you are first trying to start wearing away the back of the blade it is very awkward to try and sharpen it on the push stroke, so I started off on the pull stroke until I had a bit of a ledge instead of just a point.
The jewelry saw I have works fine for cutting veneers, but I have a very limited capacity. I can't cut anything deeper than about maybe 3 inches. That is fine for this project and things that are a little bit larger, but if you want to do larger work you will need a fret saw with its deeper frame.
If you are cutting with a knife you will need a cutting mat, and if you are using a saw you will need a board to hold your veneer on as you cut it.
A veneer saw is useful for making the straight cuts for the siding of the box, I find it a lot easier to cut a straight line with this instead of a knife. The knife often followed the grain not the straightedge.
I started out using a backsaw to cut the poplar. The razor saw is slower but it leaves a clean edge. Sawing poplar and basewood isn't too difficult with a razor saw. I think it might have over 40 teeth per inch, so if I was trying to cut a harder wood it wouldn't work so well. I have a 3/8" chisel here I used to help make the dovetails, when cutting 1/4 inch poplar you could just use the knives instead.
I have the Stanley 101 plane here, its a pretty terrible plane out of the box. I think the body is just bent out of a single piece of stainless steel and sprayed with some kind of paint. It need a lot of lapping to make it decent. I used the blade outside the plane more in this project, it works well for scraping small parts.
The miniature hammer is from harbor freight, I think they sold it as a jeweler's hammer. It works well for adjusting the depth of the blade on the plane.
A .3mm pencil and a 6 inch ruler were used for most of the layout. I mainly just used the calipers checking veneer thickness, they felt like they were different thicknesses. I checked and had maybe a .005 inch variance between the different veneers.
When the veneer is exposed to the glue it curls, so you will need some clamps or another way to keep the veneer from warping while the glue dries. 2 25lb weights came in handy during various parts.
Tweezers were used to sometimes arrange pieces of wood and when I was paring out an eye of ebony for the butterfly.
Step 3: Box Construction
I chose to do a simple cube design, so I have 4 2" but 2.5" sides, and a 2.5" square top and bottom. A smaller piece will be cut later to go under the top to make it fit snugly and not slide off.
I chose to cut a single dovetail on each piece to join the sides. I didn't need to do this, but it was fun to make some really quick dovetails that would be covered up with veneer so there wasn't any pressure to get it perfect.
I didn't want to go to have to find the corner clamps so I had to improvise. I have a #4 Stanley plane I just bought, I think manufactured from maybe 1899-1901 or something like that for this particular run. Wax paper makes sure I don't get glue on the iron, it likes to rust. You can get moisture through wax paper if you have a ton of glue, but I didn't have issues here.
I planed the top of the box with the little 101 plane to make it level, it wasn't too off but the saw marks needed to go
I added felt before I attached the bottom to the 4 sides which were glued together. I made one piece wrap around the 4 sides, then I traced the felt sides onto the bottom with a pencil. that way I could cut out the shape of the felt without having overlap that would bulge when I put it together.
Step 4: Design and Reproduction of Image
I decided to make up my own butterfly. The shape of the wings was based on the Daggerwing butterflies, but the pattern doesn't resemble any of them very closely.
I sketched it out in pencil, scanned it, edited it in Paint.net, and then reprinted out multiple copies, 4 to a sheet.
I decided which veneers would be used where and the grain orientation, Grain orientation is important both for design aesthetics and practicality. If I tried to cut things like the antennae or the legs perpendicular to the grain, they would just crumble.
Step 5: Sand Shading
By dipping pieces into hot sand or pouring hot sand onto the veneer, you can gradually darken the piece. This is useful for creating depth in a piece. I decided I wanted to shade parts of the legs and body of the butterfly and the branch it is perched on.
You heat sand in a pan, in my case on the burner in the kitchen, and when it is hot enough you usually have some sort of tweezers to put your veneer into the sand. A fine grained sand will work better for this, it transfers heat more uniformly than courser sand.
I used a fairly deep sauce pan for this. The benefit is its harder to get sand all over the kitchen. The shortfall is that it is fairly awkward moving pieces around, and you keep bumping your fingers into the walls of the pan and getting little burns. The burns weren't very bad at all but they don't feel nice in the radiant heat coming off the sand and pan.
I put on an Ove Glove later but I probably should have had it on to start with. If you are just using a lower pan and you don't bump into the sides you might not need this. I was using small pliers, maybe if I used longer tweezers the radiant heat wouldn't be as bad.
Most videos I have seen of this they just use a cast iron skillet to hold the sand.
Step 6: Cutting Techniques
The veneer is fairly fragile, so when you cut it it will want to split apart with the grain. To counter this every piece I cut I back with blue tape. It is less likely to split and even if I do split it both pieces are still just sitting there next to each other and that crack won't even show when I glue it up.
To get the smallest gaps between pieces, you should cut other pieces based off of each other rather than a pattern.
For knife cutting this means you can just trace, either with a knife or pencil, from one piece right onto the other. I had a bit of a problem tracing around the first piece with a knife, I always nicked small parts of my first piece off. So I made a perfect impression of what the first piece was like before I shaved off a few pieces and now I had a gap. It wasn't too bad though, but it is noticeable in places around the branch
So I didn't completely fillet my fingers trying to do this I taped down the branch while cutting around it with blue tape.
Knife cutting might create sort of a wedge shape, where the gap is bigger at the top where you pushed the knife in. So to get smaller gaps you would just make the side you are working on become the back when you glue it all up. This seemed easy enough to do, and I'm not dealing with anything where I would have to think about what mirroring it would do, like letters. One way my butterfly points right, one it points left, not a big deal. Certain veneers look different on each side though, so you want the good side going down. The only one I noticed this on was my branch, one side was much more interesting than the other.
When cutting with a saw, I assemble small packets so I can cut multiple pieces at once with the same saw cut. I started off by taking the 3 woods I needed for the three pieces and backing them all with tape. I then put pieces of wax paper between them, I think I saw someone doing that on a scrollsaw video saying it helps lubricate the cut. I didn't notice much problem cutting the packet either with or without the wax paper. Maybe if I had a thicker stack I would notice a difference. The stack is held together with blue tape and I put the pattern onto the top with double sided tape. I started the cut in a hole I drilled with a little twist drill bit from my rotary tool. I just twisted it between my fingers and I could drill a hole in fifteen seconds so I didn't bother getting my Proxxon. Then its just saw on the line, keeping the saw blade vertical so each piece on the different levels will be the same size.
One piece was a bit to delicate to do that, the head. I had to try and create a really small eyeball, something I couldn't just saw out. So I drilled a hole where the eye should be in the veneer I was using for the head. Then I carefully pared away the ebony to make an eyeball, holding it with tweezers and using an exacto knife. I tried two pairs of tweezers I had around, the best were probably just the standard tweezers you get at the pharmacy. After you get the eye into the head, I superglued it so it would be like one piece. Next I scraped away the glue to make it flush on both sides, then cut out the head.
I decided that the cut order would be first to join the branch to the background, and then I would assemble the butterfly as a whole, minus the legs and antennae, and pop that into the background. So I would assemble the butterfly on a piece of blue tape first and then I would cut out the design into the background
I was feeling lazy so I just xeroxed the blue butterfly to make a template for cutting out it into the background. This worked pretty well, except the first time I tried to print in black and white. While my veneers have nice color to them, I guess in greyscale they were all pretty close. I then tried messing with the brightness setting on the printer and that didn't help because it was more a problem with a lack of contrast. Printing it out on high quality setting with normal brightness in color turned out very well though.
After I cut out the butterfly body I had to deal with the fun parts, the really long skinny walnut pieces that make up the last parts. I felt in the end the best way to do it really was just to cut the hole out in the main piece, and then take a thin piece of walnut and just bend it into place. Moistening the walnut makes it bend a little bit more.
The board I made for cutting with the saw worked pretty well. It was just a thin piece of basswood jammed into the drawer of a desk. It stayed fairly stable. I found that you need to really make sure the saw is cutting on the down-stroke though, otherwise its hard to cut it accurately. With a pull stroke, you pull it into the board, pushing up you just push it into the air and you have nothing to cut against.
Step 7: Gluing of the Marquetry and Cleaning Up the Tape
Gluing the marquetry down is pretty straightforward. I just need enough weight to make sure it didn't curl. So first I glue the veneer and the poplar board and stuck them together. Than I put a piece of wax paper and a piece of basswood on the other side of the veneer. Now I loaded maybe 65 lbs worth of weight on top of this, most coming from 2 25 lb weight plates. I let this sit for maybe 90 minutes.
Liquid hide glue sets up pretty well maybe in 45 mins to an hour until it is pretty set up, but then it takes maybe half a day to dry fully. I just needed to make sure pieces wouldn't pull out as I cleaned it up.
Peeling the blue tape was very simple, sometimes you just needed to carefully pick up an edge with a knife.
After this I put the banding around the picture to give it a framed look.
Step 8: Veneering the Other Sides of the Box
I wanted to wrap the grain around the box, matching it between the panels. The lid will also match the box, the grain aligns when you close it.
This creates a problem I haven't had to deal with yet, the waste around the part I need now is going to be other parts. I can't cut wildly at first and then slim it down to the piece I need. And there is the extra incentive not to screw one up since you will need to restart the whole set if you want them to match.
When I measure the pieces out, I make them as long as the piece they are covering plus 2 veneer thicknesses. To make the corners right you need at least one thickness, but this ensures you don't have a gap. You will notice a tiny gap, you can't see the tiny change in the grain because a very small bit is missing.
I applied the sides opposite to each other so you can clamp them without having to deal with the tiny bits that overhang yet. When you go to put the next two sides, you need to trim the other corners flush if you want to clamp over the entire face. The plane blade came in handy here. You try to trim as parallel to the face as you can so you don't gouge it and crack out a piece of the grain. you want to just get very thin shavings.
I also have to make the lower part of the lid at this point. It is quickly done with a razor saw. There is some tear out from the piece cut before this with the backsaw, but it isn't too bad. My finger was also leaked a bit on the wood because I had just bumped a chisel. I then covered the piece with the rotary cut rosewood and let that dry
I wanted the lid to align well with the box, so I knew I would have to glue together the two halves of the lid while they are in place. So I had to make a small piece of wood to go inside the box, so I can clamp down pressure to make the lid adhere while I have it in place so I get the exact orientation right. I had a small piece of basswood that was left over from something else so I trimmed it into the spacer I needed.
Step 9: Finishing
There is glue everywhere by this point. By my count there are over 50 pieces of veneer that were planned, plus the countless little chips that kept trying to escape and had to be re-glued down. I want to scrape the glue, grime, and dust away plus I want to smooth the wood. The plane blade works very well for this. The only problem areas are place where it starts to kind of stutter, putting little cuts into the wood. Then you just plane those away at a very low angle.
After you have most of the grime away you scrape until you can get the wood to be burnished evenly, you can tell by the shine. If you want you can use sandpaper, but I don't want to round corners or sand through the veneer. Scraping just feels more exact and at this point you really don't want to break anything.
After it is scraped I wipe it down with just a little bit of rubbing alcohol, I like the 91% alcohol best. I can clean it just a little bit and I don't fear that I will get the glue wet.
After that dries I apply Tung Oil with a piece of an old cotton undershirt. You want a lint free cloth so I just pick the worst looking undershirt I have when I need more. The kevazinga has pretty irregular grain, you get a decent amount of exposed end grain. The end grain really soaks up oil so I just went around my box for 5 minutes reapplying oil to the places that needed some more.
After that you just have to let it cure for half a day. That's where I am right now, I have oiled the inside and the outside and that has cured. I am going to put some shellac on first and then maybe a light amount of wax.
Finally I will add the felt to the bottom of the box. If I added that before the last step I probably would have gotten something into it
I wanted to get this into the contest, so I will leave it here for now but I will get new pictures up as it is finished.