Some concepts about Fretwork

Fretwork is an interlaced decorative design that is either carved in low relief on a solid background, or cut out with a fretsaw, coping saw, jigsaw or scroll saw. Most patterns in this field are geometric in design. The materials most commonly used are wood and metal. Fretwork is used to adorn furniture and musical instruments. The term is also used for tracery on glazed windows and doors. It is also used to adorn/decorate architecture, where specific elements of decor are named according to their use such as eave bracket, gable fretwork or baluster fretwork, which may be of of metal, especially cast iron or aluminum.

To make it simple, fretwork is the “inside cuts” in the design, mostly in wood, but can be done on anything that can be cut



1, Fretwork through in 3000 years

The art of fretwork began more than 3000 years ago with fretted inlays on furniture in Egypt.  It has been popular in North America and Europe from the mid 1800’s until today.  Fretwork of the 1800’s and early 1900’s was done with hand fretsaws or foot-powered scroll saws.  In the 1920’s several scroll saws were designed for use with electric motors. 

The evolution of the scrollsaw is linked to the rise in popularity of fretwork (the sawing of intricate shapes from wood). Although there are examples of fretwork-like decorations on early Egyptian, Greek, and Roman furniture, these were probably carved or cut with a knife. It wasn’t possible to saw delicate wooden shapes until the late 1500’s, when a German craftsman (possibly a clock maker) devised a method for making fine, narrow blades.

In 1974 Helmut Abel of Germany started building the Hegner line of scroll saws which started a new popularization of fretwork as a hobby.

Fretwork was introduced to America in the mid-1800’s as Sorrento wood carving , so named because of the area in Italy that it was most popular. By the 1860’s, the first mechanical fret saws – called scroll saws – began to appear in the U.S. And so a great art form and hobby were born. Today there are over fifty models of scrollsaws available with many options.


2, Pattern of fretwork- The essential part:

Fretwork was a very popular hobby at the turn of the XX century, in fact those were the golden days of the hobby, patterns were produced and sold in great numbers and quality, not only in Italy, but in many western countries. “We always have the whole collection of patterns available, because the patterns are constantly reprinted. Many of these designs have reached 65 editions in a short time (65,000 copies). The number of patterns sold  until December 1905 is 5,932,400” said Pietro Barelli, an Italian businessman. Besides him, there are many other fans of this hobby who had a great deal of pattern. For instance, in October 1895, Hobbies issued its first number of weekly Hobbies magazine which contained an impressive collection of fretwork patterns, clocks, coffers, shelves and many other decorative items. At the beginning of the XX century, it sold many copies of the magazine, hundreds of thousand for sure, maybe millions. In addition, some people like Bowman, Russell, Wild were well-known scroll saw designer in the USA. In Italy, there were Amati, Ettore; in France there was Joubert-Tiersot,.etc.

Here is some samples of pattern


3, Process:

Firstly you obviously need wood, solid wood is ussually preferred but it’s a bit hard but it’s long lasting. Or you can use plywood (of which the edges are obviously less desirable thhan those of solid one, fine hardwood plywood such as teak, cherry, walnut, mahogany, maple…) or other modern materials.



The entire process of fretwork revolves around the technique of making inside cutouts of various designs. This is known as piercing work. First, you drill holes into the waste, or area that will be cut away; then you thread the blade through, reclamp and retension the blade in the saw, before proceeding to complete the cutout. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to finish the project.


Fretwork patterns originally were ornamental designs used to decorate objects with a grid or a lattice. Designs have developed from the rectangular wave Greek fret to intricate intertwined patterns. A common misconception is that fretwork must be done with a fretsaw. However, a fretwork pattern is considered a fretwork whether or not it was cut out with a fretsaw.


4, Fretwork by machine:


Computer numerical control (CNC) has brought about change in the method of timber fretwork manufacture. Lasers or router/milling cutting implements can now fashion timber and various other materials into flat and even 3D decorative items.

Some-concepts-about-Fretwork-19 Some-concepts-about-Fretwork-18

Leave a Reply