Boullework

Marquetry patterns comprising sheets of brass and tortoiseshell in elaborate scroll-work and foliage are known as Boulle-work (Buhl-work) after the celebrated French marquetry-cutter Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) who perfected the process. Thin sheets of tortoiseshell and brass or silver, or boxwood

304 Box with veneered laburnum oysters with sycamore edging. Designer and maker: Richard Fyson

304 Box with veneered laburnum oysters with sycamore edging. Designer and maker: Richard Fyson

and blackwood-veneers, were pinned together with a waste veneer under to take the rag of the saw; the design was then glued to the top sheet and the whole pack cut at one operation with a very fine saw in a marquetry-cutter's donkey. The sheets were then separated and the components fitted together. As all the cutting was done simultaneously the waste of one sheet could obviously fit the waste of another sheet; thus in a simple assembly of, say, boxwood ground/substrate and blackwood scroll-work there will be a complete sheet of boxwood ground and black scroll-work, and another of black ground and box scroll-work. Antique examples exist in which one side of the cabinet is black on white and the other side white on black, and this economic use of the waste was known as Boulle and counter Boulle, although it was never practised in the finest work. In fact, although Boulle carried this composite cutting to perfection, skilled marquetry-cutters considered it greatly inferior to the traditional method of cutting each piece separately whereby the grain direction could be varied at will.

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