by Peter L Rose
Woodworkers who have never tackled marquetry before have a variety of cutting tools and methods to choose from. Depending on one's patience and skill, some will work better than others. The aim, of course, is to have tight-fitting joints requiring no wood filler except for intentional esthetic reasons. Basically, there are two ways of cutting veneers formarquetry—with a knife, and with a saw. The knife is good for pictures with many straight cuts and geometric designs and for cutting borders and miters. But it's difficult to cut sharp turns on the harder veneers, although there are some superior marquetarians who use a knife exclusively. Also it's difficult, if not impossible, to cut neatly through two thicknesses of veneer at a time with a knife. Thesaw overcomes the disadvantages of the knife by allowing tight turns and the cutting of more than one thickness at a time. But it, too, can be difficult to handle, has limitations of size, and can run into much more expense if power equipment is chosen.
The author uses the double-bevel-cut method on a jig saw to cut a horizontal beam. Veneer for the beam is taped underneath and is being cutsimultaneously.
Knives to choose from
The knife most used in marquetry is the X-acto knife with a #11 blade, a blade that has an extremely sharp point. It is a comfortable knife to hold and the blade is sturdy, but frequent sharpening is required. The X-acto knife's main disadvantage is that because of the thickness of the blade, it makes a V-shaped cut, spreading the veneer apart at the top.Many marquetarians overcome this by cutting their pictures from the back using a reverse pattern. When seen from the front, the cuts will have a much tighter fit. Another good choice is the scalpel or surgical knife, again with a #11 blade. This is a flat, slim knife that uses blades about the same thickness and sharpness as razor blades. Because the blades are thinner and sharper, the scalpel cutsthe veneer more easily than the X-acto knife. However, the blades are fragile and break easily. They are usually replaced rather than sharpened. Finally, there is the single-edge razor blade which is good only for straight cuts, as sharp turns require a much more pointed blade.
Saws to choose from
The main point to remember about saws for marquetry is that the thicker the blade, the cruder thecut and the wider the gap between pieces. Thus the popular coping saw is definitely ruled out.
Coping saw blades, which have pins at both ends, are too thick, but the coping saw frame cannot take the thinner but pin-less, jeweler's saw blades that do work. As a result, the most-used hand saw in marquetry is the fret saw. It has miniature clamp-like attachments for holding the pinless jeweler'sblades. The blades are five inches long and come in various sizes—No. 6 / 0 being the thinnest at 0.008 inches and No. 1/0 being the thickest at 0.011 inches (although there is a thicker "J" series). The No. 4/0 blade, with a thickness of 0.009 inches and a width of 0.018 inches, is a good compromise between being thin enough to produce a fine cut, but not so thin that it is always breaking. Butsometimes the thinnest blade is required for extremely fine detail, and the thicker blades must be used for unusually hard woods. In any event, all the blades are quite small: they fit through the hole made by a sewing machine needle, so breakage is always a problem, and much practice is required to minimize it. Jewelers partially overcome this by using a saw that can be adjusted to hold theshorter broken blades. These jeweler's saws can also be used for marquetry, but their limitation is in their throat size. The average fret saw has a throat of about 12 inches, meaning that a pattern 24 inches in diameter could be worked on. Jeweler's saws usually have a much smaller throat (2-1/2 inches is a popular size), but this may not be a limitation for those working on small pictures. Whichever...