Intarsia is a very personal art. These guidelines are my way of doing each step and by no means are the only way of doing it. Each person will have shortcuts that they develop and their own way of making a piece to their liking. I am only attempting to give you a starting point.
#1. WOOD SELECTION: When getting ready to do a piece the first thing you will want to do is pick out the wood that you think will best illustrate the project you have chosen. Grain direction and the amount of design in the grain are always things that I look very closely at. Things that I look for are good tight knots in the wood. These knots add a lot of character to the project.
#2. LAYING OUT THE PATTERN: First thing you will want to do is make a copy of the pattern that you have ordered and keep the original for future use. I make a copy so that any modifications or writing that I may want to do on the pattern are not on the original. I use carbon paper or graphite paper depending on the darkness of the wood and trace the pattern as carefully as I can on the wood. Most patterns will give you the grain direction and you need to pay close attention to this detail. I always sand the wood before I put the pattern on so that the true color of the wood is in front of me. I also turn the wood from side to side so I can see if there is going to be a great deal of variation if you’re looking against the grain. This sometimes will ruin the affect of an animal or mountain.
#3: CUTTING OUT THE PIECES: Put the pattern on one piece at a time and cut it out. Then when I draw the next piece on my wood, I will lay the piece I just cut out along the side it matches and make sure everything will go together. (That is if I cut on the lines) Often times if you have moved off of the line a little on the first piece, you will be able to compensate by cutting the second piece to match the first and the mistake will be camouflaged. It is also a way to check and see if you have got the grain direction right before you cut the piece out. I always cut out the entire project and lay it together before I start to do any shaping.
#4. SHAPING: This part of the process is where a lot of your personality will come out in the project. I like to find pictures of animals that I am doing in a magazine and add features that I can see in the picture to the shape of the animal. The finished picture that you usually get with the pattern is usually pretty straightforward and does not give allot of detail.
I use a dremel tool to shape the edges of the project and then sand with various grits of sandpaper by hand. I usually finish up with foam backed 400 grit. The smoother your project the nicer it will look. Shaping can take quite a while on the project as you put it next to the other pieces and sand some more and more and more. The results are always good.
#5. FINISHING: Gloss, Satin, or semi gloss is a matter of personal preference. I always think that the next guy’s project looks better than mine does. I have tried to get away from gloss but it just appeals to my eye so I guess I am stuck. I use varathane and am starting to experiment with Lacquer. Lacquer has a lot of advantages when it comes to second and third coats and I am told it will not peal or bubble as bad.
Your project can be finished before you glue it together or after, again a matter of preference. I glue mine together and then trace around the entire project on a piece of plywood for my backer board. I then cut inside of that line about ¼” all the way around so that the backing is not seen from the edges. I sand it smooth, put the hanger on it and then glue my project to the backer board. I put cloth of some sort over the top of the project so that I will not damage the finish, when I use clamps to hold the project tight against the backer board until the glue dries.
#6. Pricing: If you are going to sell your finished work, the best rule of thumb that I have found is to count the pieces and then times it by $3.00. So if you have 75 pieces, you would charge $225.00. I always think it is too much so I drop it a little and then it turns into a job instead of a hobby.
I know that right at first I got frustrated because the projects didn’t come together very fast but with a little patience, it will get quicker and you will enjoy making every project that you do. I hope all of you enjoy this lost art as much as I do.