Rochester Woodworker’s Society (RWS) hosted a workshop last October and the subject matter was INTARSIA. The thought process behind this workshop was to demonstrate to all the RWS membership who has a scroll saw collecting dust, something interesting and challenging to do with their scroll saws. Intarsia was the perfect selection so we invited world renown intarsia expert, Kathy Wise, to speak to our audience and to demo the process of Intarsia, “The Wise Way”. In her demo, Kathy showed us all the steps involved in creating this cute little snowman ornament.

                     

So I set about using what I learned at this workshop to make this snowman ornament.
The first step is to obtain the pattern and make multiple copies (5 or so). I had the pattern from the workshop so I simply went to the copier and made 5 copies. One is kept for reference, one is kept for placing the cut parts on, and the rest are cut up and adhered to the various pieces of wood.

I then went thru my wood scrap pile to find pieces that would work well in this design. I chose maple for the body, purpleheart for the hat, and bloodwood for the scarf. OK, I confess, I didn’t have scraps of bloodwood laying around in my scrap pile. I recently drove to the closest lumberyard who advertised exotics and picked out a small piece of bloodwood as well as a few other nice pieces. Often, your hardwood supplier has cut-offs available for free or for a small fee, so I encourage you to try to find exciting pieces that you can use for future intarsia projects.

The next step is to apply the pattern to the piece of wood you selected for that specific piece. If necessary, you can cut each individual piece according to grain direction (you need even more copies if you do this). I chose to cut all the red pieces going in the same direction, as well as the white and purple. So, I cut the scarf part of the pattern out to apply to the wood. One way would be to trace it on to the wood using carbon paper or transfer paper. Another method is to glue the pattern directly onto the wood in the grain direction of choice. I selected to do it “The Wise Way”. I used 3M Super 77 spray adhesive to adhere the pattern on to the shiny side of CONTACT brand contact paper. I then peeled away the backer on the contact paper and applied the pattern onto the wood. Why this extra step? The contact paper removes from the wood very easily and leaves no residue behind. If you use the adhesive directly on the wood, it is more difficult to remove and you may have to use a solvent to remove residual adhesive so that it will not interfere with the finish. Pretty neat tip eh?

So, with the patterns applied to wood pieces, I set about cutting each individual piece apart. On the pieces that match up to a different colored wood, you need to take your time and cut EXACTLY on the line. If you cut exactly on the line of the matching piece as well, the 2 pieces will fit perfectly together. If your cuts are off a bit, you will need to correct it by sanding or re-cutting until the fit is acceptable. As you cut each piece, place a pencil mark on the bottom side. Once the pattern is peeled off the top, you will not know which side is up or down unless you mark the bottoms. When you get all the pieces cut out and placed in it’s corresponding spot on the pattern, your snowman should look like this:

This is when you look at the fit of all the pieces, when they are flat and have not been contoured yet. Make any adjustments necessary so the joints are acceptable. Each person’s definition of “acceptable” will be different. But the less light showing thru the joints, the better the piece will look. Your cutting and fitting will get better with practice.

Once all the pieces fit well together it is time to add dimension. By the way, before you cut the pieces out, you should have already made some decisions about perspective, what pieces shall stand above others etc… This step will greatly reduce the sanding necessary to give the 3D effect that Kathy strives for in her work. Once you have determined what pieces should be the lowest and what pieces should be the highest, it is time to contour and shape them. Start with the lowest pieces first. In my example, the body is the lowest (white pieces). I took my pieces to the disk sander and oscillating sander and profiled all the edges to give it a rounded over effect. Kathy swears by her pneumatic sander as it makes short work of this profiling task. Since I do not have one (yet) I used whatever I had available. This is a time consuming task but these steps is what makes the piece POP, and stand out from the rest. Once all the body pieces are contoured, I put them next to the corresponding pieces that touch them and mark with a pencil on the corresponding piece where the edge of the contour meets it. This gives me a guide of where to sand to when I contour that piece. Once each piece is done, I put it back on the pattern so I can visualize the match, the depth, and level of contour.

Now it is time for the finishing touches. You can use a small detail sander such as a Dremel to get into the  smaller hard to reach areas to add more detail. At this point, all the small individual pieces are rough sanded and have crisp ridges and sanding marks on them. They need to be smoothed over and the best tool for this is the sanding mop.

You can get these sanding mops from most specialty shops or on Amazon. I used a 120 grit which did a fine job on all the pieces. You may have to use a needle nose pliers to hold some of the smaller pieces. You may also want to wear gloves or finger covers.

Once everything is finish sanded, the sub-assemblies can be glued together. Use CA glue of choice along with it’s accelerator. I started out with the hat. Spray accelerator on the larger edge, and put a bead of medium thick CA glue on the smaller piece. Align them on the pattern and touch them together. You need to get the bottoms flat and fit them together perfectly all within a second or two before the glue sets up permanently. I then went to work on the scarf and finally the body to the rest of the components and in no time, the whole snowman is glued up. This is a good time to take it to the stationary belt sander and sand the bottom flat.

I used wenge for the buttons. I drilled 5/16′ holes in the body according to the pattern. I forgot to mention, that I wanted to preserve the whiteness of the body so I applied a light coat of white dye. This will help keep it white when a finish is applied and over the years of exposure. I applied the button pattern to the wenge and cut out the buttons being careful to stay just outside the lines. After a little sanding, it fit perfectly. I cut out one round section and cut it in half on the bandsaw. I then cut out another round dowel out of pine and used it as a riser under the wenge. Don’t need to waste this if it is unnecessary. I could have used ebony as well with the risers. You could also elect to use a dark wood like this for the nose and/or eyes.

I elected to use some pyrography and to burn in the design on the face. It pays to practice if you never used a woodburner before.

As far as a finish goes, I chose to use Kathy’s finish of choice which is Bartly’s Clear Gel Stain, which is really a varnish.
I applied 3 coats, wiping off each coat with a rag. I then drilled a hole and made a small loop of fishing line to hang it with.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Wish I had a drum sander, as this would have shortened the sanding time considerably. I asked Kathy about this, and although she has no experience building one, she recommends the grizzly model which is about $300.
  • I maybe would use ALL bloodwood instead of using purpleheart for the hat. I think the red and white contrast would look better.
  • I would try using small inlays for the eyes and nose, like I did for the buttons.
  • I need to protect the white stain i applied. I like the white as it does not interfere with the grain pattern but it gives a nice whiteness to the wood. However, when i applied the Bartleys, it removed a lot of the white stain. next time, I will spray a barrier coat of lacquer.
  • Not sure if I like the method of hanging. I may prefer to use a small eye screwed into the top of the hat and then use a decorative loop of some sort for hanging.

I hope you learned something about intarsia thru reading this post. I am no expert by a long shot, but I would be happy to answer any questions you may have, if I don’t know the answer, I know where to get it.
I encourage you to give this a try. I have included a lot of detail here so you can follow the steps and create a piece for yourself. If you would like to try a different pattern, you can download one from Kathy’s website. She even has some free patterns to download, which is what my next project will be.

Happy Holidays,
John O’Brien

Added: 12/12/18
Hello Again. I took the learnings from this snowman project and applied them to this stocking project. Still made lots of mistakes but learning that Intarsia does not have to be perfect. So, let me know your thoughts on this one as well.

John