[ veneer work ]

Veneering, marquetry and parquetry are all related. As long as we keep to small-scale decorations, the process starts with veneers in each case. Before the heavy machinery of the 20th century, all veneers were cut by sawing and as a result were rather thick (typically around 1/8th inch or 3 mm). Sawing was a two-man operation. For heavy sections, the log was placed over a pit or a huge trestle so that one man could stand on the log, an the other could pull the saw downwards from underneath. In many ways times have not changed much. The man on top was considered the skilled worker, since he was the one to guide the saw, and as a skilled worker, he was paid more than the second member of the team. The hot, heavy, dirty job went to the person standing at the bottom, who was paid less in spite of all his labour!

Veneer cutting was also a two-man operation, but the sizes were smaller, so the usual method was to fix the log firmly on end, then the men used a saw with several blades tensioned side by side to saw vertically down the log. Veneering in general refers to the act of gluing a decorative sheet or sheets onto a substrate. Often several consecutive leaves will have almost identical grain features, and can be matched to give patterns reminiscent of a kaleidoscope. The veneer was either laid using a heavy caul, or sometimes a press, or very often using an iron not unlike a domestic iron for clothes.

Marquetry refers to the process of making highly complicated pictorial designs from sheets of veneer. First, the design is drawn onto paper. Then the design is transferred onto a sheet of veneer. In the days before photocopiers, this was done by pricking through the paper to make a line of small holes, then a bag filled with black powder was thumped down onto the paper surface to force the powder through the holes onto the wood below. Now that a line is visible, it is possible to saw along the line to make any shape you wish - birds, trees, flowers and so on. Other sheets are cut in reverse, so that "islands" match with "holes". The entire pattern is then assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, and glued onto a sheet of paper to hold all the pieces together. Finally, the entire sheet is pressed and glued down paper side up. When the glue is dry, the paper can be scraped off to reveal the full glory of the pattern.

Parquetry is not unlike marquetry, except that the patterns are usually geometrical, and are made not by sawing a layer at a time, but by making pattern blocks which can then be sliced into tiles. Very intricate designs were made in two different parts of Europe. One was Northern Italy, and the other was Tonbridge Wells, south of London. A particular style of Tonbridge Ware was developed around 1840 using tiny mosaic wood blocks, and shares almost identical techniques with guitar-makers who make rosettes. There are two excellent museum collections of Tonbridge Ware : one in Tonbridge Wells and the other in Central Birmingham.

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