Furniture maker Jamie Fraser fitted out Panda and Sons‘ cocktail bar in Edinburgh. He asked if I could help him with three parts of the project, the most challenging of which was creating two marquetry panda pictures for the wall behind the bar. They were a both to be a bit bigger than A4 size at 320 x 250mm.
As Panda and Sons was designed as a speakeasy with a barber shop frontage, one panda was a barber and the other a barman.
Making the artwork robust
First of all, Jamie emailed the artwork through. Most of it looked fine. The background, the pandas’ walnut bodies and ears and sycamore heads all looked chunky and robust. But some areas needed work because the detail was too great or joins were too small to make the pieces strong enough.
As a rule, I suggest to customers that any small pieces and joining sections should be at least 3mm wide on thicker, stronger materials. These marquetry pieces would be extremely fragile and would have to be easily identified and capable of being handled.
For example, the eyes had too many small detailed areas less than 1 x 1mm. I knew that they would become charred dots in the bottom of the machine that would be useless. Jamie beefed up the dots and join them up into stronger shapes so the sycamore pieces could be seen from a distance.
There was also too much detail in the scissors and the cocktail glass. They got the same treatment to make them chunkier and bolder, as did the borders of walnut around the cocktail glass and cuffs.
Finally, each shape needed one continuous line around the outside to cut it individually and cleanly. The ears had to be separate lines from the head which had to be separate from the body as the pieces would be cut out from different veneers.
Once the artwork was complete, we had to get our heads around handling the veneers themselves.
Working with veneers
Wood veneers are very thin and prone to cracking, warping and splitting. It was challenging enough cutting lots of diamond shapes for the bar top, but marquetry would be even trickier because of the detail and irregular shapes involved.
Jamie had initially suggested sending veneers as they come in thin strips. Once I’d seen the artwork, I suggested gluing the veneers to thin pieces of mdf to make the pieces stronger. This would also keep them flat which would help during cutting, and prevent them warping and cracking.
As the pieces would be posted back to Jamie in Edinburgh, we knew that the delicate veneers not only had to withstand production, but two journeys in the post. Jamie agreed, and thought it would help him during assembly of the pictures too.
Laser cutting panda eyes
After Jamie’s laminated veneers arrived, I got to work. First, I cut out the picture backgrounds. This gave me the rectangular shapes of the pictures with panda shaped holes.
Next, I cut the bodies and buttons, ears, eyes and noses from the walnut. Just in case little pieces went missing, I cut extra eyes and buttons. I left the smallest sycamore pieces until last, fitting them into the pictures as they took shape. All the pieces fitted perfectly. The photo at the top was taken at this stage, before Jamie finished and varnished them.
I wrapped the pictures up securely to protect them in the post together with the spare pieces. Thankfully, they all survived the journey and Jamie was delighted with them. In the picture above, you can see bartender panda in all his varnished and framed glory.