At the root of Gosling’s craft and expertise is an appreciation and admiration of woods and timbers, the configurations and patterns possible within the grain, and the incredible variety of colours, shades and markings. As a result the technique of veneering has always played a huge part in any Gosling design.
A veneer of Amboyna Burr, originally from Indonesia - one of the rarest and most expensive woods in the world; Book matching with marbled Macassar (ebony); The venners - in this case English Oak - arrive in a drum of cut lengths.
Veneers are very thin sheets or slices of finegrained, often precious wood, usually between 1/16” and 1/32” in thickness, applied over a strong support of a less decorative wood or substrate, and are used in furniture, objects and wall panels. The finest and rarest timbers are used for veneers: the bark may be peeled from the tree trunk, or the trunk cut into large rectangular blocks called ‘flitches’ in order to obtain the veneer. The appearance of the grain comes from slicing through the growth rings of the tree and varies depending upon the angle of cutting.
Veneers are delivered to workshops rolled up in drums and are usually sold by the square foot, but as they can be joined up, even small pieces are used. The production of veneers has the advantage of increasing the amount of usable wood, greatly augmenting the yield of rare woods with interesting grain patterns, thus placing fewer demands on resources.
A cut and kiln-dried bundle of Burr Walnut leaves ready for veneering.
Veneers can be matched and glued to the surface of the supporting wood to create interesting patterns or beading of fine-grained or coloured wood. Different patterns are obtained by varying the laying of the veneers, the most common of which is book matching , where veneer leaves are alternatively folded out, as in the centre opening of a book, so that one leaf is a mirror image of the other. With slip matching, the leaves are laid face up, side by side, in the order they were found on the original log blocks, so the grain pattern is repeated. Other techniques include reverse slip, radial, diamond or herringbone matching.
Prized veneers include Burr veneer (‘burl’ in the US), caused by pockets of growth in the tree which give a sort of marbling pattern flame or crotch veneer — a very striking ‘flame’ grain of an extremely decorative character, which results from the cut being made at the point where the trunk or heavy branch joins with two forking branches; and swirl veneer which usually appears around knots and crotches, giving a irregular eddying grain.
Parquetry is probably the earliest form of veneering. In the veneer patterns on furniture — as in the block patterns on floors — parquetry uses geometrical pieces of the veneer arranged in different grain directions, cut with a knife or a saw and glued onto a solid wooden base, to form a decorative surface pattern.
Marquetry is the inlay technique of covering an object with pieces of veneer to form decorative patterns, designs and even entire pictures. The rich palette of colours and patterns that wood provides has resulted in wood veneers long being used as a decorative medium. By the fourteenth century, Italian craftsmen led Europe in the art of marquetry decoration, demonstrating unrivalled skill in the creation of decorative pictorial representations in wood through an inlay technique known as intarsia. One of the best known and most spectacular examples is the study commissioned around 1476 by Federico da Montefeltro (1422– 1482), Duke of Urbino, still to be seen at the Palace of the Dukes of Montefeltro in Urbino, Italy, with a second example in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, c.1478-82 commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482), Urbino, Italy. Designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, executed by Giuliano da Maiano. Walnut, Beech, Rosewood, Oak and Fruitwoods in Walnut base. The use of the different inlaid woods and techniques create a perspective in which the cupboard doors and shelves are perceived as 3-D, although they are actually physically flat.
While highly sophisticated patterns could be produced with early techniques, the ability to cut complex curves was very much limited by the use of the knife as the principal tool. With the developments of skills and techniques a new profession was born: the marqueteur. In the seventeenth century the expansion of the European trade routes, especially to the East and West Indies, provided the marqueteur with many new and exciting materials. Almost overnight cabinet-makers had access to an extended range of coloured woods in hues of purple, red, black and yellow. The growth in foreign trade also brought to Europe exotic dyes and stains which could be used to supplement natural wood colours. Brightly coloured floral wood marquetry represented the height of fashion, inspired by the Dutch stilllife paintings that were popular at this time. These new materials were endowed with an attractive exoticism and sense of novelty, but their cost was also high, which meant that they could only be used for the most luxurious furniture.
Wardrobe attr. to André-Charles Boulle, c.1700, France. Oak, premièreand contre-partie Boulle marquetry of brass and turtle-shell; the interior of the doors veneered with Ebony, Purpleheart, and marquetry of Ebony, Purpleheart and pewter; gilt bronze; steel locks and hinges.
These changing technical possibilities allowed the development of the Boulle marquetry technique, created at the end of the seventeenth century and still in use today. Invented before his birth, it is still André- Charles Boulle (1642–1732) who is generally credited with having further developed this form of marquetry to new heights of refinement in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century France, when the craft reached the status of high art. His name lives on today in Boulle work, a technique best known in relation to metals and turtle-shell, although the earliest examples of Boulle marquetry used two contrasting materials such as wood, ivory, bone or turtle-shell.