Laser cut marquetry skateboard for charity auction

Nov 08, 2010

For the last couple years, The Art of Skateboarding has been held in our building. It’s a charity event for that invites local and celebrity artists to decorate a skateboard to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to benefit the Texas Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital that specializes in treating orthopedic problems. Artifacture participated as an artist this year.

The obvious impulse when confronted with the question of how to decorate our skateboard, was to laser etch a design on it. There are some challenges with this however. First, our laser table is 24×18″ and the skateboard was 8×31″. It’s possible to remove the sides of the laser and let larger items hang out the side, but it still means tiling the job and getting the image aligned across multiple cutting jobs would be challenging. Additionally, the skateboard had a slight bow to it over the length of the board, and it curved upward at each end. Since the focal length of the laser is very small, the image wouldn’t be very sharp as the surface curved out of range. This could be addressed by yet more runs of the laser, refocusing and/or adjusting the board between each.

Shane hit on the idea of doing an impossible shape design. While researching this, we found some examples by artist Hans de Koning that were done with wood veneer. We decided that is what we would do on the skateboard. Rather than carving a recess into the wood and setting the veneer into those voids (called “Inlay”), our designed employed a process called Marquetry which covers the surface of an item with wood veneer patterns.

IMG_2170.JPGNever being ones to start with something easy, we selected the first Tamás F. Farkas pattern shown here. I imported the image into Adobe Illustrator and worked out the grid pattern that made it up. Using the grid pattern, I redrew it with consistently sized pieces. At first it appeared there were three colors in use, but using the eye dropper tool in Photoshop revealed there were actually six. Add in one color for the background and we had to find seven colors of wood veneer. Luckily, a visit to Wood World got us the required quantity of colors, and as an added bonus, it was paper backed veneer which is already flat and uniform.

IMG_2176.JPGTo manage the large number of pieces, I assigned each color a letter and each part a number. The parts were arranged so the grain pattern ran lengthwise on each piece and make the best use of the material. Once the parts were cut out, we sorted them for easy access. Then the fun began…

IMG_2165.JPGI began with some guide lines, but from that point on, every other piece would be based on the original ones. The pieces were aligned by hand and glued in place with cyano-acrylate (super glue) applied with a needle applicator. Capillary action sucked the glue under the wood and it dried within seconds. Because the surface was not flat, the pieces didn’t align perfectly as I worked across the board. This resulted in gaps in some places and overlapping pieces in others. Filling those gaps or trimming overlapping pieces added considerably to the time. In total, it took more than 40 hours to apply the 1,168 pieces that it took to cover the board.

IMG_2215.JPGFrom there, we added extra glue around the edge and coated the veneer with a heavy coat of shellac. This firmed up the wood so it could be sanded to even up the edges and blend the gap filler pieces. Using a bandsaw, we trimmed around the edge and used the belt sander to clean up the edge. Finally, three coats of oil urethane finished out the skateboard.

DSC7394.JPGWhile waiting for the urethane to dry, I decided it needed a display stand. Browsing through acrylic display stands online led me to design inspiration and I was able to put one together in time for the auction.

The board was well received by event organizers and attendees alike. It was selected as one of the 20 pieces for the live auction and was sold for $600. Only a few celebrity artist boards and some furniture sold for higher prices.  The event was a lot of fun, and we got to help out a great cause while meeting some great people.

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