I’ve been really fascinated on inlay lately.  Well, more correctly, I’ve been obsessing over inlay.  I’ve wanted to try doing “Bolection Inlay” as seen on a number of Greene & Greene pieces for a while.  I almost went to the G&G inlay class at the William Ng school this past year, but it just wasn’t in the budget at the time.  Now it looks like he’s not offering it again this year, instead he has a regular inlay class planned. R A T S,

The Greene & Greene I’ve seen is mostly (all?) raised above the surface, and subtly carved / shaped.  I’ve never done anything like this, but mu understanding of the process is that the individual pieces of inlay are sawn out and fit together on top of the paper pattern, then super glued together into one unit.  The outline is then scribed onto the surface of the wood and a cavity is excavated using a tiny router bit.  The neatest setup I’ve seen is this router base from William Ng that uses a Foredom flex shaft tool for power.

William Ng micro router base with Foredom hand piece

William Ng micro router base with Foredom hand piece

It’s not clear to me if the individual pieces are “carved” or shaped first — since they are being drizzled with super glue I can see some problem here.  With metal and shell inlay pieces they are nonporous and the glue won’t affect things.  In fact, with any inlay that will be flushed up after inletting it’s probably not a concern as the first step after gluing it in is to flatten it with coarse sandpaper.  But with inlay that is carved first ant then wet with superglue it seems like it could interfere with the finishing.  I can see two options (I’m just thinking out loud, I have yet to try this myself):  Either glue in the uncarved inlay pieces, and shape them after gluing into the substrate, of apply an even coat of super glue so that becomes the base for the final finish.

I’m on the cusp of convincing myself to buy a few inlay tools (not much is required, mostly the base above) and giving this a try.

I’ve collected bunches of pictures from the internet to augment what I have in my books.  Just recently I came across Jonathan W. McLean’s website, which shows some outstanding G&G inlay work.  Well, all of the work looks spectacular, but the G&G inlay is what caught my eye.  I’m only going to post pictures on one example, you should check out his site for more.

Reproduction of a table from the Thorsen house by Jonathan McLean

Reproduction of a table from the Thorsen house by Jonathan McLean

Detail of inlay work by Jonathan McLean.  Koa stems, Vermillion flowers and thorns, leaves inlayed with ebony veins, and semi precious stone accents.

Detail of inlay work by Jonathan McLean. Koa stems, Vermillion flowers and thorns, leaves inlayed with ebony veins, and semi precious stone accents.

Top view

Top view




Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Inlay

  1. It will be very interesting to follow your progress on bolection inlay. I am glad you have decided to go in that direction, at least it sounds like you have.

  2. I know Jim Ipekjian carves his inlay surfaces after the pieces are glued in, but the business of gluing everything together in a big block is news to me. I’ve watched Jim explain his process a couple of times and I believe he makes multiple copies of his master drawing, pastes one to the substrate surface to guide the inletting, and others get cut up to paste on the blanks for the individual pieces of inlay wood. Saw kerfs allow sufficient ease for fitting everything together, and after final carving a coat of paste filler hides any gaps – I know from looking at several originals that some sort of filler was used, subtle and unobtrusive though it was.

    • There are probably different approaches. The video I posted recently showed Marco Cecala doing inlay, he described cutting all of the pieces and getting them to fit each other, then gluing them together. Then he temporarily glues it to the substrate (with a wash coat of shellac sealer applied), and scribing around the entire assembly.

      Another video by Marc Spagnaro shows cutting and inletting each piece one at a time, that seems like it would be really slow going.

      (both of those videos were showing flat inlay, not bolection, although I’ve seen examples of bolection inlay done by Marco)

      Looking at more examples of this work, I suspect that the sculpting of the inlay almost has to be done before it’s glued in. Otherwise it would be too easy to gouge the substrate.

    • Update: I had a quick email conversation with Jonathan McLean about his process for inlay, he had a couple of tips that answered some of my questions about the process:

      “I carve the inlay after it is glued into the substrate just because it is easier for me to mark out and glue while it is still flat. I seal the inlay with shellac before staining the field. If you stain the field after excavating, the stain or dye would darken the end grain of the substrate where it had been excavated. “

  3. Jim Gay

    I have taken Williams classes on bolection inlay, and they are a good start, but I, for the life of me couldn’t get the substrate just quite right. What I came up with is an easy and faster way of doing it. I just thought of how I do stained glass. I cut my pieces with a hand fret saw then used ca glue to glue them to the substrate ( I use excellerator for a quicker dry while I hold it) then use ing a dremel tool shape and sand to my liking. I have made several of the G&G pieces with the inlay and they look great. Try it on a small practice piece, you will be surprised. email me if you have any questions.


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