How to Build Wood Marquetry

Written by cheryl smith
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How to Build Wood Marquetry
Wood marquetry (wood seats for monks cross image by Carbonbrain from

Wood marquetry artists create mosaic pictures with paper-thin veneers. Evolving from the ancient Egyptian art of inset, European marquetarians perfected the craft during the 16th through 18th centuries. Cathedrals and museums offer displays of exquisite handcrafted marquetry commissioned by royal families. Today, hobbyists can learn marquetry techniques through classes, books and marquetry clubs. Beginner kits, tools and patterns are sold in hobby stores, along with prepackaged wood veneers with exotic colours and grains.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Tracing paper
  • Pencil
  • Variety pack of veneers 1/32 inch thick
  • Craft knife
  • Chisel knife
  • Cutting board
  • Masking tape
  • Metal ruler
  • Wood glue
  • Water
  • Small paintbrush
  • Backing board
  • Scraps of plywood for pressing
  • Clamps
  • Sandpaper: 120, 150 and 240 grit
  • Finishing oil (linseed, tung or Danish)

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  1. 1

    Choose a pattern. Find inspiration in stained glass window books or colouring books, or draw your own design. Geometric shapes are the easiest to cut. Use a pencil to copy or draw your design onto tracing paper.

  2. 2

    Choose the background veneer considering the appeal of the wood grain, largest parts of the design and best framing for cutouts and small parts.

  3. 3

    Tape the edge of the tracing paper onto the background veneer with small bits of masking tape.

  4. 4

    Score the first cutout section of the design with your knife until the paper comes off. Professional marquetarian Quentin Smith recommends starting with the design's background elements and working toward the foreground (Reference 1, More Tips: Order of Cutting) Start with straight lines and do curves last. Use a metal ruler to guide straight cuts.

  5. 5

    Use several strokes to cut through the veneer. Pull the knife toward you while applying gentle pressure. Angle your knife slightly outward, about 5 degrees, creating a slight lip on the top of the veneer piece (Resource 3). Cut curves with a chisel knife after scoring with the craft knife.

  6. 6

    Choose a veneer to fill the windowpane cutout. Hold the cutout over different veneers, aligning the grain to complement your design. Place light colours next to dark for the most visual impact. Using your background as a template, carefully score the design onto the selected sheet of veneer. Set the background aside. Cut out the piece with repeated strokes until all wood fibres are cut through (Reference 2, window pane method).

  7. 7

    Gently remove the tape after cutting out the insert piece. Do not worry about tiny cracks or splinters; slight imperfections will mend when glued to the backing board.

  8. 8

    Add a couple of drops of water to a small amount of wood glue. Apply the thinned glue to the edge of the insert and set it into the background. Place masking tape over the entire surface, rubbing gently with the back of your fingernail. This will firmly seat the piece and press out excess glue.

  9. 9

    Check the back to make sure the insert is flush. Reset if necessary.

  10. 10

    Continue cutting out window panes and inserts until all your pieces are glued and assembled. Remove the tape carefully from the front to prevent pulling out a small insert and set the marquetry piece aside. Allow the glue to set for a few hours.

  11. 11

    Glue your marquetry sheet to a piece of plywood or backer board. Apply wood glue to both the back of the marquetry and backer board, then gently press them together. Use short pieces of masking tape to hold the marquetry to the backer board if necessary. Place a piece of waxed paper on top. Set a piece of plywood on the bottom and top, clamping securely every few inches. Allow the glue to set for at least six hours.

  12. 12

    Cut off any overhang from the backer board using a router or your chisel knife. Gently sand off irregularities and glue bits with 150 grit sandpaper and finish polish with 240 grit sandpaper. Be careful to avoid catching the edges.

  13. 13

    Finish your project with linseed oil, tung oil or Danish oil.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a sharp blade in your craft knife. Replace the blade as needed.
  • Some wood veneers are prone to splitting. Strengthen fragile veneers by placing a piece of masking tape on the back before cutting. Practice making cuts to learn how each type of wood veneer reacts.
  • Be respectful of photo and cartoon copyrights when choosing a pattern.
  • Match the grain of the centre cutouts of letters such as "B" or "Q" to the surrounding background for best results (Reference 1).

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