And Waxed Paper

today is inspired by and measured against the skill and creativity of woodworkers who have practiced the craft for 500 years. Most notable among these artisans was André-Charles Boulle, whose last name is often used to describe the inlay technique that I used on the commodes shown here. During his lifetime (1642 - 1732), Boulle supplied Frcnch royalty with furniture that was incredibly rich in surface ornamentation.


FIG. A The Boulle Work Packet

THE ESSENCE OF BOULLE WORK is cutting intricate patterns in a packet consisting of thin brass sheet, dark-colored veneer, waxed paper, and sacrificial veneers, that are placed on the outside for stiffening. Veneer tape holds the layers together.

Boulle's inlay materials included tortoiseshell, brass, pewter and even animal horn. For contrasting woods, he often used rosewood, ebony, king-wood, and other dense, dark-toned tropical species.

Boulle's marquetry technique was to make two contrasting sheets of intricate inlay that were cut from a single sandwich of materials. If the sandwich, or packet, contained two layers that were light and dark, the two final products would be a sheet with a light pattern on a dark background, and a reversed sheet, with a dark pattern on a light background. One sheet would have been considered the primary pattern, in French the premiere partie. The opposite pattern was called the counterpart, or contrapartie. By sawing both patterns out of one packet and reassembling them on two trays, the background of the premiere partie becomes the motif of the contrapartie. Boulle made cabinets with both patterns in a single piece, or pairs of contrasting cabinets.

Preparing the Packet

I have developed a way to do Boulle marquetry with modern tools and materials. This Boulle project uses two materials: sheet brass and dark bog oak veneer. They are assembled into a packet (Fig. A) with a sheet of waxed paper, backing layers of thick veneer, and the pattern.

I use standard brass that is .032-in. thick and veneer that I saw myself and sand down to exactly the thickness I need. This veneer should be slightly thicker than the brass, to make the final cleanup easier (Photo 9). It's a lot easier to sand down wood to make

THE PATTERN IS GLUED ON to the packct using yellow glue. After sawing the packet, it's possible to separate the layers, so that two complementary inlaid sheets can be made.

it flush with the brass than vice versa. For this leveling process I have found that the veneer I make on the band-saw holds up better than regular sliced veneer because the wood fibers haven't been crushed. Even so, I glue a piece of newsprint to one side of the veneer with hide glue to strengthen

DRILL STARTER HOLES for the scroll-saw blade inside every motif, using a tiny drill bit. The best place to locate these holes is in sharp corners, where they'll be hard to notice.

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