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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Furniture > Expert Tip: Repairing Marquetry

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Replacing Marquetry Tiles


 An attractive item of furniture in fine wood with marquetry decoration is a conversation piece and sets off other antiques. It is well worth restoring the marquetry to achieve this effect.

 A lovely box or a beautiful piece of furniture decorated with marquetry can be spoiled by a few damaged or missing pieces. Restoring marquetry takes a little time and some know-how.

 Marquetry is a form of inlay where different veneers are used to make a picture or a decorative pattern, perhaps with floral motifs. The intricate pieces of veneer are easily damaged. Small sections are relatively simple to replace, but if you suspect your piece is a valuable antique, take it to an expert restorer for advice - you could devalue it irreversibly by trying to repair it yourself.

 Veneers are available from timber merchants and specialist suppliers. Some mail order suppliers will send samples, and also supply packs of a selection of veneers that are especially designed for marquetry.

 Look at the piece you are repairing and try to find a veneer of similar colour and pattern. If you are in doubt which veneer to buy, always choose a lighter one which can be stained darker, rather than a darker one, which cannot be made lighter.

 Once the veneer has been cut to fit and glued in place, the patch must be stained and polished. Experiment with different stains on a spare piece of veneer until you are satisfied that the colour matches the original. Any small gaps around the edge of the patch can be filled with hard wax: rub a candle of a similar colour over the edges of the patch to fill in a gap. As a final touch, polish or varnish the patch to match the original finish.


 As the shapes used in marquetry are rarely symmetrical, they cannot be measured, re-drawn and cut directly to size. Instead, you need to make an accurate tracing of the shape, cut the veneer roughly to size using the tracing as a template, and then carefully pare it back to the exact shape that fits the hole perfectly. Once the piece has been fitted and glued, allow it to dry thoroughly. Where necessary, stain the new piece to match the rest of the design, and polish or varnish it.


 Some marquetry motifs are shaded to give them more depth. To shade a new piece of veneer, pour some fine silver sand (available from pet shops) into a metal container and heat it on a cooker. Cut the veneer larger than you need, and, holding it in tweezers, dip it into the hot sand and leave it for a few seconds.

 Dampen the veneer with a wet cloth, then compare it with the original shading. Repeat the process, adjusting the length of time you leave the veneer in the sand, until you are satisfied with the result.

 Before positioning the pattern on the veneer, check carefully with other pieces in the design to see which direction the grain of the wood should run.

 1 Using a sharp chisel, clear old glue from the damaged area. Cut tracing paper to cover the hole and hold if tautly in place with masking tape.

 2 Make a pattern for the new piece by tracing the outline: with a soft pencil or crayon, lightly shade around the hole until you have the shape.

 3 Remove tracing paper and trim it to size. Apply a thin layer of adhesive to the veneer and position the pattern on top. Press it flat and allow it to dry.

 4 Cut the veneer roughly to size, placing a straight edge to the edge of the outline and cutting against this with a trimming knife. Cut generously.

 5 Trim the veneer back to the pattern outline using a sharp trimming knife and paring in one direction. Trim the piece until it fits the hole exactly.

 6 Once the veneer fits the hole, dab the tracing paper with a damp cloth and peel it away. Remove the patch. Apply adhesive to the patch and hole.

 7 Position patch and remove excess glue with a cloth. Hold in place with masking tape and let it dry. Remove tape and trim patch level with a chisel.

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