Thousands of years ago, ancient artisans devised ways to create objects decorated with exquisite inlays of wood, stone, metal, shell, ivory, and other exotic materials. They would carve out a recess and fill it with the material of their choice. This technique is called inlay and it dates back to the ancient Egyptians over four thousand years ago. During the sixteenth century, the “fretsaw” was invented. The fretsaw is a u-shaped metal frame with a wooden handle that clamps a very fine blade at the “open” end and holds it in tension. This invention enabled artisans to cut wood veneers very precisely. Italian artisans used the fretsaw to create marquetry. Marquetry differs from inlay in that it is a technique that involves cutting, fitting, and gluing pieces of wood together into a single sheet and then gluing that sheet down to a stable substrate.
There are many different techniques used to cut veneer to create marquetry. My preference is the double bevel technique. This technique uses the scrollsaw with the table tilted at an angle. Essentially, you’ll be cutting two pieces of veneer, and the bevel created by the angle of the table allows the bottom veneer to fit into the top veneer. I like to cut my own veneers on the bandsaw to 3/32 of an inch thick. I have found that a seven degree angle on the scrollsaw table works well with 3/32” veneers and a 2/0 skip tooth scrollsaw blade. The first step is to select your background veneer. This is the piece that the artwork will be drawn onto. Make sure that it fits the length of your scrollsaw because if your table is 18”, you won’t be able to cut towards the end of a 24” piece. Next, draw your design onto some tracing paper along with two reference marks, tape it to the background veneer, slide graphite paper underneath and trace the design and reference marks onto the background veneer. Now you can select from a variety of woods to choose the most appropriate color and grain pattern to compliment your design. Once you have selected a piece of veneer, tape it to the back of the background veneer making sure it’s positioned to cover the area to be cut and well secured with tape. Then use a pin vise with a tiny drill bit, just slightly larger than the 2/0 scrollsaw blade and place it a hair inside the pencil line. Angle the drill bit seven degrees pointing outside the design line, and drill a hole. Stay with me, because once you get the hang of this technique, you’ll love the results.
Next, flip the workpiece over and ease the edges of the exit hole with a countersink bit or a sharp knife and use a pencil to draw a circle around the hole. This makes it easier to find the hole and thread the blade. Flipping the workpiece back over, thread the blade making sure the teeth are facing down and orient the background veneer so that the piece to be cut out is to the right side of the blade and the table is angled down to the left. After clamping the top of the blade in place with mild tension, begin cutting, rotating the stock clockwise. With the cut complete, test the fit. It should be snug but if it isn’t, adjust the angle of the table. Increasing the angle will make a tighter fit. Once you’re happy, glue it in and continue. Subsequent cuts will overlap previous cuts, producing depth as you create foreground pieces that overlap background pieces. I hope you enjoy this process as much as I do. It truly enables you to paint a picture with wood.