Canadian Woodworking

The Fine Art of Marquetry

A real gem for anyone who has ever thought that they might want to try marquetry


A real gem for anyone who has ever thought that they might want to try marquetry

Author: Carl Duguay

I first read this book over a decade ago – it’s still, in my mind, ‘the book’ that any woodworker aspiring to incorporate marquetry into their work should read.

To put this book into perspective you need to know a little about the author – Craig Vandall Stevens. He’s a graduate of the the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program (aka The Krenov School), learning, as it were, at the feet of the late James Krenov, one of the most influential furniture makers of the past 50 years. So, you might expect a lot from Stevens; and he certainly does deliver.

PUBLISHERSchiffer Publishing
AUTHOR: Craig Vandall Stevens
PRICE: $53.60
ISBN: 978-0764334993
YEAR: 2010
FORMAT: Hardcover, 160 pages

The Fine Art of Marquetry is a bit more than a comprehensive guide to marquetry, it also provides an excellent introduction to the steps involved in small box construction. The book is essentially divided into three parts: 1) a primer on the double-bevel sawing technique, which is fundamental to Steven’s approach to marquetry; 2) a simple marquetry project for you to further practice the double-bevel sawing technique; and 3) a more comprehensive project that includes the construction of a small box with a lotus leaf inlay on the lid.

Stevens begins by describing what to consider when selecting veneers suitable for marquetry; he also includes a useful photo portfolio of several dozen samples. Having a bandsaw will enable you to mill your own custom veneers, and Stevens shows you how to fine tune your saw to slice perfect veneers. If you don’t have a bandsaw you might be able to source veneer from a local lumber supplier; otherwise you can purchase veneers over the internet (including from Stevens himself). Stevens then moves on to a description of the marquetry toolkit, which is surprisingly simple. Most woodworkers will already have all the tools they need, and only have to make the ‘donkey’ – a small cutting jig – for which Stevens includes a simple plan.

According to Stevens, the key to making tight, seamless marquetry, is the double-bevel sawing technique, which he describes in detail. This isn’t a difficult technique, but it does require practice, as the technique depends on good eye-hand coordination. Stevens does a great job of illustrating the technique in a step-by-step fashion, with lots of clear photos. Almost 20% of the book is devoted to this topic.

Once you’ve practiced the double-bevel technique and feel somewhat comfortable making the cuts, then its time to tackle the first of two projects in the book. The first project features a simple leaf design that consists of 3 pieces of veneer. Again, Stevens relies on lots of detailed photos, supplemented by clear instructions on what to do at each step in the process. He also includes sections on making a plywood core, to which the marquetry veneer is glued; applying a frame to the finished panel; and applying a shellac finish to the project piece. The key here is to take your time when going through the project; the final outcome isn’t important, it’s the skill you develop along the way that you should be concerned with.

If, at this stage you feel that marquetry isn’t for you, then don’t just close the book. Go to page 119 and read the last 36 pages of the book. Stevens gives a fabulous short course on making a small box. If, on the other hand, you’re hooked, then you’ll want to work through the lotus leaf marquetry project. Only 19 pieces of veneer. He also shows you how to use sand shading to add depth to the piece.

Craig Vandall Stevens is a master of the craft, and this book is a real gem for anyone who has ever thought that they might want to try marquetry, but felt it might be too complicated an affair. Hardly. Get the book. Give it a try.

Last modified: June 10, 2023

Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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