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“… it has at its heart the attempt to pull recalcitrant matter together in a unified pattern” Glenn Adamson Head of Graduate Studies and Deputy Head of Research Victoria and Albert Museum, London. “Pictures in Wood”. Goal of Presentation.

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pictures in wood

“… it has at its heart the attempt to pull recalcitrant matter together in a unified pattern”

Glenn Adamson

Head of Graduate Studies and

Deputy Head of Research

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“Pictures in Wood”
goal of presentation
Goal of Presentation

Provide you with an overview of the historic timeline of “pictures in wood”

Wow you with the fabulous works from others

Explain the different methods and related techniques

Get you excited about what you can do with a handful of tools, an ounce of skill and a heart full of desire

on finding references
On finding references…

At the end of this presentation I list the references I used

There was only one book “A Marquetry Odyssey” – Silas Kopf – that provided any detailed background on the history of the various intarsia methods and it was far from chronological

I am very interested in a better reference if any of you know of one

in the beginning god created wood
In the beginning God created wood

The earliest works found date back to the 10 century BC in Egypt

Various authors argued as to whether the method used was “intarsia” or “inlay”

Few items survived the 5000 yrs since the first dynasty Egypt – best works preserved from Tutankhamen’s tomb


Very little survived from areas, but it is clear that the Mycenean culture (same time frame as Egypt) produced furniture with ebony and ivory inlay

Iron tools were introduced by the time of classical Greece (500 BC), which greatly improved productivity and made wood inlay available to a broader class


The Roman’s greatly admired the Greek culture and incorporated its aesthetic into their own culture

Xylotarsia (latin) – mosaic wood decoration:

Sectile tarsia: polygons of contrasting woods inserted into another wood (INLAY)

Pictorial tarsia: different species of veneer cut out and pieced together to form a picture (MARQUETRY)

italy the spread of intarsia and the birth of marquetry
Italy – the Spread of Intarsia and the Birth of Marquetry

The regional center of Tuscany, Siena became the focal point for intarsia in the 1300s

Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, many Italian artist/craftsmen emerged

The fame of Italian intarsiatori spread across Europe

Records show that in 1532 Augsburg Germany had become a center for wood working

The invention of the “fretsaw” blade is attributed to a German clock maker.

This invention greatly enhanced the art of Marquetry


By the 16th / 17th century furniture craftsmen had made their way to the French capitol

The French developed two words (later guilds) to define a cabinet maker:

ebeniste: specialized in working with veneers primarily of ebony (hence the name)

Menuisier: specialed in working with solid wood

sawing veneers
Sawing Veneers

Since the 14th century veneers were sawn by two men guiding a saw through a log mounted in a frame

In the time of Louis XIV: thickness 3mm to 4mm

By the time of Louis XV: thickness 2.5mm to 3mm

By Louis XVI: thickness was an accurate 2.25mm

early american furniture makers embraced marquetry
Early American Furniture Makers Embraced Marquetry

1800 Nathan Lombard, 1850 Peter Glass, 1900 Gustav Stickely, 1990 Silas Kopf

confused americans
Confused Americans

A jump forward in time.

The infamous Judy Gale Roberts – starts a renewed interest in Intarsia

As a young artist she started creating pictures in wood, but did not know what Intarsia was or that it was as old as the tree

At some point while showing some of her works, someone pointed out that what she was doing was the ancient art form of Intarsia

Her many books and patterns have helped drive much renewed interest in Intarsia as a craft

what are all of these techniques
What are all of these techniques?


Inlay of different species of wood that can be of different thicknesses and carved to provide depth


The inlay of veneers of the same thickness to form a picture. Sand shading is used to provide depth.


A form a marquetry that uses contrasting geometric shapes to form patterns


A form of marquetry where two contrasting materials are cut simultaneously and then having their parts exchanged to provide a contrasted picture

Stringing / Banding (Tarsia a Toppo)

Simple geometric patterns that are combined into a pattern to be inlayed as a pattern


A series of thin wood planks are stacked with alternating grain directions and then cut using a pattern as a guide

The pieces are then interchanged and shaped (sanded / carved) to form the picture

The pieces are then glued to or inlayed into a substrate

Thick intarsia pieces can be cut using a piece by piece method

double bevel inlay using the scroll saw
Double-bevel Inlay using the Scroll Saw

By tilting (left/right) the table of the scroll saw and cutting a pattern in a continuous direction (clockwise / counterclockwise) onto a stack of two layers, one layer can be inlayed into another with no gap

stringing banding
Stringing / Banding

Key to the Federal period of American furniture design

Steve Latta does Federal period restoration and worked with Lie-Nielson to develop a series of inlay tools

choosing substrates for maquetry
Choosing Substrates for Maquetry

Solid wood, Plywood, MDF, Particle Board, Lumber Core, Torsion Box

Choosing the right substrate depends on the application and desired end properties of a design

I would not use MDF on a design meant to last for a 100 yrs

Solid wood substrates need to be stable

basic tools
Basic Tools

Sharp knife (exact-o), cutting mat, fretsaw, veneer tape, masking tape, metal straight edge, glue, sand paper, chisels, & clamps

Other tools that extend capabilities: scroll saw, band saw, vacuum press, veneer saw, dremel tool, carving tools …


With only a few tools, some veneer and an inexpensive substrate a craftsmen can get started in creating some exciting works of art

Marquetry can greatly enhance the beauty and value of a piece of furniture

Many wood species are becoming harder to get if not already extinct


A Marquetry Odyssey by Silas Kopf

The Art of Marquetry by Craig Vandall Stevens

Veneering and Inlay by Jonathan Benson

The Marquetry Cource by Jack Metcalfe and John Apps

The Art on Inlay by Larry Robinson

The Art of Wood Inlay by Geroge Stevens