Intarsia for Woodworkers.
Like to know more about the ancient art of Intarsia…?
At its most basic, Intarsia is cutting & shaping small bits of wood, and fitting them together to create a picture, in all the natural colours of timber.
The best part about Intarsia is the value for money…! You only need small amounts of timber, it’s cheap to buy, and the product you end up with, even if you’re a beginner, is worth much more than the sum of all the parts.
This is a pastime that requires very little tools or equipment, you can learn how to do it in a few minutes, and it can provide endless hours of enjoyment and satisfaction – plus, it’s a handy source of extra income…!
This is what you’ll need to get started:
1. Basic instruction on how to use a scroll saw and simple sanding equipment – google Intarsia Wood for heaps of great books;
2. A picture- either one out of your head or if you need some inspiration, the web is full of great free designs you could use. Usually you would start with a commercial pattern, although many intarsians (intarsia builders) soon start creating their own patterns. These could be based on photos, or clip art and other sources or, you could use your own original drawings. To be able to design and build a project from start to finish is a highly satisfying creative experience, and then selling your projects for good money works wonders for one’s self confidence…!
3. Wood – small pieces of different timbers. Or cut them out of one bit of cheap pine and stain it up in different colours. A cheap and fast way to produce great results. Do you need to know anything about timber to start? Not a thing. Nor do you need to become an expert. Award-winning artist Judy Gayle Roberts has built many, many incredible projects from a single type, western red cedar…
4. Saw – a cheap scroll saw is the best, although you can use a bandsaw with a thin blade – even a hand-powered jigsaw will do the job if you’re really keen…!
5. Sander – a drum sander that goes in your drill will certainly save you a lot of time in hand sanding…!
A great thing about Intarsia is that the small quantity of timber you will use making even a large intarsia project, is still only a fraction of what you would have to go through on even a small coffee table or something similar. And the finished Intarsia will be worth much more then a coffee table, with all due respect to the coffee table…!
Value adding with Intarsia is sure hard to beat…!
Before you get stuck into it, there’s a couple of things to look for when buying Intarsia timber.
First, buy the widest boards you can find – in the long run, wider boards are more economical.
Second, try to buy all your stock in the same thickness. When you have a bit of experience, you can work with wood of all different thicknesses, but that’s a bit hard for a first time project. If your planks must be planed and you can’t access a planer, it pays to shop around. Buy from shops where your boards will be planed free or at slight cost.
Lastly, avoid buying timber from home improvement warehouses. Their pine (that mysterious “white wood”) is just terrible & the few hardwoods they do have in stock are way over-priced. Get your softwoods from a timberyard that sells to builders, and get your hardwoods from a specialist hardwood timber company.
Some more tips for great Intarsia:
1. Take it slow, and cut as closely as possible to the line to guarantee good fits.
2. Use a soft drum sander on a drill press to round all the edges and eliminate sharp 90 degree edges. This can also help to hide any gaps. Flexible sanding drums are very soft and spongey…
3. When two adjoining pieces are cut from the same type of timber, cut them with different grain directions – this adds a bit of contrast.
4. Cut all your pieces out first and then number each piece, on the back. With tiny pieces that are a bit too small to write on, you can stick blue masking tape onto them and then write the number on the tape.
5. When you glue the pieces together, start from the centre of your design and work to the outside edges. Doing this makes sure any mistakes throw off pieces only half the distance. E.G. if your project is 400mm wide and you begin from the centre, any errors will only affect 200mm of the project. If you start from the left side and worked all the way to the right, any mistakes will affect all 400mm of the width of your project.
6. Use a good quality super glue to glue pieces together that sets fast and dries clear.
7. To glue pieces together, lay down a printed copy of the design and cover it with wax paper. Stick your pieces together laying them out on top of your design as you go. Any squeeze out from the glue won’t stick to the wax paper.
8. When finished gluing the pieces together, sand over the back to get rid of any excess glue, and also to level uneven pieces.
9. Next cut a piece of thin backing plywood board that is inset 5mm in from the edges of the design. Mark out the location for a keyhole where it will best hang on a nail, if you plan to hang it up on a wall. Cut out the keyhole in the plywood, then trace it onto the back of the finished project. Use a spade bit to drill a cut-out in the back of the project where it will be covered by the keyhole, so when you glue it to the backing board, a nail or screw head can go into the keyhole for hanging. Finally, glue the project to your ply backboard with Titebond II or similar.
10. Using a heavy bag of sand or similar material is good for pressing as it can conform to the uneven thickness of the pieces in the project. This way it will apply pressure to both the high and low pieces.
11. Hang up your finished artwork somewhere conspicuous, & tell all your friends, yep, all my own work…!
These websites are a great source of inspiration, and instruction;
fantasticwoodworking.com – has a great project book for beginners
intarsia.com www.kathywise.com intarsia.hostcentric.com/e-book/Intarsia101.htm
All the best and here’s to your enjoyment and success with Intarsia…!
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