Master Class: The Inlaid Fan
A common motif in Federal furniture, the inlaid shaded fan is not difficult to make. Bob Van Dyke demonstrates how to make a five-segmented quarter fan inlay.
I have always been fascinated with the inlaid shaded fans that are so common in Federal furniture. The simplicity, the symmetry, and the idea that their three-dimensional quality is achieved by singeing the parts in hot sand intrigues me. Surprisingly, it’s not that difficult to make quarter fans, half fans, and full oval fans in your shop. I’ll show you how to make a five-segmented quarter fan by cutting the veneer, shading it, and piecing it together. Once you have that down, you can expand to the half fan and full oval.
You will need light-colored veneer— traditionally holly or sycamore. You’ll also need dark-colored veneer of the same thickness—usually black dyed tulip poplar or anigre, but any dark veneer such as rosewood or Macassar ebony is appropriate. I work on a piece of pine approximately 10 in. by 16 in., whatever your choice of work surface, it must be flat, and you must be able to cut into it.
Lay out a 90° quadrant on the work surface and subdivide that into five segments. Extend the segment lines longer than the fan you’ll be making. draw the arc of the fan at the radius you desire. Cut the holly veneer into strips about 3⁄4 in. wide and about 1⁄2 in. longer than the radius of the fan.
To begin shading, you will need some fine sand. It’s easy to find online at Amazon or in craft stores and pet stores. Beach sand is usually too coarse. It works but will not give you as fine a transition from dark to light. You’ll also need a burner, a cast-iron pan, and a pair of long tweezers to hold small pieces. Put a layer of sand in the pan and place it on the burner set on high heat. wait about five minutes, then test the heat by singeing the edge of a scrap piece of holly. I prefer to burn very quickly with high heat as it gives a very dramatic transition from light to dark.
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