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Marquetry Cabinet

Abiquiu cabinet pic

Sometimes you just get a wild hair. As a maker of custom furniture I love to push myself beyond my comfort zone and try new things. This sideboard definitely fell into that category. I had done several other marquetry pieces over the years but nothing as challenging as this. Small marquetry pieces that fit on the scroll saw are one thing, but a 5' wide panel was going to have to be broken down into more workable sections and then fit together. Fun!

 Up in Northern New Mexico there is a little town called Abiquiu which is known mostly as the former home of Georgia O'Keeffe. The landscape is a stunning vista of multi colored mesas and canyons and Georgia wasn't the only one it inspired to make art. One evening on my way home from paddling the Chama River the sun was setting and bathing one particular mesa that I've always liked with fantastic light and shadow, so I pulled over and took a photo. That image stuck with me and I dug it out when I made the decision to try doing a landscape with marquetry. 

Before I dug myself in too deep I thought that it would be a good idea to make a quick mock-up to test my color pallet and to see if I was on the right track. Like most woodworkers I have some scrap laying around that I just can't bear to toss in the wood stove, so I rooted around, picked a pile of it in a range of colors and tones that I thought might work and resawed a stack into 1/16" veneers. I had my photo printed to the size of the sample I was making and I got to work. The photo below is the result. It came out well enough to encourage me to start the full size project. 

Mock up

To give me an idea of how the finished piece would look I made a small model and drew a quick sketch of the marquetry on the face of it. 


I'm not going to get into the actual marquetry techniques very much in this article. If you want to read more about that take a look at my post about building the Shark Tank cabinet. I go into a lot more detail about basic bevel cutting marquetry in that article. In this post I'll show you how I broke this image up into more manageable pieces that could be worked on my little 20" scroll saw. Suffice to say, you start out with a full size image that you work from. To give me the size cabinet that I was going to build I had this printed at 59" x 19". 


I took a photo at the end of each days work to document how much progress I was making. Since it was the focal point of the piece, I started with the mesa. 


The pink wood that makes up the bulk of the mesa is made from several tones of Swiss Pearwood. The shadows are wenge and the cap of the mesa is Russian Olive with it's sapwood left as the bright line near the top. 


I made the mesa as one unit with it's parts glued together. The little hill in front of it and the ridge to the left were also made as separate units that were cut into the mesa and temporarily taped together as I worked my way through the piece. 



When I started working on the ridge behind and to the right of the main mesa I gave it as much detail as the stuff in the front. Once I finished it I realized that it was too much. It needed to fade into the background with less detail or there wasn't any depth. So I re-made it. 



That was still too much so I did it again with much more subtle shading. At this point the image was made from about 7 sections that were glued into units. This made them rigid pieces without any give so instead of having hundreds of joints flexing and moving I only had a handful. That really helped with keeping the joints tight. 


Here you can see the various hills and canyons in the foreground before they are cut into the rest of the image. I'm just playing with colors and tones. 


Here the sky is just laying behind the rest of the piece. 



Once all of the landscape was finished I cut the piece of blue stained holly that was going to be the sky into 3 pieces and laid each one behind the pieces of the landscape and cut in the horizon line in 3 sections. That way the 59" cut could all be cut on the saw. 


To make the sections pop I did some 'sand shading'. Actually, veneer this thick doesn't sand shade very well. Since I'm impatient, I blasted it with a butane torch instead. It worked pretty well. You can see this where the main mesa lays over the ridge to the right of it. 

mesa detail

Once all of the marquetry was done I taped it up into one panel with veneer tape and glued it to a substrate made of 4 layers of 1/8" plywood. All of this was clamped over a curved form in a vacuum bag to give the doors the shape that was going to be the bow front of the cabinet. 

glue up 1

This photo is the substrate being glued up prior to the veneer being laid on. 

glue up 2

The marquetry in the vacuum bag. 

glue up 3

Here the cabinet is underway and the panel that will eventually be cut up into doors is fitted into it. You can be sure I measured twice before I made those cuts!

cabinet build 1

Ready for the finisher. 


Abiquiu cabinet pic - Version 2

The marquetry on this piece ended up taking me about 2 weeks. I built the cabinet in another week or so. The doors are on knife hinges and open with touch latches. The marquetry woods include pear wood, Russian Olive, black mesquite, walnut, butternut and wenge. The marquetry was finished with a full fill finish and a topcoat that was non-yellowing with UV inhibitors to keep the colors as true as possible for as long as possible. The cherry cabinet was shot with a nitrocellulose lacquer so that it could continue to darken over time. 

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Click here if you'd like to see more of my custom sideboards.