I started working with a scroll when I was a kid. When my father bought me a new saw for my 20th birthday, I started doing more detailed work. When I met Bernie Maz, the best scroller I had ever seen, he was kind enough to share some of his knowledge. I bought the best scroll saw made in 1997, and used it every way I could think of for the next 10 years.
Then I discovered intarsia, a form of woodwork using grains and colors of different species of wood to shape a 3-D picture. No stains or paints are used; the colors you see are the natural colors of the wood. To learn intarsia I went to Roberts Studio in East Tennessee. There I studied under master scroller and craftsman, Jerry Booher, and the world’s best-known intarsia artist, Judy Gale Roberts. She is credited with bringing this art form back from the past.
People have different ways of doing intarsia; here’s mine:
When I decide what I want to make, I start going through my wood piles until I find all the colors I want to use. Then I plane the wood to get it all the same thickness. When I have all the wood ready, I start laying out the design or pattern, matching the woods’ grain direction with the way the design goes.
I cover every piece of wood I cut with clear packing tape. That lubricates my blades and makes cutting a little easier for me. I cut all the pieces and put them together to make sure I like the colors.
If I don’t like the way some color turned out I throw away those pieces and recut them from a different wood. When I’m happy with the colors I start shaping the pieces one at a time on a drum sander checking it against the piece before to get the height I want.
Once all the shaping is done I start hand sanding. Every piece is sanded, and I apply a clear gel varnish as I go. After I sand the first piece and blow the dust off with an air compresser, I apply the first coat of finish and then start sanding the second piece. When I get the second piece sanded, I apply the finish and go back and wipe the extra gel off the first one. Then I do the third piece and so on.
When you have a design with hundreds of pieces, this method can take a long time. I apply three coats of finish over three days. That’s what gives the wood a deep down luster and a warm glow.
Finally, I glue the pieces together, wait a day for it to dry and then I glue it down to a backer board and wait another day for that to dry. See more at tjswoodshop.com/intarsia_gallery.
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