Monday, November 15, 2010

La mutiplication des chevalets de marqueterie

It was always my desire to introduce the special tool for cutting marquetry, which has been invented and developed in Paris for two centuries, to the world outside Paris. I am fascinated at the general lack of awareness of the existence of the chevalet de marqueterie, or marquetry cutting easel. With the exception of small independent workshops in parts of Holland and England, the world of marquetry cutting outside Paris has always done things differently.

Looking at the illustration of the marquetry cutter sitting on his tool, which was published in Roubo in the 18th century, you begin to appreciate the fundamental difference this tool provided. The blade travelled in a horizontal position. To my knowledge, this tool is the only tool which exists to cut marquetry which uses a horizontal blade action. Hand held fret saws, jig saws, overhead saws, and all other methods used in history for cutting material relied on a vertical blade action, while the material rested on a cutting surface, held in place by the hands.

When the material is held vertically, the sawdust naturally falls away from the blade. The action of the saw is easy to control, since it is directly in front of the eyes. The feet, not normally used, can control the clamps, which frees up the hands for manipulating the material. Finally, and to some more importantly, the worker can work while sitting.

Do not underestimate the importance of sitting while working. Comfort is important, if you want to work long hours, an essential part of the job description of marquetry artist. If you are comfortable, and your coffee mug is handy, there is no reason to quit cutting.

At the American School of French Marquetry we currently have 6 chevalets. We have a 54, 55, 56, 57, 59 and 61cm selection. The size is the distance (in cm) from the top of the seat to the blade, when it is in a resting position. In this case, the size of the tool needs to be selected to fit the height of the person, when sitting. Usually, I suggest the handle of the saw be about the height of the top of the collar bone, or at the adam's apple on the throat. It depends a little on the physical comfort of the worker, but it is important to get a good fit.

Therefore, as you may note, we do not have a tool which is 58cm or 60cm, and that is what we are building. In addition, we are making two more tools for sale to students who have requested them.

Normally, we just sell the hardware kit and plans. Most woodworkers do not mind making their own tool. However, sometimes a student just wants to purchase a tool and get right to the work.

In this case, we decided to make a total of 4 at the same time. Just a question of efficiency.

This will solve the problem we currently have when we offer classes and several students are looking to use the same tool. After all, the difference is only a centimeter, about a half inch. Sometimes just a half inch is all the difference in the world between comfort and happiness and struggling with the tool to achieve good results. Above all, we want our students to be happy.


Anonymous said...

Can the design be modified to include an adjustable seat instead of a new machine for each person with a different body size?

W. Patrick Edwards said...

There is an ebeniste, Philippe Guerin, working in Versailles, who has made such a chevalet. On page 63, volume II of "Masterpieces of Marquetry" by Pierre Ramond, is illustrated this tool. Philippe is a good friend of mine, and I have visited his shop several times and examined this particular chevalet. He made it so that he could use the same tool for different students. However, I think it is a poor compromise. My opinion is that you should make the tool exactly the proper size for the worker.

We have the same issue with left and right handed workers. The "frankenstein" tool which is in the school can be converted from left to right as required, but is a poor compromise. We have decided to make an additional left handed arm which will fit onto various chevalets. That way the problem is solved and each tool works as a dedicated tool and not a compromise tool.

mokusakusensei--woods teacher said...

I purchased a General 30" scroll saw last summer because: 1 I have never trained on anything else but a vertical saw. 2. I had no idea how to go about building a chevalet. From reading your blog, it looks as if you have plans that can be purchased. Could you blog more information as to what is offered? By the way, I love old brown glue. I have even learned to ignore the odor. Now if only my dog would not go crazy when I have it on my hands.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Tomorrow I will blog about the plans and hardware kit which I offer, as well as discuss prices for the chevalet.There is a two page inclusion in Pierre Ramond's book, "Marquetry," which shows basic plans for a chevalet. However, it is a 54cm size and that is best for a worker about 5'7" or so. Most Americans are much taller and that is why we offer tools up to 61cm.

I know what you mean about the dog...

Chuck said...

Patrick, in the process of building a chevalet, is it possible to make adjustments to the height without recutting wood? Or would it be better to use the rule of thumb to the next whole cm. and if needed, add height to the seat?

Chuck Walker

W. Patrick Edwards said...

The blueprints I supply with the kit show where the height adjustment needs to be made. The relationship between the position of the horizontal arm which supports the saw and the jaws remains constant.

All the up or down height adjustment occurs just above the seat. Look at the chevalet from the side. Just above the seat you have only three vertical elements: the large front upright, the flexible jaw and the post supporting the clamp. You can add or subtract several centimeters in each of these three elements without changing any other part.

Adding to the seat height with a cushion or other piece of wood only works as a temporary fix.

Finally, the small jaw elements at the top of the clamp can be made slightly taller to start. Then, when using the tool, you can remove some of the height to fit your comfort level.