A simple marquetry


What is Marquetry?

Marquetry is the art of inlaying different woods, and other natural materials to create a picture. To inlay is to set a material onto another surface, but recessed in so that inlayed material is at the same level as the surface. Most of the time the inlayed material is wood but it could be ivory, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shells, bark, straw, stone, metal, gems, etc. All the peculiarities, grain, knots, defects, etc. are used in the overall effect of the picture. One of my favorite effects is to use a spalted wood for an ominous looking sky. Marquetry is often found on the finest furniture. It has been around for thousands of years, and today is considered something of a dying art

Marquetry depending on how one defines was practiced in Egyptian and Roman times. Pierre Ramond says that King Mausole was the first to use it in his palace in 350 BC. It was widely use for the rich in the 17th , 18th, and 19th centuries in Europe. It was less popular in the States, until the last century. My great grandfather did inlay work on doors and trim for luxury Pullman rail cars around the turn of the century. I personally was introduced to the art at Berghoffs Restaurant in Chicago, IL. I don’t know whom the artist was who did the beautiful wood pictures at Berghoffs but I know he did them in 1897-98. Marquetry today for the most part is still traditional. Being that this is art most people feel dyed, stained, painted wood, plastics or other artificial products don’t belong in to art, but some marquetrers use them in their contemporary or abstract works. Although palette of wood species is pretty diverse, some colors like the blue-greens, blues, and indigos are missing. Most marquetrers feel this is just a challenge, not a justification for using dyed woods. Paging though the past twenty years of Fine Woodworking Magazine most of the inlay work is traditional. I personally would not work with any colors past what is natural, but I have seen beautiful work using dyed woods.

Making these beautiful pictures is a long tedious process. Each piece has to be cut out with the utmost attention to detail. Then they have to be assembled, recut, and so on. For the finest works of art 10,000 man-hours is not unheard of. The pieces are normally cut a variety of ways. For thin wood veneers, a sharp hobbyist knife is often used. Various types of copping and jeweler saws are also employed, but most modern work is done with an electric scroll and band saws, routers, lasers. Most people use different methods of stacking the veneers while they cut them so the joints come out perfect, but the process of picking, cutting, placing, and gluing can take forever. Of course the majority of people who do this, do it as a hobby.

The full text and figures of small book on inlay and marquetry

Book reviews on marquetry with images