Paul Schürch's woodworking career has
been an eclectic one, incorporating stints of piano and organ
building, housing construction and boat building, but for the past
several years, he's found his passion in the old art of marquetry.
"Once you've tasted marquetry, it's
really hard to let it go," Paul said – and that's what happened
to him when a decorator asked if Paul knew how to build an inlaid
dining table. "As a woodworker, you say, 'of course!' and then go
home and try to figure it out."
Six months later, still working on that
table, Paul remained intrigued by marquetry, but convinced there had
to be a better way to do it. "Most of the literature was very
contradictory, and I was suspicious because it all contradicted each
other," he said. "I thought I'd go back to Italy, and do it
Having previously received European
training in piano and organ building, Paul was no stranger to
learning Continental ways of woodworking. He did discover, however,
upon his return to the U.S. after receiving advanced training in
inlay and marquetry in northern Italy, that the technique he'd
learned was not the same as that used by other contemporary American
There are about six core marquetry
techniques, Paul said, with each having its own variations. While
marqueters like Silas Kopf and Marc Adams use the double-bevel or
"conical cutting" method, Paul was trained in and prefers the
straight blade packet cutting and contour cutting technique with a
scroll saw. The key difference in this technique is the ability to
stack and cut up to 16 layers of veneer at a time, rather than two
layers as in conical cutting. Paul considers straight blade packet
cutting simpler, faster, and easier to work with for artistic
interpretation and for multiple series production work. He also cuts
out veneer pieces using a large 1-1/2" chisel as a knife that rides
against a cardboard template. This method, called "knife cutting,"
is used primarily in decorative or geometric pattern veneer work.
Paul has explained this process he uses
in some DVDs he's made to pass his knowledge and experience along to
others, in part because, out of the 20 businesses in the area of
Italy where he originally studied marquetry, only two are still
operating. Paul also teaches courses at a variety of woodworking
schools, an aspect of his business he expects to increase in the
For now, though, he's still spending
more than half his time building furniture. "When I'm engrossed in
building a piece, it's my favorite piece at the moment: there is no
past; there is no future. I'm working 100 percent on that piece."
When he's finished, although he might feel some pride of
accomplishment in pieces like game tables or his spinning cabinet,
Paul has no qualms about selling those pieces. "I don't really like
living with my furniture. That's work for me. When I'm finished with
a piece, I want to see it go out of my shop for somebody else to
While he likes mahogany as a furniture
wood due to its stability, when it comes to veneer species for his
marquetry, Paul will use almost any of the approximately 125 species
of commercially milled veneer to which he has access – although he
does try to avoid redwood burl, which he finds too soft, and ebony,
because it's too hard – Paul describes it as a "cantankerous and
opinionated wood. It doesn't like being glued, it cracks and is
That said about ebony, Paul notes that
it's the stone, such as lapiz lazuli and mother of pearl, he also
uses in his inlay that presents more of a challenge than the wood.
"You can push wood, make it plastic and malleable. Stone doesn't
work that way. If you push stone, it will break. My job is to protect
it, to glue it in the proper way to stand the test of time."
What might that proper way be? Paul's
philosophy, and what he teaches his woodworking students, is that
"there are generally three answers to any given question on a
technique. The only way that is wrong is one that doesn't yield the
result you want, is unsafe, or takes way too long."