Inlay Experiments

So I’ve blogged several time recently about my interest in learning to do inlay, and especially “bolection inlay” or “Greene & Greene style inlay”.  Given that I recently added a bandsaw to the lineup of finger-chewing devices in the shop I thought it was time I gave inlay a try.

I’m starting with a traditional “flat” inlay, where it will be finished flush with the surface.  The raised and carved style that the Greene’s used has some extra steps and I want to get the basics down first.  The design I’m using is a Stickley pattern, if you click on the image below you can download a full size pattern sheet as a JPEG image.


Stickley Inlay

To begin, I needed some different materials for the inlay itself.  I fitted the scary resaw blade into my new bandsaw and tried it out. It certainly cuts through anything I threw at it without any hesitation, but the surface it leaves isn’t nearly as nice as the “Woodslicer” blades from Highland Woodworking — I’m going to order one of those this week.  In some materials (like the White Oak) the cut was reasonably smooth.  In others it was very rough.  I think it’s a factor of both the hardness of the wood and the width of the blank I’m cutting.  This cut in a piece of ~8″ wide eastern walnut was typical.  After slicing a number of samples I realized I really needed to surface it after each cut so that I always had a smooth face in each slice.

Resawn Eastern Walnut

Resawn Eastern Walnut

I ended up cutting up a bunch of odd bits.  Some were interesting samples I’d picked out of the discount bins at the lumberyards, a couple were turning blocks I’d had sitting around for years, and a couple were offcuts that were too interesting to pitch.

One, the Camphor Burl, smells so wonderful when it’s cut that it makes me smile to think about it.  It’s somewhere between licorice and root beer, and almost medicinal.  Back in my previous woodworking phase I made a Krenov-ish cabinet in Canary wood and Spalted Maple for my parents, I fitted it with a drawer in Camphor wood which I left raw on the interior.  When I milled that bit I was up to my knees in Camphor chips and it was nearly a religious experience.

Various "veneers" sliced on the bandsaw at about .110" thick.  From the left: White Oak

Various “veneers” sliced on the bandsaw at about .110″ thick. From the left: White Oak on top of Walnut, Birdseye Maple just above the long strips of Paduk, Camphor above Mesquite above Zebra wood, Macassar Ebony and Rosewood,

I decided to use the White Oak, Birdseye Maple, Mesquite and Macassar Ebony for the inlay.  I cut individual pieces out of my patterns — cutting outside of the layout lines for each piece.

Cut up several patterns to get individual patterns for each piece

Cut up several patterns to get individual patterns for each piece

Each individual pattern is then super-glued to a piece of wood.  I used one pattern to map out which section of the inlay gets which species of wood as a cheat sheet.  As I was gluing the pattern pieces I tried to orient them in an interesting way relative to the grain or figure in the wood.

Pattern pieces glued to my inlay materials

Pattern pieces glued to my inlay materials

Everything up to now was pretty simple, this next step is what I’ve been most concerned about: Sawing Out!

I tried using a scroll saw to cut these pieces, even with a fine blade and a slow speed I wasn’t getting good results.  I couldn’t follow the line accurately.  The articles I’ve read and the videos I’be watched say that you should saw half the line away.  OMG, really?  I can barely follow the line, much less split a line that fine.

Abandoning the scroll saw, I made up a saw support that I can clamp in my face vise.  It’s tall enough to position about chest high (when I’m sitting) or a little higher.  In the Larry Robinson inlay video I watched he has a vacuum attached to the saw support so he doesn’t breathe the Pearl dust.  I need to rig something like that up, because the wood dust covers the line with each stroke of the saw, and I’m hyperventilating from puffing the dust away so I can see the line.  I’m also using a #5 Optivisor so I can see the line (in fact, I can see the pixels from the printer).

Saw support

Saw support

I’m sawing the pieces out with a 3/0 (“three-aught”) jewelers saw in a Knew Concepts saw frame.  It’s a 64tpi blade, and it’s unbelievably fragile.  I snapped about 4 blades in a row trying to get the tension right.  The only other blades I have are too coarse (15tpi), so I’ll order some other blades this week.  I’m going to try a #3, 45tpi blade, and see how that works.  It is actually pretty fact to saw out a part by hand, it’s just the accuracy that I’m struggling with.

Sawing out tiny pieces in Mesquite

Sawing out tiny pieces in Mesquite (trying to hold the saw, wood and camera to take this picture all at the same time was a bit of a stretch!)

I can almost follow the line, as long as I can see it.  The saw isn’t as hard to steer as I remembered from when I’ve tried to saw parts like this in the past. But I still get a lot of little wiggles along the cut, and I expect that this inlay, when finished, will look a little sloppy.  Maybe a lot sloppy.  I’m deciding right now that I’m OK with that — this is a practice piece to start learning the technique.

Sawing out the "flame" from Macassar Ebony

Sawing out the “flame” from Macassar Ebony

I’ve had to re-saw several pieces already.  A couple of pieces broke as I was filing off some of the hiccups in my sawing.  One of the thing mesquite pieces flipped off the saw support and disappeared (I suspect it was actually an alien abduction), and a couple were just too sloppy.  So, cut more patterns, glue them down to more bits of wood and saw again.

I’ve started fitting the bits together, but I have a few more pieces to saw out.  I’m going to head out to the shop in a few minutes to finish sawing out the parts and move on to the next steps.  I’d like to see this done today so I can get a feel for what I need to work on (besides sawing).

Starting to fit the cut pieces together

Starting to fit the cut pieces together.  It doesn’t look very interesting with the paper still on it, but that is four different species of wood.




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2 thoughts on “Inlay Experiments

    • Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out! I think there is certainly a lot of overlap (no pun intended) between inlay and marquetry techniques. I went to a demo by the local chapter of the SAPFM a year ago, and they talked about the evolution of the traditional French marquetry, and demonstrated using a Chevalet. It was really interesting – and the combination of brass and tortoise shell used in some of the original works was just stunning.

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