More About Inlay

I’m reading everything I can find about inlay these days, and thinking about doing a simple piece to get a feel for the process soon.

First, for inspiration, take a look at the detail on this inlaid Koi from a tabletop by Hudson River Inlay:


Spectacular inlaid Koi by Hudson River Inlay

I also found a great “instructibles” tutorial that covers the basic steps for inlaying a design cut from shell:

Guitar head inlaid by "Jimmi"

Guitar head inlaid by “Jimmi”

And I’ve started/finished watching these two Larry Robinson inlay videos.


Basic and Intermediate Inlay Techniques by Larry Robinson

The first video goes through the process of inlaying a butterfly cut from White Pearl, Gold Lip Pearl and Abalone shells from design through completion.  There were some great tips in the video.  These were produced originally as VHS tapes, and the video quality is not quite as nice as more recently produced “how-to” DVDs, but that isn’t really a problem.

Larry goes over the different kinds of inlay materials available, and I was really surprised at the size of the shells that the Pearl and Abalone comes from.  I’d always imagined small shells, like 3″ to 4″ across, but the Pearl shell was easily a foot wide.  I tried to sang some screenshots from the video, but didn’t get anything usable.

The design process involves tracing several times, refinance the layout with each step.  It’s an interesting approach, with the first tracing from a reference book the design looks a little crude, then lines are slightly uneven and the design is unbalanced.  After tracing from that copy onto a new design the effect is greatly improved.  I’ll have to try that.

The biggest challenge in my view is sawing out the parts.  He uses a fret saw with a tiny jewelers blade and saws out these impossibly tiny, delicate parts.  The guitar peg head below is an example, each of those vines, including the thin delicate ones leading up to the flower in the middle, were sawn out by hand and fit into a recess in the wood.

Inlay work by Larry Robinson in Pearl, Abalone, Gold

Inlay work by Larry Robinson in Pearl, Abalone, Gold

I haven’t watched the second DVD yet, but it is supposed to cover more advanced techniques, including engraving the inlaid material.

I’m not particularly interested in doing this sort of elaborate inlay, my goal is to be able to do more traditional furniture inlays as seen on Arts & Crafts furniture, and especially the bolection style used on Greene & Greene furniture.  But any little tidbits of information on technique I’m filing away.  One day soon I’m going to try this myself.

Detail of an inlaid desk done for the Pratt house

Detail of an inlaid desk done for the Pratt house



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One thought on “More About Inlay

  1. Jim Gay

    Hi, I don’t know how old these posts are but, I’m a student of William Ng myself. After going through his inlay class I found an easier way of doing bolection inlay. Instead of actually scribing the inlay into the wood, I super glue it right on top of the wood and use small carving tools to shape the inlay leaving about a 32 of an inch proud. After you put a finish on it, it looks fantastic! Try it, you might like it.


    PS, very nice work!

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