Inlay Post-Mortem

So I finished my first experiment with inlay yesterday, the end result was OK — not a good enough effort for an actual furniture project, but then my first dovetails weren’t ready for prime time either. (no snarky comments about my dovetails please!)

First inlay attempt completed

First inlay attempt completed

Thinking about the effort, there were some ergonomic problems that made this more of a struggle than it could/should have been.  For both the sawing out and the excavating steps, some means of clearing the dust is a must so I can see the layout line I’m trying to work to.  When I was sawing I got by with puffing the dust away, doing my Thomas the Tank Engine imitation (“I think I can…”).  That worked, but I was on the verge of hyperventilating, to say nothing of it stretching my ability to do more than one thing at a time.

Another problem was working height.  I had that sorted out OK for the sawing with the v-block setup I made, but I didn’t really have anything worked out for the routing step.

Saw support

Saw support

And finally the lighting was an issue, especially when routing out the cavity although it was an issue with sawing too.  My eyesight has never been what you would call good, and as I’ve gotten older my prescription won’t work up close.  I wear multi-focal contacts, which lets me get by for most things, but I still end up needing reading glass for detail work in the shop.  And a 5X Optivisor for this kind of work.  Sigh.  I remember painting the buttons on cast lead Napoleonic solders that were only 3/4″ tall in high school.

So here is what I’m doodling as a solution, a bench riser that incorporates solutions for most of these problems.

Concept doodle for a bench riser

Concept doodle for a bench riser

Figuring in the height of my workbench and stool, I need a 12″ lift to get the work to the right height.  The v-block for sawing will be removable, with a steel sub plate to attach it to the underside of the riser top and a fixture to hook up a shop vac.  I haven’t figured out dust collection for the excavation part yet, although I have a couple of ideas about that.  The choices are either a different base for the Foredom that includes dust collection (like the MicroFence Micro Plunge base), or if I can get the kinks worked out on the base I have I’ll make up a positionable hose holder.

The lighting I know what I want to do, but I haven’t found an affordable solution.  What I want is a pair of gooseneck lights that attach to the sides of the riser, like the ones below from MSC.  They have screw bases, a 30″ flex arm and a 700 lumen halogen bulb.  But they are $130 each too.  I want a $20 solution.


I think something like this would solve most of the ergonomic problems and make the inlay process go a lot smoother.  I don’t plan to pursue this immediately, but certainly before I do anything with inlay again.  In fact, the next time I try to do inlay it will be on a real project, so I’ll want to make sure it comes out as nicely as I can possibly do.  Probably fairly soon, but today I have a box of glass that arrived that I need to turn into the panels for the Thorsen cabinet.


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6 thoughts on “Inlay Post-Mortem

  1. Here’s your $20 solution. If you haunt enough thrift shops, and if you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll be able to pick up a few old cantilevering style architects’ lamps that you can mount to your bench by drilling strategically placed 5/8″ dog holes for their standard sized 1/2″ mounting studs. I have eight of them, and they serve as great crutches for the peepers. Granted I wasn’t able to find them all during the same weekend, but I don’t think I ever had to pay more than four bucks a pop.

    • Good idea Larry — I’ve been checking in at the local Goodwill looking for a stereo for the wood shop, I’ll put lights on the list.

  2. Have you looked at these from Lee Valley?,43349
    battery operated but they throw a ton of light that you can adjust

  3. I often wear one of those headband mounted campers’ LED lamps when I’m routing something delicate. It helps cure the inconvenient shadows which always seem to appear even if you set up a couple of desk lamps. Some of the new small routers have LED lamps, which seems like an excellent idea. What did you think of the Foredom base attachment?

    • I’m sending the Foredom base back to see if they can sort out a couple of issues. One of the two lights wasn’t working, and the depth adjusting screws would work loose in use which allowed the bit to drift deeper. The flex shafts on the lights didn’t really hold position very well, and they weren’t really bright enough. The Foredom had plenty of power for the light duty routing this involves, and I like the feel and maneuverability of the base. Unfortunately I was disappointed in the base as-is, I’m hoping they can make it work better, if not I’m probably going to get the Micro Plunge base which looks to be more robust, but twice the price and perhaps a little clunky for the fine work.

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