Archive for the ‘Etching’ Category

A Ma Vie

Monday, October 31st, 2011

hermine1When I did the laser-etching on the keychest, I promised to do a post on what the phrase A Ma Vie meant. So, finally… voilà!

It is associated with Brittany and the ermine, which I also used on my hurdy-gurdy, especially for the soundholes. You can see the whole ermine to the left, as well as the symbolic fur tufts like I used for the soundholes, and the phrase A ma Vie.

More precisely, it is associated with Duchess Anne of Brittany. As the postcard says: “The ermine,  emblem of Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII.”



This postcard gives more clues, the French text explaining the “devise” [motto]: “As this emblem is also that of purity of manners, it is believed that the motto A ma vie signifies I will remain pure all my life.” [or ‘in my life’] So, A ma vie [“ my life”] is an abbreviated slogan for this larger concept of purity. But what’s this got to do with ermines?

As with the French fleur-de-lis [lily], these weasel-like animals are a symbol of purity.  Their winter coats are snow-white, except for the black tip of their tails.


Anne of Brittany, r. 1488-1514

There is a legend about them that explains the Breton motto. One version is that the Duchess Anne of Brittany was on a hunt with her court when an ermine was being chased by the hunting party. When the ermine came upon a swamp, it turned to face certain death from the hounds rather than escape and muddy its pure white coat. Anne was impressed by the creature’s courageous attitude and asked that it be spared. She adopted it for her emblem. It has been used widely as a symbol for Brittany on various coats of arms, and even on their modern flag.

A longer motto of the Duchy of Brittany was Plutôt la mort que la souillure. [“Rather death than defilement”] A ma vie is a variant of  this same sentiment, according to Wikipedia.


Ermines with “A ma vie” scrolls carved in stone on an old mantlepiece

I don’t  know why they had so much difficulty portraying ermines back then. They are rather cute, contrary to the old representations.


Keychest etched

Friday, March 11th, 2011

We did it! Finally, the decorative side of the keychest is finished. I went over to the Texas Wood House Thursday. It was a bit of a drive in rush-hour traffic. Then some very tedious work getting set up. It was hard holding my breath for two hours. But it was worth it! Sherry was very careful in making sure everything was right.


Adjusting the height of the laser based on the wood thickness

First, we did the test exposures on a piece of the same veneer as the faces. We also exposed the text on an extra piece of holly that the scroll was made of. Then Sherry did all the careful alignment necessary to get the etching right. We got off to a slow start in our initial approach — things were not lining up as we expected them to. Once we changed our technique, things went smoothly. It was interesting seeing the process. The etching is done from Corel Draw, a program that I am very familiar with but have never seen used for something like this.


An “action” shot of the laser during a test for proper positioning

The original face artwork is a continuous tone grayscale image. But a laser cannot print continuous tone, because it is either On or Off. It has to print a halftone with dots, like in a  newspaper, to simulate gray by changes in dot size. At a normal distance, the dots aren’t noticeable. I wanted a very subtle image, not something too dark. Thankfully, the woman doesn’t look like she has a beard!


The happy couple on the left with their new faces

The guinea pigs were the couple on the left. The main concern here was making sure the shadow of the woman’s cheek near her ear where it meets the corner of her cap matched up correctly. I didn’t want any of the dark etching showing up on the white cap. It came out great. It probably could have been nudged down one click, since the shadow above the man’s collar is slightly high and runs onto his hat brim. But that is splitting hairs and it really isn’t noticeable at all, being a dark area already. What was important was getting the woman’s face correct.


The right-hand couple can finally look at each other

Because of the large separation between the couples, we naturally etched them individually to have greater control over the alignment. We experimented with different exposures for this couple, but ended up using the same setup. The  main concern here was getting the dark shadow on his forehead to match the edge of his hat. It would have looked unnatural with a lighter gap there. This side went much quicker, since we had the process smoothed out. And the alignment is perfect!

It would be interesting if the actual Breton people whose photos were used to do this artwork could see themselves immortalized on the side of my hurdy-gurdy! They are blissfully unaware of all that has transpired to make them so “famous.” [The couples were created from separate photos composited together. The men were not originally dancing with those women.]


Etching the French words “A Ma Vie” on the scroll went quickest of all, since there weren’t any critical edge alignments. The burning of  the wood creates a smoky brown residue on the surface. This wipes off nicely with a slightly damp cloth.

I probably should explain in a separate post what the story is with the Breton motto “A Ma Vie”…

Trimming the faces

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

I scanned the marquetry of the keychest side so I could trim and tweak the photos of the dancers’ faces to match the pieces of veneer used for their faces. I needed to do this prior to laser-etching the faces.

This trimming was done in Photoshop with the face pictures on a separate layer from the scan of the marquetry. The wood unfortunately couldn’t be cut by hand accurately enough to perfectly match the outlines of the original faces, so they got a little distorted. This meant I had to blend the shading out to the new edges, or trim off where facial shading went too far.


Face image being trimmed to fit marquetry using Photoshop

On this gentleman, besides trimming his sideburn, I had to surgically move, enlarge, and widen his ear to better fit the inaccurately cut piece of veneer. This view is before I adjusted any of the image. It probably would have been okay like it was.


Photoshop view of face image cut to match actual woodwork

This lady, besides some simple trimming and blending, needed me to add in some missing ear on the top edge because the zig-zaggy lace trim on her headcovering couldn’t be reproduced in that much detail, so there was a little triangle of lace over the face veneer piece [barely visible in the photo above]. The clone tool fixed that.

The big thing was getting the outlines of the electronic image to match the actual wooden image. I will probably also have the little bit of detail there is etched onto the two heads turned away from the viewer as well.

I also used a scan of the scroll to arrange the French motto for the scroll. That was done using the program Corel Draw.

Scroll inlay

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Catching up after a busy couple weeks: I finished the keychest’s scroll inlay mid-January. Since the plan is to laser-etch a motto on it, I decided to use for the center the thick holly which was used to do the soundboard striped edging. I didn’t want the laser to burn through thin veneer with unknown results. Besides, the holly was the whitest wood I had.


Cutting 3/32" thick holly for central part of scroll

Two other slightly darker veneers about 1/32″ thick were used for the folds and ends of the scroll.


Checking the fit of the holly on the veneer design

The thick holly’s outline needed to line up with the parts of the thin veneer design, as it was going to be added in later. The central part of the veneer design was temporary scrap, but it had to match the outline of the holly.


Veneeer scroll in position for tracing with X-acto knife

Then the recess had to be cut out for the inlay…
Keychest side ready for gluing in the veneeer scroll

Keychest side ready for gluing in the veneer scroll

After that was glued in, the deeper recess was cut for the holly center…
Holly piece ready to glue into deeper recess

Holly piece ready to glue into deeper recess

The holly piece was glued in and scraped down. The inlay work on this piece is finally all done! I bought some sanding sealer the other day to spray on it. I don’t want the dark woods discoloring the light ones. Sanding everything down flush and even will be a tricky job. Here lately, it is too cold to use the spray!

Left couple – glued in

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

I again mixed some more mahogany sawdust with my Tightbond glue. It really seems to make it thick, leaving no time to waste, but I did take a quick shot.


Dyed glue to help disguise any open seams

Pressing the veneer in, and rollering it down, I was surprised that there still wasn’t really any glue oozing out around the edges. The only place it came out, like before, was along the bottom.

I didn’t take a picture of it clamped, as it looks just as uninteresting as last time! But I did add a folded up paper towel on top of the wax paper and under the clamping board to allow the pressure to reach the various levels of the different veneers.


The left couple behaved themselves nicely

It came out great. Trimming the bottom went well this time, taking it easy with an X-acto knife, even though there were some small arm and sleeve pieces on the edge .


Should I do something with the middle?

Now I have to open the keyhole back up.

I also have to do a bunch of computer work to get the faces ready to laser etch so they will line up with the actual wooden pieces. There’s no way their original photograph outlines will match what I ended up cutting.

I still have to figure out whether I’m doing a scroll-thing in the middle or not. I have to look back through where I left off in my ideas.

Keychest dancers 4

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I finished cutting and inserting all the veneer pieces in the two dancing couples this evening, including adding the hair for each of them, which was going to be laser-etched originally. The outside edges of the pieces are oversized for final trimming all at one time, to remove from the waste veneer.


Completed marquetry figures ready for final silhouette-cutting

Next will be the major step of cutting out the two couples as separate units. They will be pretty fragile. Those silhouettes will be used as templates to trace the outlines on the side of the keychest with an X-acto knife. Recesses will then be made for them to go into. The depth of the recesses will be critical.


The back, "working side" showing some of the trim outlines

Above you can see the messier reverse “working side” of the pictures, from where the pieces are cut and glued in with Elmer’s Carpenter Wood Glue smeared on with a toothpick. Some of the trim lines can be seen on the lighter pieces. The veneers are different thicknesses. The goal is to have them flat on the back side, so all the little pieces will be able to adhere well onto the wood of the keychest. The top sides are the uneven ones, and eventually leveled by sanding. I will lightly sand the backs, to make sure that gluing surface is fairly flat.

Keychest dancers 3

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. God is good, isn’t He?!

I got to do some more marquetry work on the dancers even after going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house [a 12-hour round trip] The Texas A&M Aggies beat their rivals, the University of Texas Longhorns, on Thanksgiving Day, so that was exciting.


How they look after a third weekend's work

The picture was taken at an angle to avoid flash glare, so the people look a little short.

Three of the dancers now have heads. The couple on the left is almost done, as far as adding marquetry pieces goes.  I may add hair to the back of the man’s neck and hair to the  woman’s forehead, instead of having laser-etched hair, which I had originally intended. Next, they will need to be cut out as one piece to their final outline, and inlaid into a matching recess cut in the keychest, sanded, and have the faces etched. All of that is no small task. On the couple on the right, besides a little hair on both, the girl needs her lace cap finished, and her left gloved-hand added on the man’s shoulder. The man needs his head, the rest of his hat and a tie. I replaced a couple of the pieces I had already done. That’s fairly common for me. Pieces that weren’t changed –like the purple apron– will look different, depending upon the lighting.

Etching dancers’ faces

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

dancers8I got over to the Texas Wood House this past weekend, and Sherry etched samples of the faces at three different power settings on the actual veneer I am going to use for the faces. It was neat seeing how they came out!  The top setting burned through the veneer. The lowest setting looked best for the shadows, but the middle one looked best for the detail such as eyes, eyebrows, noses and mouths. Somewhere between the first two may be best. I will try tweaking the images in Photoshop to lighten the shading but not the other features. I don’t want the girl to look like she needs a shave.

The assembly procedure needs to be changed from what I had originally envisioned. I had intended to put the pieces for the faces into the picture with the images already on them.  But the subtle etching would never survive sanding all the veneers in the picture down flat. This means that the faces need to be etched on after the marquetry is inlaid into the keybox side, and the sanding is done! I thought it would be too hard to line up the keychest side so that the etching ended up in the right place compared to the pictures, but Sherry says she can do it. If that can be done, we may just have the laser cut out the two couples from the scrap background, and also create the recess for them to go into on the keychest piece. I had been considering doing that by hand.

Dancers face detail

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

My plan to get the face detail is to have that laser-etched in the veneer I will use for flesh tones. Then the pieces will be cut out and inserted into the marquetry picture. To do this, the color pictures were converted to grayscale and the contrast was increased in Photoshop to totally whiten most areas, leaving facial features, hair, and light shading. I had to do some blurring to get rid of splotches in the low-resolution original images. I also darkened some features. Also, everything left besides the heads needed erasing.

This is what I have right now…

dancers6I am not sure how much of the shading I should leave — how it will appear,  if it will look too dark. I may need to make a lighter file, just in case.

Another issue is that the marquetry veneers are all different thicknesses, and will need sanding so they’re all flush with each other and with the keychest side. I have to work this out somehow so that I don’t sand off the laser-etching!

Keychest logo

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Besides the dancers, I will likely also have something in the middle gap – normally the spot for the name and location of the maker. But I have no real interest in looking at my name all the time, so I’ve considered putting my name on the other side, underneath the key buttons. It’d be there, but not too prominent. I’ve seen pictures of a couple hurdy-gurdies done that way, though it is not as common. This would be probably done with laser etching. Thanks to Jerry, I have met someone locally who does this!


Another sample of old keychest artwork

One idea for between the dancers was a scroll with a Breton motto on it. I like the French motto and story behind it, but may use it elsewhere, like on the wheel or keychest cover. I might end up using my name, for lack of a better idea. It might be on an inlaid wood veneer scroll, instead of a drawn geometric shape, as on the old examples. I’ll pass on including where I live, since I’m not a professional manufacturer needing to advertize my business.


One initial idea for the name and scroll

Still thinking about what to put in this area.