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What Is Fretwork?

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  • Written By: Christine Hudson
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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Fretwork refers to a series of often intricate designs which are cut into wood, stone, or other material. Different types of saws are used, and although the fretsaw is most common, it is still fretwork whether this saw is used or not. Sources give different reports as to the exact origins of fretwork, but it was most prominently used in early 12th century Greek architecture and has continued to be used.

As far back as the 18th century, fretwork was created with hand- or foot-powered saws. In more modern times, drills with many different lengths and widths of drill head are more preferred because it is significantly easier to make fretwork with these tools. Fretwork is usually done on wood or metal, but the Greeks had a style known as tracery in which fretwork would be done on stone encasing windows, a method still used by some today. If the carver is using wood, he would generally use a scroll saw, a drill with different-sized points, and wood. The tools for fretwork on other materials are similar, with slight differences in technique.

Fretwork is found on Victorian-style houses, furniture, and even some musical instruments. Due to high-powered drills and other sophisticated tools available, it is possible to create designs on almost any surface, whereas in the past, it was mostly limited to wood and stone. Generally, this decorative work raises the appeal and value of whatever item it is on right away.

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Although it is something a person can learn, fretwork is not child’s play. It can take a significant amount of time, skill in using tools, and good knowledge of geometry to be able to accomplish the task. Making it beautiful is where artistic talent comes in, although it is possible to copy and print designs and then etch these into a work of art.

Learning fretwork may be possible without specific training, but it can be more difficult this way. Instead, many communities offer classes for this type of training. If it is not possible to find local classes or training, the next best option is to use do-it-yourself materials such as instructional books and videos. Above all, learning to create this work like a professional will require time, practice and patience.

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