Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Surviving The Test Of Time

The last two posts have focused on the new Colombo jig saws in use at the school. I can only imagine how smooth the operation of these expensive and specialized saws is. I can also imagine the younger students who might prefer the new system to the old ways.

However, I would like to point out an important difference between the most expensive modern jig saw and the traditional chevalet de marqueterie, as it has existed, according to Herbert Cescinsky, since 1680.

The French have the distinction of being the only country in the history of marquetry who use a horizontal blade to cut material. As far as I can determine, every other country uses a vertical blade alignment. Whether you are using a hand held fret saw, or a foot powered frame saw or a jig saw, the blade moves up and down. The chevalet is the only tool which has been designed to operate with a blade in the back and forth direction.

This may seem like a small detail, but the differences are dramatic.

When the blade moves up and down, it is easy for small elements to fall down into the throat of the machine. The sawdust remains on the surface which hides the design. The worker must use his hands to hold down the work, or it will bounce up and down. It is nearly impossible to see exactly along the length of the blade, and the worker needs to adjust his sight to cut while viewing from an angle.

The chevalet is unique in holding the saw frame horizontal and cutting with a horizontal blade. The dust falls away naturally, the blade is directly in front of the eyes of the worker. The saw, which is controlled by hand, is very sensitive to pressure and speed, and can be manipulated very easily. The small elements which are cut out are held in the packet, since the packet is vertical, and it is possible to cut the smallest pieces imaginable. The feet operate the clamps, which frees up the left hand to control the material.

It is not known exactly when the chevalet was created, but I note that Herbert Cescinsky, in his 1931 classic, "The Gentle Art of Faking Furniture," states: "The marqueterie-cutter's saw, in its guides, with the 'chops,' which open and close by foot pressure, to hold the veneers while being cut, and his seat at the end (the 'donkey,) as it is called), have hardly varied at all in two hundred and fifty years." 1969 edition, page 89.

The pictures illustrate one of the antique chevalets at the school, which I probably used. Also shown is the newest chevalet, which is adjustable in height and can be converted from left to right handed use. Note the fancy carved face.

There is no other tool quite like it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Out With The Old

The last post included photos of the new atelier de marqueterie at ecole Boulle, provided by my internet friend, Filip. I received a comment on that post which asked about the new marquetry saws. I thought the best response would be to show more photos of the saws, provided by Filip, and information about the company which manufactures them.

The mark, Colombo, has earned a respected reputation during many generations of marquetry artists. The new professor of marquetry, Gabriel Fuchs, has installed 4 Colombo saws in the new building. One has a throat depth of 115cm, and the others have an 85cm throat. The company makes smaller saws, including one with 55cm clearance. These are highly developed tools with specialized features designed to make marquetry cutting easy and precise. The largest tool runs about 4500 euros, and is manufactured in France.

I include three website links for you to explore:

I am not sure, but I imagine that the single overhead saw must still be used. There were three cast iron jig saws and one overhead saw. The overhead saw has no throat depth, since the upper structure is suspended from the ceiling. I include a photo of the workshop as it was when Pierre was there. You can see all the chevalets lined up along the window, with the overhead saws and jig saws in the back.

So, it seems that Gabriel has removed the three jig saws, and perhaps the overhead saw, for all I know. He has installed the Colombo saws, and the entire workshop is larger and more open.

Life goes on, and old men guard their memories, as they sip their coffee and live in the past.