Making a Louis Cube Design
Parquetry is the use of geometrical shapes to create a design. The Louis cube is named after King Louis XIV, as the pattern was very popular and widely used during his 72 years as the King of France. Comprised of parallelograms, the pattern can easily take on a 3D effect, which you can find yourself staring at for long periods of time. I have found that using the three domestic hardwoods (cherry, walnut and maple) has the most striking effect; however, using a single species can also have a very interesting effect.
The key to this whole process is getting the jigs and the process set up just right, in a way that works for you.
Oh no, Geometery!
Pringle uses one of two options to create the correct parallelogram. In the method pictured at the top of this image, once you create a 30-60-90 triangle you can transfer the angle to the opposite side and ensure the four sides are of equal length. The lower example is to draw two lines that meet each other at a 90° angle. Multiply the length of one line segment (“Y” in photo) by 1.1547 to determine the required length of the hypotenuse (“X” in photo). The resulting triangle gives you the correct angle to transfer to the opposite side, creating the parallelogram with four sides of equal length.
The jig towards the left (supporting the knife and 6" metal rule) has a hardwood edge that allows the veneer to fit underneath it. Veneer is pressed up against the inner edge of the jig and is cut with the knife to obtain strips of specific width. Next, the jig on the bottom of the pile is used to sand/joint the edges of the veneer strips straight. The small mitre box jig is used to cut the strips of veneer into individual parallelograms.
Cut to Size
Using the mitre jig, Pringle cuts the strips of veneer to correct length, at the correct angle. Notice the piece of veneer in one of the kerfs, which acts as a stop, making repeated cuts simple.
As the assembled sheet of parallelograms sometimes needs adjustment to get the overall shape and angles perfect, it’s best to use low-tack green tape first. The green tape goes on the underside of the finished sheet of veneer.
Once the overall shape and angles are acceptable, flip the sheet right side up and apply veneer tape across all the joints, before removing the green tape.
I used isometric paper to layout a parallelogram that would be the main building block for this design. If you draw, then dissect, the parallelogram, you can make a 30-60-90 right angle triangle and work from it. Using that triangle you can make any size parallelogram you want. Another easy way to figure out the correct size is to multiply the length of the long side of a right angle triangle by 1.1547 to find the length of the hypotenuse. For example, I used a 15mm wide rule as my cutting width (Y), so I used my razor-saw to cut the second kerf in the jig just over 17mm (X) away from the veneer stop.
Shooting board: A shooting board and a plane or hard-backed sanding block to joint all the edges of the veneer so they are smooth and square, giving you seamless joints.
Cutting board: A piece of MDF with a jointed fence glued to one side. The jointed veneer gets pushed up against the fence when it is being cut to size with a steel rule as cutting guide.
Mitre jig: I made a small mitre jig using some small scraps and a piece of MDF. To make your own for this project, use a dovetail-saw to make the first kerf, as a small piece of veneer will fit in the kerf perfectly to be used as stop. The other slot should be cut with the saw that you intend to use. I use a razor-saw.
Using the shooting board and either a hand plane set up to take a very, very small cut, or a shooting sander (I prefer the sander, as figured veneer rarely planes perfectly) shoot one edge of a piece of veneer along the grain. Push the veneer up against the cutting board fence and put your cutting guide on top. Using a sharp knife and multiple light passes, cut the veneer to width. Joint the freshly cut edge as well, just to make sure that the edge is perfectly square.
Using a razor-saw and the jig, you can now cut the strips of veneer to the proper length and into parallelograms. Use a piece of 400 grit sandpaper to gently sand off the tiny chips left from the saw. Once three pieces are cut, double check to make sure they form a perfect cube. If not, diagnose and make adjustments accordingly.
When I assemble the pattern, I like to use either isometric paper or graph paper as a background as it helps me keep things aligned.
Assemble the pattern with the glue side up (finished surface down). Use green masking tape at this step, as it does not stick that well and will allow you to make adjustments if required.
Once that pattern is the required size, flip it over and use veneer tape on the show side. The veneer tape will shrink as it dries pulling the pattern together and closing up any tiny gaps, but it will also curl your design. While the tape is drying, put something heavy and flat on top of it to so it stays flat. Once the tape is dry, carefully remove all the green tape.
Glue, smooth and finish
The pattern will need to be glued to a substrate. Almost anything can be used, plywood, MDF, or my choice: quarter-sawn softwood panels. Once the substrate is sized, glue up both sides of the panel at the same time using glue and a press. I use liquid hide glue. Use wax paper in between the work piece and the cauls, so squeeze-out does not stick everything together. A veneer press is ideal, but clamps and cauls will work fine, especially for smaller surfaces. A vacuum bag is great, if you have access to one.
Give the glue 24 hours in the press to cure. Any joinery or grooves that need to be made should be made now while the veneer tape is still attached.
To remove the veneer tape, use a damp cloth and a card scraper. Lightly wet the tape with the cloth, and the adhesive will reactivate and can be removed easily. Careful though – too much water and you could reactivate the glue and lift the panel. Ensure all the tape is off before scraping the surface smooth. I have found a thin card scraper with a small 3–5° burr works best.
Once your project is complete, use the finish of your choice, and watch as your family and friends are mesmerized.
Jeremy Pringle - [email protected]
Jeremy is primarily a hand tool woodworker who is constantly looking for older and better ways of doing things.