My Inlay and Marquetry Obsession

I’ve been spending the past few months building an elaborate reproduction of a bed designed by Harvey Ellis. The central panel features some inlay work. I cut the wood and metal for this inlay using a jeweler’s saw. My first few attempts were so bad that I considered trying to cut the material at my library’s maker space with a laser cutter. But I struggled for two days trying to learn the software I’d need to use. I just don’t like sitting in front of computers if I don’t have to.

Instead, I decided to just keep practicing doing it by hand, guided by a YouTube lecture by a marquetry expert who learned his craft working at his family’s jewelry business. I used time during a pet sitting gig to make many attempts at the central woodland scene until I understood how to use the tools.

There’s nothing wrong with using computers if you use them consciously. The Bauhaus, the architects of the International Style, and the mid-century work of the Eames all make use of a machine aesthetic that can be elegant. But in 2024 I have an intuition that we need to return to hand work, perhaps as a reaction to the excesses of our Silicon Valley overlords.

The panel above, which awaits more sanding and staining, was done with a combination of hand fret saw work and inlay facilitated by a Dremel and router.  Instead of a CNC router I did it freehand. It’s not perfect but that’s kind of the point.

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  1. “It’s not perfect but that’s kind of the point” — 100% agree. This is what I am constantly telling my students (I run a craft & environmental education program) who so often get upset when their first try at something does not come out like it was made by a machine. The point is that it is not made by a machine! Also, beautiful work, woodworking is not my thing personally but for my husband it is, along with metal. I will have to show him this, I wonder if he’s got inlay on his radar/to learn list.

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