Formerly an extremely popular type of ornamental woodwork. Fretwork has of late years fallen on evil days, and is at present little more than an amusement for schoolboys—though the growing taste for fretwork-fronted Radio cabinets is to some extent reviving the art. This art consists in piercing thin sheets of wood with ornamental designs by means of a specially made saw with a fine steel blade. The fineness of the blade and the length of the saw-frame, enable most intricate sawing—curves, spirals, geometrical patterns, &c.— to be cut with the greatest neatness and precision.
The accessories required are a U-shaped saw frame, having a handle fixed at right-angles to the end of one arm, and saw blades in various degrees of coarseness. The latter are strained across the extremities of the frame, and adjusted by clamps attached to the ends of the two arms. The saws must be fixed tightly in the clamps—but it must be remembered that the steel is very fragile, not being more than a couple of millimetres in width, and if too tightly screwed up the screws are apt to cut or snap the delicate blade ends. A small metal cutting table is also necessary. This is a circular sheet of metal which is clamped to the edge of the table or bench on which the work is done, and it has a large V-shaped arc cut out of it. The wood to be sawn is placed over this V-shaped cavity when sawing, and the metal table forms a rest for the work without obstructing operations. An awl with a fine point will be needed for piercing holes to receive the saw blades, and a sand-paper block for polishing the work. A light, long-handled hammer completes the issue. Hobbies, Ltd., supply attractively carded Fretwork sets at reasonable prices, containing all that is required for the work. Treadle saws are made, and these are . much more satisfactory— leaving both hands free to guide the work—but they are, of course, somewhat more costly.
The wood generally used for fretwork nowadays is three-ply, because this is less liable to split. It is sold in large sheets for the convenience of fretworkers.
The work is done from a paper pattern, which may be either purchased or designed, according to the capabilities of the artist ; but if designed by the amateur, care should be taken that no lines are made to cross one another, otherwise, when he comes to saw it out he will find that he is cutting out a piece which is essential to the design. The paper pattern should be carefully traced on to the wood by means of carbon paper, and then it must be decided where the work is to commence. It is better, if the frame of the saw is large enough to negotiate the whole, to commence operations in the middle of the pattern, and work outwards ; there is then less strain on the delicate pieces of work. A hole should be bored with the awl in the place where a start is to be made, and a saw blade threaded through it. Next the saw frame is placed astride the work so that either end of the blade will fit into the clamps of the frame. The work may then proceed. After the sawing of each hole is completed, the saw blade must be unscrewed from the frame, another hole bored and the operation repeated until the whole is completed. There are two things of which the beginner must beware —snapping the delicate tracery of his work, and breaking the saw blades ; both are equally fragile, and will not bear any rough usage. If a small piece of tracery becomes broken it should immediately be fixed with a little seccotine or fish glue.
When the work is completed, it should be very carefully polished with the sandpaper block. This is somewhat ‘ticklish’ work in view of the danger of snapping. First of all, the wood should be laid flat on the table and superficially polished on either side, then each piece of tracery should be gently polished. The insides of the tracery may be polished by folding or rolling a spill of sandpaper (rough side out), and insinuating carefully into the tiny orifices—then rubbing up and down. After the tracery has been polished, the whole of the surface may be given a final clean before the building up of the article is proceeded with. As the wood takes on a dazzling whiteness under the sandpaper, this work should be carried out with spotlessly clean hands.
Always take the saw blades out of the saw when not in use.