Inlay Experiment – Finished

After the aborted first attempt at excavating the inlay cavity, I decided to try again.  I applied a couple of coats of shellac to seal the wood, hoping that it would make the layout lines more visible — it didn’t.  Or at least not by much.  I followed the same process as last time — glue the inlay down with Duco cement, trace around it with a fresh Xacto knife, pop the inlay off and excavate with the mini router.

The hardest part of the whole inlay process was accurately excavating the cavity to fit the inlay into.  I expected it would be sawing the parts, but I was wrong.  What made the inletting difficult (aside from the fact that it’s 100 degrees in the shop) is a combination of tool problems and ergonomics.

I’m having issues with the mini router base not holding it’s position and a few other small issues.  I’ve been emailing with William Ng, and I’m sure he’ll get it sorted out for me.

The ergonomics are a little more of a problem.  I didn’t have a good way to get hold the part at the right height, I didn’t have a good solution for clearing the chips so I could see the line, and the lighting was bad.  I made do, and I have an idea for how to make that better next time.  In fact, I think between getting the tool and ergonomics dialed in I’ll have a much better result and more relaxing time of it overall.

The actual process of inletting was a matter of “hogging” the bulk of the waste out with a 1/8″ bit (if you can consider it “hogging” with a tiny router bit).  I tried to stay about 1/16 off the line as I was hogging out.  Then I switched to a 1/16″ bit and snuck up on the walls, watching for my scribed line to disappear.  Sometimes the line would disappear, but when I looked closely the surface where the wood was scored would come off, but lower in the cavity the wall would still be sticking out.  So the process included a lot of fine tuning until the inlay seemed like it would snap in.

Beginning to "hog out".  It's not a great picture, but when I'm working I can't see the line any more clearly than this (sometimes less)

Beginning to “hog out”. It’s not a great picture, but when I’m working I can’t see the line any more clearly than this (sometimes less)

After a couple of rounds of back-and-forth fine tuning (and the requisite amount of overshooting the line, and only a moderate amount of swearing) I had an inlay-shaped cavity I thought would work.

Cavity ready for the inlay

Cavity ready for the inlay

I filled the bottom of the cavity with Superglue and pressed the inlay in.  The little base had broken loose from the main part, which wasn’t a problem.

Super glue in, now add the inlay pieces which I previously glued together)

Superglue in, now add the inlay pieces which I previously glued together)

I put a sheet of waxed paper over the inlay, added a caul and clamped it in my leg vise for two hours.  It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I pulled it out to check.  I was surprised at how deep the inlay was in the wood.  I’d sawn the veneer about .125″ thick, and only routed the cavity .075″ deep, but it was almost flush.  I think this was from sanding the back of the inlay assembly to remove glue, I’ll have to watch that in the future.

After glue up

After glue up

I started flattening this with 100 grit glued to some plywood scraps.  60 grit would be better, the 100 loaded up pretty quickly.  I had to sand the inlay flush, sand off the glue, shellac and paper.

Flattening the surface

Flattening the surface

Once that was done I checked for any pinholes and gaps and filled those with Superglue.

Fill any gaps with glue

Fill any gaps with glue

Finish sand to 180

Finish sand to 180

Done!  Finished with a light coat of Linseed oil.

Done! Finished with a light coat of Linseed oil.

So I’ll give myself a C+ for effort on this.  It’s obviously got some problems when you look at it up close, although it isn’t a complete disaster.  The problems I see are almost exclusively with the excavating of the cavity.  A little neater job on that, and this would be presentable.  I can see some problems with the sawing too, but surprisingly then almost disappear in the finished piece.  And I’d I’d inlayed this into a dark wood the gaps around the edge would be nearly invisible.

Before I do this again I need to get the router base sorted out, and set up better ergonomics for the process.  Tomorrow if it isn’t too hot I might finish the Thorsen cabinet…


Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 13 Comments

Post navigation

13 thoughts on “Inlay Experiment – Finished

  1. A very respectable effort Joe. I bet it takes some serious concentration to keep that little router under control. Is all of the excavating to be done with the router? It seems like the potential for error would be very high.

    It bet it’s sort of magical as you sand away the paper and glue and the design reveals itself. I’m enjoying watching you go through the process. Thanks for posting all the steps.


    • Thanks Greg. It was fun, although frustrating in spots.

      The excavating was all done with the router, except for a bit of touch of at the very points tips with an Xacto knife. Removing the waste to within a 1/16 of the line is simple (as long as I could see the line and not plow past it like before). But that last little smidgen is going to take a little more practice and a better setup. I was trying to hold the part and the router at the same time.

      I’m happy with it, it’t way better than my first dovetails. Those were sad looking.

      PS: in case anyone is wondering, a 1/16″ bit will pull into the cut if you’re going the wrong way. Who knew?

  2. Hi Joe – I’ve done a fair amount of pearl inlaying on guitars in the past and found that placing the cut piece in place with a bit of adhesive and dusting it with a can of white auto primer helped create a crisp and usable outline. This was in Ebony and other closed grain woods where pores wouldn’t get contaminated though. Better than pencil or scribed lines, and you can always combine both methods. The saw work looks great!

    • Thanks Carl – I saw a picture of in progress inlay somewhere where it looked like something white had been smeared onto the ebony substrate before scribing and wondered what was going on — I guess that’s akin to using Dykem on metal before scribing layout lines. It’s a great tip, I’m glad you mentioned it.

  3. I’d give you a b+ on the first attempt. Did you mix sawdust with the super glue to fill your tiny voids?

    • Hi Relph, thanks for grading on a curve 🙂

      Most of the void was already filled from gluing in the inlay piece, there was an accumulation of sawdust in the remaining gaps when I added more glue to fill them. I don’t think that really helped though — the glue alone looks fairly black, the addition of sawdust at this point just looks odd.

      Maybe if I’d worked sawdust into the initial gluing it would have better disguised the gaps, that’s something I’ll have to think about for next time (although doing a better job routing out the cavity is the real key)

  4. Pingback: Inlay Post-Mortem | McGlynn on Making

  5. I watched Steve Latta’s “Fundamentals of Inlay: Federal Table Leg” DVD a while back and he uses a different approach which may help you too. Instead of constructing the inlay as a single unit to be inlayed like you did, he inlays each individual part separately. He also overlaps each part slightly to minimise the gaps between each part because he removes a small fraction of the already inlayed part to get a better fit. The inlay he does in the DVD is very simple compared to yours but I think the approach is sound and may be applicable to your situation as well especially as your ability to accurately cut the pieces to be inlayed improves with practice. It is worth noting that he does it by hand rather than using a powered router which may have a bearing on the process.

    I haven’t actually tried it myself so I could be talking rubbish. It would be interesting to see if it helps you.

    • Thanks for suggesting that Geoff, I’ll pick up that DVD and check it out. I’ve always enjoyed Steve’s articles in FWW, so I’m sure there is some solid information in the video. It turns out there isn a L-N Hand Tool Event locally this Friday and Saturday, so I can probably get it there!

      • The Wood Whisperer did a router based inlay video which may be of interest to you as well. His method is similar to Latta’s but uses a powered router instead.

  6. Thanks Geoff – I watched that earlier. It seems like some people do the inlay a piece at a time and others do it all at once. It seems like it’s a difference between whether you’re more comfortable sawing or routing in the final analysis – if you can saw the parts and get a clean fit up I don’t think that I see an advantage in the one-piece-at-a-time method.

    I really expected to struggle with sawing, and breeze through the routing, but as you can see my experience was just the opposite.

    • You’re welcome. I would have thought that inlaying the individual pieces would have produced a better result but I haven’t tried it so I don’t really know. I have some projects coming up which will include an inlayed signature motif and I expect that it will be a road to discovery that will test my preconceived ideas – but that’s half the fun. Good luck with future inlays. I look forward to seeing how they turn out

  7. Pingback: Inlay Experiment | McGlynn on Making

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: