Boulle Work in Furniture

Boulle Work in Furniture

Description of boulle work in furniture making, otherwise known as buhl or boule.

Craftsman Style

¶ Boulle work (or buhl) is very elegant furniture. An artist makes the design, for instance, for a table top, in scroll and flower work, the ground to be well covered with fine figure, so that the plain parts of the design shall be about equal to the amount of ornament, avoiding large figures and plain surfaces. The cabinetmaker then takes about six sheets of thin brass and six sheets of thin tortoise shell of the size of the table top, placing them together alternately, with sufficient adhesive substance to hold them firmly together.

¶ The design, after being lithographed and printed on thin paper, is pasted on both sides of the prepared brass and shell, being careful to have them exactly opposite. Two men with a saw made of half of a watch spring, and with very fine teeth, saw from each side so exactly to the pattern that when they have followed all of the lines and sawed the design loose from the ground work, they may produce twelve table tops, that is, the removed parts of shell will fit in the brass and the brass will fit in the tortoise shell, making six table tops with the design in tortoise shell and brass filling, and six with the design in brass with shell filling. The crevices left from the kerf of the saw are filled with composition which can scarcely be perceived; it then is glued on the under wood by the usual process: a very strong glue must be used to hold the brass to the under wood.

¶ The art of making boule work is not much known or practiced in America, and it would not be of much benefit to the makers, as the demand for such expensive articles is so limited. It is mostly made in Paris, in the tradition of Andre Charles Boulle, where they can duplicate designs or articles (which is the economy in its manufacture) to a great extent from having the whole world for customers. The boule furniture made for sale in Paris will not wear well in our Northern States, as the brass will not contract with the shrinking of the under wood, but bulges out and defaces the furniture. It is readily repaired if put in the hands of competent workmen; French cabinet-makers who understand the nature of our climate can make boule work to wear perfectly satisfactory, even when hot air is used to warm rooms.

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