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Fragmentation & Sliverisation Techniques
by Alf Murtell
Animation Alf tutorials 3

How would you make a convincing representation of a large tree in full foliage "bloom" and get it to look convincing in the medium of marquetry?

Difficult question isn't it? I mean, you could use burr veneers to try and get a "busy" look, but usually this results in trees looking like lollipops and doesn't really do your picture much justice (unless you're very lucky). However there is a technique that works very well for just this sort of problem, and this is known as "fragmentation".

This is a method of using "crumbs" of veneers squashed into your "vacant window" in a sort of crumb and glue mix.
The photo on the right shows a superb example of the technique. To see a detailed version of the picture Alf is holding, click the following link: "Fragmentation example"
Look carefully at the trees to see how well the technique works when used correctly.

Alf shows demo pic 3a
An excellent example of fragmentation.
Alf cuts some fragmentation 3a
Alf cuts some fragmentation scraps
The first step with fragmentation is to cut up a usable amount of veneer scraps for the job in hand.

In fact, it's probably a good idea to cut up a surplus amount of scraps and save them in containers for future use. If you opt to do this, make sure that you keep the varieties of veneer fragments separated because you don't want them all mixing together before you get the chance to judge the amount of "colour mixing" required for the picture you will be working on with them.

Don't forget that these veneer fragments are going to be your colour palette and textural effects for certain parts of your marquetry pictures (only if needed of course) so you definitely don't want them mixed up in an uncontrolled way. We have found that useful type of containers for storing fragmented pieces are those small clear "pill" bottles you get from your doctor - the plastic screw top ones are ideal.
It is also possible to purchase a very fine coloured form of fragmentation / wood dust from modelling shops (i.e. shops that supply model constructional kits and their accessories, not, the sort of "models" that 'strut their stuff' walking down cat walks!).

This coloured fragmentation is used for making the scenery on model railway layouts. It is generally used for making very convincing grass and foliage effects and being wood dust / fragments is totally 'legitimate' for marquetry usages.

It's only drawback is that it is a little strong in it's colouring, although if you are using coloured veneers in your picture then this form of fragmentation will blend in very well.

In Britain you will find that the well known firm of "Hobbies" do stock and supply the described coloured fragmentation dust as a model railway accessory.
Containers with ready prepared fragmentation 3a

Alf shows some containers of fragmentation scraps

Showing some bags of preprepared fragments 3a

And here are some bags of commercially produced coloured fragments/dust

If you wish to make your own fragmentation you will first need to cut a small bundle of thin strips of veneer.

Make the strips as thin as you can in order to ensure that your fragmentation pieces are of a small enough size (almost like coarse sand particles in size is a good rule of thumb to use when making your own fragmentation pieces / dust)

You will find that not all veneers respond that well to cutting up into fragmentation. Brittle veneers tend to fracture into fairly large jagged scraps of a very irregular nature. There is a way of turning such veneers into fragmentation, but it is one I haven't tried doing personally, but I have been told that it works rather well. A word of warning though before I describe the method and it is this: you will be using a food preparation item for making your fragmentation, so ensure that you keep things scrupulously clean after "grinding up" your wood because some woods can have toxic effects and you don't want to cause yourself any tummy problems.
The piece of kitchen equipment you need for this task is an electric coffee grinder (preferably an old one that you will not be requiring to use any more for it's original purpose).

All you will need to do is cut up some coffee bean sized pieces of your selected veneer, place them in the grinder "cup" and switch the grinder on.

Just give the veneer pieces a short burst of "grinder" and then check to see the size of the fragments. Don't over grind the pieces otherwise you'll end up with fine dust - and that certainly won't give the impression of foliage on a tree in the same manner as well judged fragments will give, in fact a little variation of size in the fragmentation scraps will add a more realistic representation of leaves etc, than uniformly diced pieces could achieve.

After you've prepared your fragmentation scraps you will need to prepare the window in your veneer that will be receiving the fragmentation.
Alf places some glue in the window 3a

Alf places some glue in the vacant window before
piling in the fragmentation pieces

Alf puts fragments in window 3a

Alf puts the fragmentation pieces into the glue
he previously placed in the window

How you proceed now is, cut your window in your picture veneer in the usual way - exactly the same way as if you was just going to insert another piece of veneer in the normal manner.

But this time, instead of using the window as your cutting template for your next piece of veneer, you cover the face of the window with sticky tape (masking tape is useful for this purpose, although Alf recommends using gummed veneer tape) so that the empty window is fully covered and "reverse side" of the veneer presents you with the the sticky (or gummed) side of the tape filling the empty window.

You now place a layer of glue (PVA for preference) in the window so that it covers the sticky (or gummed) surface of the tape, then you place a quantity of the fragmentation pieces in on top of the glue. Pack the fragmentation in to the empty window (you want sufficient material to absorb the glue and fit slightly proud of the veneer surface) and then put it aside for the glue to dry and set (about an hour or two is generally sufficient).

Once the glue has set, sand the surface to just above flush and continue assembling your picture in the usual way.
The next thing we will look at is the technique of sliverisation, which is a useful method of depicting realistic hair in a marquetry picture.

Sliverisation is an extension of the fine lining techniques where, in this instance, you pack a series of "fine lines" into a space, one on top of the other, until you have achieved the effect that you are after.

It is a little bit of a long winded technique and does take a fair bit of patience in it's application, but the end results are certainly worth all the effort.

Your first step is to make your fine lines. This you do by "planeing" some thin strips from your selected veneers by placing them in a clamping arrangement and running your plane (set to a fine setting) along the side of them so that you end up with a collection of "fine lines"

Take care when using your plane in this manner for the safety of your fingers, if you have a vice handy place the clamping arrangement in the vice and "plane" your fine lines in safety.
Alf is an "old hand" at the techniques and is an adept at using hand tools and he has fingers of steel, so he feels confident to use the tools in the manner he does in the photos, so, unless you've got Alf's sort of experience we suggest that you err on the side of safety when using hand tools.
A good clamping arrangement 3a

Alf shows us his clamping arrangement used for
holding his veneers ready for "planeing"

The clamp for sliverisation

A close up view of the clamp that Alf is holding in the photo above right

The photo on the left gives you a better idea of the clamp that Alf is using.

All it is, is two pieces of thick hardboard (or MDF sheet if you prefer) and two "Bulldog" clips for holding the clamp together.
Alf recommends placing three pieces of veneer together in the clamp, so that when you plane your fine lines you actually cut three pieces at one go. This doesn't give you any better results, but it does reduce the time it takes to cut the fine lines, plus, it adds a little structural strength to the veneers while you are cutting them, and it avoids the veneers bending slightly causing minute distortions.

Once you have cut sufficient fine lines you may find that you will want to pre-curve them before you attempt to place them in your "window". You do this by rubbing along the strip's with the side of a pencil (or something similar) so that the strip curves naturally. This will make the strips easier to insert into the vacant window and will help you when you are building up a series of the strips when depicting a head of hair.
Prepare the fine lines as described above and put them to one side to dry so that they will be ready for you to use.

The next step is to cut the "window" in your picture veneer and place some tape over the face of the window (as you did with fragmentation) and you now place a smear of glue on the edge of the window where you are going to start building up your sliverisation pattern. The best tool to use for the next part of this technique is a pair of tweezers. With the tweezers place a fine line in the window along the edge where you placed the smear of glue.

Make sure that the fine line is nice and tight up against the edge of the window - you will probably need to press it into place with a suitable implement (I use an old teaspoon for larger areas or a tooth pick for small areas) and then when the glue has "taken" I add the next fine line, and repeat the same process continually building up the pattern until I've achieved my final goal, which is generally realistic looking hair, although other intricate patterns can be built up using this method.

The only drawback with sliverisation is that it is a very long winded process, so do bear this in mind if you wish to use the technique.
Alf just planes a few strips off 3a

Alf planes some sliverisation strips using the
clamp arrangement seen above

Looks like a mess of watch springs 3a

Alf shows you some fine line
"watch springs"

A small veneer pack ready for planing 3a

Alf shows you a small pack of veneers ready for planing

And in different colours too if you want 3a

And if you want them, they're available in different colours!

Coloured fragmentation used to depict grass 5jg

The above is an example of the commercial
fragmentation "dust" being used for depicting grass

Commercial fragmentation used to depict foliage 6jp

An example of fragmentation being used to depict
garden foliage. Very effective.

Fitting more strips in 3a

Alf fits some more sliverisation strips in
the vacant window

Here are two finished examples 3a

And here are two examples I finished

Here the strips fitted in a window 3a

And here are those same strips fitted in
the vacant window!

Heres one I prepared earlier 3a

This is one I prepared earlier!

Sliverisation example 6bj

Here is some sliverisation

Straightening the strips out 3a

Alf pre-curves the fine lines

These are the planed off strips 3a 

These are the planed off strips

This one is a good example of sliverisation 3a 
Now, this picture is a very good example
of sliverisation
You sneezed and what happened then Roy 3a 
You sneezed - now look at what's happened
to my fragmentation!!!
Strips of Sycamore Walnut and Mahogany7 
Strips of Sycamore, Walnut and Mahogany
Strips of dyed veneers 8 
Strips of dyed veneer
A bag of the chopped Sycamore Walnut mahogany 9 
The above veneers chopped
up minutely
Chopped up dyed veneers 10 
The above veneers chopped
up minutely

Cut out your window, and stick gummed tape on the face side of the picture, smear white PVA glue on the gummed paper and sprinkle the fragmentation over the window.

Press lightly into position, and leave to dry. It can then be lightly sanded down. Example below:

As an alternative to chopping up green veneer, try using scenic modelling material, as used in model train lay outs. This material comes in various shades of green, and is used in the same way as mentioned above, when dry it can be sanded down, it will also take cellulose sanding sealer.

Mix fragments of the dyed veneer with the green, this will give the effect of flowers. See example below:

Sprinkled glued and sanded fragmentation 2 
The finished and sanded fragmentation
A small bag of green scenic marquetry material11 
Green scenic modelling material
A dyed veneer fragments plus green material12 
Fragments of dyed veneers added
to the green material
Finished window with mixed fragmentation 4
 Finished window sanded down, and two coats of
cellulose sanding sealer applied
This procedure is similar to fragmentation, except that the strips are not cut into small pieces. Cut out the window and stick gummed paper on the face side of the picture. Smear white PVA glue on the gummed tape, and bend the strips of veneer to follow the contours of the window. Pieces must be laid individually, and pressed into position. A pair of tweezers will help you with handling the veneer. Vary the selection of veneers to allow for shadow etc.
After cutting the strips of veneer rub a metal rod or something similar over the veneer, this will help to flatten the veneer and cause it to bend, which will help when placing it in the window.
This procedure will give a good impression of hair. 
Strips of various veneers dark and light walnut etc 5 
Strips of Dark Walnut, Light Walnut, Mahogany and Sycamore
Strips of veneer being placed in the window Sat13 
Example A
Strips of veneer being
placed in the window
The completed window Sat14 
Example B
The completed window

The above text and marquetry examples were taken directly from Alf's tutorial notes. We hope you have found them instructive.
They complement the photos and the text on the preceding pages perfectly and highlight various points in the tutorial that were not fully clear in the screen clips taken from the DVD of the tutorial.

A NOTE ON THE SCREEN SHOTS USED: As we decided it was best to use only one camera when recording these tutorials to DVD in real time, we have refrained from doing macro shots in order to retain the "Group atmosphere" and involvement of those tutorials. We think this approach works well, the only drawback being the loss of any real close ups, but as we include alternate "close ups" of the examples such as seen above, we think we get the best of both worlds in these tutorials. We hope you agree that it works well for the "web medium"

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