The Basic Tools required to start a Marquetry Piece

The basic tools I use are shown in the photograph beside. You will notice that I don't include a saw as I started out using only the knife method. There are a number of reasons for using a straight saw and a fret saw, but that we will talk about some other day.

In the picture you will see the following items:


If you approach the start of your career in marquetry, you will probable purchase a kit that is available from a local supplier or hobby center, or by mail order from a number of veneer distributors. (I have a list in the reference section). The kit will usually include the pattern, the veneer selection, possibly the mounting board and possible some glue.

The pattern will show you the outline of the picture, and the photograph on the front of the package will show you the basic color of the finished picture. The pattern will also indicate which veneer to use and the direction to place the grain. The pattern should have an index referring the veneers in the kit. This is seem very much like painting by numbers, if you have seen or experienced this form of painting before.

The carbon paper is used to transfer the outline of the piece of veneer that you want to cut next, on to the veneer piece. The carbon paper can also be used to transfer the whole of the outline to the mounting board (if that is not already done), so that you can place the pieces on the board as you cut them.

There are several different methods for cutting and placing the pieces in to the piece. I won't go into too much detail here as we discuss the tool requirements. However, it is important to realize that the most common method requires that the individual pieces of veneers be joined together with the clear adhesive tape. The tape is also useful to put on the veneer before cutting so it stop the veneer from cracking and breaking up as you try to cut the shape.

Obviously the pencils are required for the drawing over the outline. A H2 (hard) pencil is recommended so that you get a fine clear line appearing on the veneer, plus you won't leave a pencil mark that is likely to rub and smear the pattern too much. The straight edge or steel ruler is required for drawing and cutting straight lines. As you learn to use the knife more and more you will require the ruler less and less. Use a steel edge though, a wooden ruler will wear down too quickly as you slip and cut it with the knife. With the kit, you will usually get the veneer piece to complete the picture with a boarder (like the matting/frame of a picture or photograph). You may have to use the ruler to cut these pieces as they will be long and straight.

The knife I use nearly all the time is seen in the photograph. It is sometimes referred to as an X-acto knife. It is the pencil type with a knurled sleeve which tightens the chuck which holds the blades. In time you may build up a set of knives that have different sharpness and different uses depending on the shape and the veneer being used. But to get started you only need the one.

Blades there are a number of different shapes available, but the one that I use nearly all the time is the #11. It is thin, sharply pointed, and tapered. Again as you gain more experience you may find yourself turning to other blades, however, when getting started this is the one you will use all the time. Some marqueterians suggest that you sharpen the blade as is used and becomes blunt. There are small oil sharpening stones available for this purpose. I must confess that in all the years I have been cutting veneers for pictures, I have never sharpened my blade. I will buy my blades in packets of 100 and replace the one I am using as soon as I feel that it is dull, or when the point breaks so that the point is no longer sharp.

Cutting board you have several choices; the first is that you can cut the veneers on the face of the mounting board. After all you are going to glue the veneers once they are all cut and joined together. Plus the cuts in the mounting board actually helps with the bonding process between the glue, the veneers and the board. However, this choice does depend on the material supplied with the kit. If it is the 'chip' or particle board, I would not recommend using it as the cutting board. If the surface of particle board has too many cuts and scratches in it, you will see little piece of the particle board begin to flake of and this can result in a hole that could make the final surface of the picture appear uneven.

I have always used a piece of plywood both for cutting and for mounting. The best kind of plywood I found for this is beach plywood. It is very firm and semi-hard. Pine is too soft and can be very uneven, even knotty. Oak is too hard and heavy. Again as you become more experienced you will discover what you like to work with best. There is a special material available that is used as a cutting mat. It is mainly used for cutting fabric with a similar type of knife. The property that this special material has, is that knife marks disappear, the material seems to 'heal' itself. It is possible to use this kind of mat, although I have no experience with them at the moment. I recently bought one to experiment with, however, I must admit that they are expensive, depending on the size. I will report back sometime in the future on how my experimentation goes.

For pictorial marquetry, until recently, marqueters were recommending that you use particle board to mount the picture on. The main reason for this being that eventually, after 5, 10, 20 years, the veneer and the mounting board will begin to warp. To over come this, it has always been recommended that the reverse side of a picture also be veneered. This helps to counteract the stress forces acting on the picture. As time has gone on and the wood industry developed the particle board, marqueterians turned to using this as a mounting board because of it's greater resistance to warping. When making pictures 3/8" or " seemed to be most suitable. Of course it was still recommended that both sides be finished with veneers. You will notice in the kit that you purchased that there maybe a large piece of not so good looking veneer. This is usually for the back of your picture. If the kit does not supply enough veneer to back your picture, do not despair, it takes years for the warping to occur. If you continue with marquetry, you will build up your own supply of veneers including waste that can be used to back your first couple of pictures.

[IMAGE] More recently another kind of board has become available for mounting pictures, the MDF board. This is medium dense fiber board. I show a picture of MDF along side a piece of birch plywood to help you see the difference. This is real heavy 'wood' and very resistant to warping and therefore is the recommended choice today. You will still have to veneer all around, but you will be assured that you picture will remain 'flat' for many, many years to come. I would have to think the only negative about MDF is it's weight. If you ever make a picture that is extra large then you may have to use " or even 1", you will have a hard time lifting the finished piece. When you compare this to an oil paining on canvas, it becomes a big negative; transportation, handing, and mounting in place on a wall!!

There is a debate about what kind of framing a piece of marquetry should be finished with. Some people argue that the picture should be framed only with veneers as mentioned above (they too are usually supplied with a kit). This results in a flat frame finish, similar to block mounting a picture. Notice that this means the edges of the mounting board are veneered as well. Others argue that if the subject matter of the picture is complimented or enhanced by a molded frame, then a molded frame can be used. The one advantage when using a molded frame is that you don't have to veneer the sides or even the back. The frame will add to the rigidity and help reduce the amount of warping. However, it is still advisable from a perfectionist's point of view that the sides and back be veneered!

You can now get started on a picture. Cut each piece and join the pieces together with the clear adhesive tape. Once you have the whole picture cut out then you will start to worry about how to glue it to the mounting board and how to finish it off.

The Basic Tools required to finish a Piece of Marquetry

The basic tools I use to finish a picture are shown in the photograph. The thing that you will probably notice first are the tins of contact gel and Varathane, but I will discuss these in a moment.

In the picture you will see the following items:


By the time you reach this stage you are probably quite anxious to see the finished picture, please have (more) patience. It has taken you a long time to reach this stage, but you don't want to spoil the picture by rushing the finish. The finishing of the picture is as important as the cutting of the veneers. A badly finished piece of marquetry is not worth looking at. It takes time to develop the necessary skills to finish a piece properly, but it is what is seen first. It is only after the viewer has been attracted by the impact of the image which is felt through the quality of the finish, and after experiencing an appreciation for the natural, exotic, rare and expensive look of all the different veneers, that the viewer questions how it was done. It is only then that the viewer begins to appreciate how much time went in to the selection, cutting, and the piecing together of all the different veneers.

You have the veneer picture all stuck together with clear tape. The mounting board is to hand. There are many different ways in which they can be bonded together. I will tell you about the tools that I use to perform this. There is another section and many reference books that describe the other methods. I use contact gel. Gel, because it is most easy to use and to spread. If you have ever used the liquid version before, you will just love the way the gel handles. I apply it to both surfaces and repeat it if necessary. It takes a number of pictures before you know how much to apply. If you don't apply enough, then all the veneers won't bond, so later you will have to try and fix it by working more glue under the surface after the rest of the veneers have stuck. Mind you I think this is preferable to putting to much glue on the surfaces. If you put too much glue on, then you will fined that the excess glue will work its way between the joints and out the edges. You will have quite a mess to clean up and it can cause the joints in you work to show more than necessary.

I like this kind of glue for a number of reasons; the first is that once contact is made the veneers are stuck, so there is no need for clamping. Having enough clamps, or a big enough clamp can be an added expense. The second reason is that if you can gauge it so that the right amount of glue is used, then the join lines become almost invisible. And the third reason as I mentioned before is because it is a gel. I use a normal putty/filler scraper to apply the gel to both surfaces. It usually gives me a good even spread of glue all over the surfaces.

I then place the veneer on the mounting board. This is where you have to be very careful because once the veneer is laid down you can not move it, so you have to get it in the right place the first time. This can prove difficult and although I have not used it myself, you can use a slipsheet between the two surfaces, which you then pull out, when in place. Wax paper can be used for this as the contact cement does not bond with it.

Once the veneer is stuck to the mounting board the roller is then used to ensure that all parts of the veneer has made contact with the board. It also helps in spreading the glue evenly and forcing the excess glue between the joins and the outer edges. Now most of the joints will be sealed with the clear tape which will hold the excess glue in. This is one of the reasons why you want to develop the skill of putting the right amount of glue on the first time.

When you are satisfied that the veneer has bonded with the mounting board you can begin the process of removing the clear tape from the surface of the veneer. Some people scrape it all off. I use the point of my knife to pick it all off. Sometimes, particularly if you start this too soon, the glue has not completely set and some of the small pieces of veneer may lift up. But you don't want to leave the tape on the surface too long as you don't know what is happening underneath it. One thing you want to do is remove any excess glue. Another is that a small piece may not be glue properly at all. I usually start removing the tape about 2 hours after gluing the veneers.

When all the tape is remove, I will roll the surface again just to make sure that complete contact is made and any excess glue is removed. I will then leave the picture over night to complete the bonding process.

The following day I begin sanding the surface to remove all the excess dried glue and to smooth the surface down. This is when you would use the different grades of sand paper until you reach the stage when you will require the steel wool. One thing that I do is get a lint free type of material as a cleaning rag. I wet it lightly. Then use it to wipe the surface of the veneers. This does a number of things for me; first it bring out the colors of the woods and shows up any marks or dried sections of glue. The second thing it does is it picks up any dust from between the joints. And thirdly, it will raise any lose fibers on the veneers so they can be sanded off next time. I tend to do this several times in between sanding.

Once the sanding operation is complete the first coats of varnish can be applied. I have used many different type of finishing over the years from a plan wax to French polish. I currently use the water based varnish (one brand that is know in North America goes by the name of Varathane) I use either a gloss or satin finish depending on the picture. I start with a number of very light coats. I let it dry and then sand lightly with the steel wool. I do this a number of times over a number of days. Eventually, when there are sufficient coats of varnish, I will be rubbing the surface with my now dry cloth just before applying the next coats of varnish. You can put on as many coats of this water based varnish as you want. I usually look for the stage when all the joints are filled and all the grains on the surface of the veneers are filled, so that there is a perfectly smooth surface.

Recently I have turned to using the foam brushes At this point you have now finished you marquetry picture and it can be hung on the wall. You will need to attach the type of hanging hardware that you will be using which can be the same as for a normal picture.

Advanced Tools for making a Marquetry Picture

The more pictures you make the more you will develop you skills at doing Marquetry. At this stage you may want to consider purchasing some or all of the following items. If you have them available before starting with Marquetry there is nothing to stop you from using them. It is just if you don't have them you won't want to spend the money until you know if you are committed to doing Marquetry or not.

The photograph shows some of the more advances tools that can be utilized in the making of a Marquetry picture.


The knife set will give you more versatility when it comes cutting various pieces of veneers and cleaning up before polishing. The set will also include a pair of tweezers for holding the veneer pieces as they are being sand shaded. Remember the possibility of purchasing the blades by the hundreds.

The green board is the special cutting mat that 'heals' itself. It can be used in conjunction with the roller cutting knife which is used to cut fabric. This can be useful when cutting 'stringers' or long straight piece of veneer such as the frame boarders.

After cutting and before taping the pieces of veneers it may be necessary to sand shade the piece. I won't go in to details here but sufficient to say that the fine white sand and flat pan can be used to perform the sanding operation. There are different ways of sanding veneers but I have found that by heating the thin layer of sand in the bottom of a flat pan that most shading effects can be achieved.

The photo shows a special hand roller for pressing the veneers down after gluing with contact cement. This is a specialty tool, although it performs the same function as the original roller. It does have a better roller and it is easier to apply pressure more evenly over all the picture.

More recently I have started to use the rotary palm sander for cleaning and smoothing the surface of the picture. It has many advantages apart from the fact that it does a good job of sanding smooth and flat. It has a dust extractor which real works well. It sucks the dust of the surface of the veneer as it is created. This real helps in avoiding the dust from the different veneers contaminating other veneers particularly dust from dark ones discoloring the light ones. It too requires some experience, veneers are thin to start with 1/16" to 1/20", with the electric sander there is a tendency to over sand and end up going through the veneer exposing the mounting board underneath. Although this is not desirable and it takes experience to avoid it happening, it is not necessary the end of the project, it is possible to 'restore' the picture by removing and replacing the over sanded pieces. Buffing Pad attachment for electric drill helps in the final stages of finishing a picture. It is used to produce a highly polished finish to the picture.

[IMAGE] Finally as you progress further with marquetry you may wish to invest in a wide selection of veneers. See the photographs of the different veneers. Several veneer suppliers offer identified veneer sets. These sets contain sample of some of the different veneers that are available. They are label with their identifying names. You can use these to identify veneers or to select veneers for a special project.

As I mentioned there are many different ways in which marquetry can be performed. I have mentioned just some of the tools required. If you have access to them you will find that you will be able to complete most marquetry projects. The other methods and tools will be discussed in other section of these page and referenced in books that are readily available.