A Tray For Tea Part 1: A Degree Of Redemption.

I started a tradition with my oldest daughter Chloe. When she turned sixteen I made something in the shop with only her in mind. She does a lot of sewing and crafting and I decided to make her a notions box based on the school box from "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker" But I made it from some awesome curly red oak stock I'd managed to get my hands on.

Now my middle child Fayth has turned sixteen and I have spent a lot of the summer working on something for her in between and around other projects. A tea tray. You may think it's an odd choice but this girl should have been hatched across the pond because she loves tea. The temperature gauge is topping 100* F outside and she's got the tea pot on the burner and Earl Gray waiting to steep.

For her birthday we found a nice antique Oriental tea set, just the pot and four cups, made in Japan. I thought a Tea Tray would be a good accompaniment.

I searched out ideas to match what I had bubbling in my mind, I wanted something early period but not a Pie Crust Tea Tray. My book collection didn't pay off but the auction houses on the internet did. Unfortunately the photos I saved of the inspiration piece are poor and from my cell phone and the piece has since sold from the online gallery and evidence erased.

What I found was rectangle in shape with straight sides dovetailed at the corners with flowing fretwork cutouts along the sides. What I was after was a canvas for a bit of redemption.

The mistakes are there to see, especially if you look towards the bottom of the panel

I freely talk here about the mistakes I make building something but the fact that I have to make them drives me crazy. I did this parquetry panel for the inside of my nail cabinet, my first shot at this type of work and I made many mistakes. So much so that when Chris Schwarz sent me LAP postcards for the inside, I was more than happy to pin them right over the veneer.

My incomplete list of mistakes:

  1. I didn't make a proper assembly board
  2. I didn't use / have access to the good backing paper
  3. I didn't use the right glue. I used Old Brown Glue when I should have used 192 hot hide glue
  4. I used super thin commercial veneer, this isn't a mistake per say, but it didn't help my cause
  5. I didn't prepare all my surfaces adequately, I knew I should, I just got excited and jumped the gun.
  6. I didn't get a good press of veneer to substrate and probably didn't press it long enough how I did it. 
  7. I chipped off loose corners of veneer removing the glue on the show side. 
  8. The list goes on . . . 

I received a lot of good advice, even an email from W. Patrick Edwards, the man himself. I resolved to do better next time.

Learning, for me, tends to be an incremental process. I have to learn some of my lessons the hard way and that helps reinforce for me the parts of the process that are really important. I still didn't do things perfect this time, but I found out something that helped.

The right glue, a press, and thicker shop cut veneer go a long way.

 I still pulled off some errors, I applied a mastic (mixture of hot hide glue and sawdust to fill gaps and holes) much later that I should have and made more work for myself. I didn't manage to order the right paper or make an assembly board and struggled at times laying out the pattern because of this.

Parquetry down on the substrate and ready to go . . . or so I thought.
At this point I realized I needed the mastic. 

But foibles aside, I managed to pull off a useable and complete field of walnut parquetry. everything stuck, everything stayed, and other than the odd grain direction error here and there, everything looked good. Not the work of a master, but a might better than the last go.

I'll take any small victories I can get. Let's call it . . .a degree of redemption. Next up - the inlay.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. I'm about to glue some home made marquetry inlay into the top of an end table I'm making. My inlay pieces are just a shade under 1/8 inch thick and I was planning on using Old Brown Glue. Could to explain why that glue was a poor choice for you first attempt?

    1. Inlay is a slightly different monster than marquetry or parquetry. The terms do get all jumbled up from time to time. For inlay I don't see an issue with OBG, but for assembling a field of veneer . .

      This is probably best. Here are the words from W.P.Edwards himself on my first attempt.

      "I appreciate your inclusion of my glue, Old Brown Glue. However, I can provide a few pointers which will make this project much easier and neater. First of all, the butcher paper is not the right paper, as the butcher paper made in the US is different then the Kraft paper sold in Europe. Although is might look the same, the Kraft paper is made differently. Instead of just gluing the elements to the butcher paper laying on the table, I make an assembly board by taking European Kraft paper and wetting the shiny side with water. That expands the paper slightly. I then glue the dry side to a board, larger than the project, but only use hot hide glue on the edges of the board. When the paper dries it pulls tight. Remember it is only glued on the edges of the Assembly Board.

      Now I use hot hide glue (not OBG) to place my elements on the paper, with guide lines to keep it straight. Using OBG for this part is part of your problems, since it sets much slower and the moisture component soaks into the veneer, expanding it and raising blisters.

      After all the pieces are glued down on the paper, you can make mastic with diluted hot hide glue and sawdust to fill the gaps.

      When done, you cut away the paper from the Assembly Board and use either hot hide glue or Old Brown Glue to glue the surface to the project. When that is done, you can take cold water and wet the Kraft paper to remove it easily.

      More information is on my blog: http://www.WpatrickEdwards.blogspot.com"


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