A Thirst for Knowledge
Article first published in Furniture and Cabinet Making magazine Issue 260
Life in the furniture school settled into a steady rhythm as we moved through our first term. Our confidence was increasing after a couple of months working at the bench on carefully selected projects, all the time improving our hand skills. Whilst you can’t underestimate the importance of practice and repetition of these core skills, time at the furniture school is also precious, motivation is high and it’s clear that all of the students have real thirst to learn and acquire as many new skills possible.
One way the school satisfies this thirst for knowledge is to hold a ‘technical day’ every couple of weeks. These days provide an opportunity to step away from school’s set exercises and dedicate time to learning new techniques under the expert guidance of our tutor Graham. A wide range of topics are covered through the year, and a clear highlight for many was when we took our first steps in the fields of veneering, marquetry and finishing.
Veneering and Inlay Techniques
We first covered the basics of veneering by preparing a simple lipped panel covered in book matched veneers of our choice. This exercise introduced us to the technique of ‘shooting’ the edges of our selected veneers using our bench planes and the workshop’s enormous veneer shooting board. We also attempted a different technique utilising a router and bearing guided cutter against a simple straight edge. We then used veneer tape to butt joint the prepared veneers together and glue up techniques using both cramps and alternatively the bag press.
We then moved onto marquetry and inlay techniques. Our first task was to prepare a simple inlay using ‘the window pane cutting technique’ where a shaped window is created in one veneer and this is then over-laid on a second veneer, the exact shape cut and then fitted into the window. I chose a simple diamond inlay of natural ash into a dyed grey ash veneer, carefully matching the grain pattern to achieve a pleasing result. A sharp scalpel blade, steady hand and a lot of patience were key to success.
Burr Walnut Veneer sample
Natural Ash diamond inlayed into dyed grey Ash veneer
We were then challenged to design and make a sample marquetry board. Our inspiration came from nature, and our research led us to explore the work of leading exponents of the craft including Toby Winteringham and Violeta Galan, the latter interestingly using straw rather than wood veneers, a technique first practised in the East and introduced to England in the 17th century.
I settled on a design using a symmetrical repeating pattern of overlapping curves in Rosewood Cherry and Sycamore. Using the same window pane cutting technique, the background in ripple sycamore veneer was first cut and then the contrasting curves in cherry and rosewood. The pieces were then carefully joined using veneer tape and glue and the whole panel stuck to an MDF board that had already had a Sycamore veneer stuck to its backside. After 24 hours in the bag press, the veneer tape was peeled off carefully and the panel scraped and sanded clean. A simple rosewood lipping completed the panel ready for finishing.
Inevitably our technical days can only ever really be a brief introduction to a new skill or technique. That said, being taught the right way of doing something from the outset is invaluable and ensures the long hours of patient practice that lay ahead are worthwhile.