Leg Inlay Completed

This was a major milestone for me, in a couple of ways.

The most obvious was completing the inlay.  This was a fair amount of work and a lot of risk to the end product.  Every little twitch of the mini-router could have screwed up the end result.  By the time I got to the 4th leg I was feeling reasonably confident of the process.  On the first leg I didn’t feel in control routing accurately to the scribed line for the petals.  As a result I had some gaps, and several petals required a lot of knife work to fit well.  All things being equal, I’d prefer a perfect fit off the router, or at least a fit that ended up needing knife work to get a snug fit.  By the last leg I was pretty close.

The non-obvious part here is that I didn’t get caught up in the mistakes, even when something went badly wrong I just fixed it as best I could and continued on.  That’s a big deal for me, it’s all to easy to fall into the perfectionist trap where nothing is ever good enough.

So, here is the blow-by-blow without all of the analytical drivel.

I started by indexing the pattern to the part using the ebony plug location, then I added a sheet of Saral transfer Paper in between and traced the pattern with a ball stylus

I started by indexing the pattern to the part using the ebony plug location, then I added a sheet of Saral transfer Paper in between and traced the pattern with a ball stylus

The tracing is for routing the vines and general positioning of the petals.  It’s not nearly accurately enough to route the petals directly.  I used an awl to locate the dots, and traced a circle around the large 3/16″ copper dots to differentiate them from the 1/8″ silver dots.

Completed tracing

Completed tracing, I’m really happy with this transfer paper approach.


The Abalone petals are temporarily glued down to the leg to make is possible to trace around them to provide a lint to route up to.  I tried using a knife versus a stylus, the knife felt much more accurate, although it was a lot harder to use to trace the outline of the shell.

The three remaining legs traced, Abalone petals temporarily glued down, and petal outlines knifed in.

The three remaining legs traced, Abalone petals temporarily glued down, and petal outlines knifed in.

Once the outline of the shell petals is knifed in I pop them off (that is the intent with using Duco — to provide a imperfect glue up so it can be taken apart).  Then I go over the knife lines to deepen them.  When I route the petal cavities I remove the waste to within maybe 1/32″ of the knife line (less than 1/16″ at least), then slowly sneak up to the line.  As I get close to the line it tends to want to pull the last little bit off right up to the line.  After the petals are excavated I route the stems freehand.  It turns out that a little wiggle in the routed line isn’t visible once the silver is inlaid — it goes in straighter than the wobble in the line and looks fine.  Finally I drill the holes.


All of the excavation work done

I glue in the petals first, as they may require some tweaking of the opening to get the shell to fit.  By the 4th leg I was either right-on or very close on all of them, only requiring a tiny bit of knife work on the tip of the opening where the router bit won’t reach.  I bought a for-real scalpel and blades from Cincinnati Surgical, it works really well.  The blade is much finer and more flexible than either an X-acto or Swann-Morton craft blades.  I use “super glue” to glue the inlay into the cavities, then do a wash over all the parts with the same glue to fill any little gaps.  I set the depth on the router to leave the inlay about .010″ above the surface of the wood.  The hardest part of this is the short lengths of 1.32″ Silver wire, it is a little tricky to get it into the groove and cut to length.  The dots end up being a little taller than the rest of the inlay at this point, which is not a big deal.

Inlay glued in place

Inlay glued in place

I leave the glue to dry for several hours, then use a Bastard file to level the inlay with the surface of the wood.  Original G&G work would have been slightly proud of the surface I think, but with my glue-fill procedure that wasn’t an option.  I filed until the surface was level, then sanded it through 220 grit.

Flattening the inlay

Flattening the inlay with a file

Tow legs done, one more to go...

Three legs done, one more to go…

The next step is to glue up the base, and then start on the table top.  I guess I have a small boatload of Ebony plugs to prepare too.  I should be able to get pretty close to having the construction done next weekend.

Finished inlay, mocked up with skirts and stretchers

Finished inlay, mocked up with skirts and stretchers

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Leg Inlay Completed

  1. That’s a great looking piece. Love how the inlay turned out.

    • Thanks Andrew, I’m actually pleased with the results. I have the inlay for the table top to design and do still, so I’m not out of the woods yet.

  2. Awesome work!

    • Thanks Jeff. Now that I’m on the other side of this part of the project I’m feeling much better about the whole effort. And I’m already worrying about how to pull off the next detail…the ebony splines for the breadboard ends.

  3. I can see you writing woodworking articles in the future for a woodworking magazine. Very well done. Have you ever given any thought to this idea? Thanks again for sharing.

    • Actually I’d love to do articles for a magazine. Back in the 1990s I wrote a number of articles for hot rod magazines, that was great fun and gave me a chance to get out and meet interesting people in the business.

  4. Holly crap Joe! These look fantastic! Congrats on taking on your first “real” inlay project. No excuses now though. Seriously, the inlay looks great.

    I know you are using the min router but what was the traditional method for making these small grooves and recesses?

    • Thanks Greg, now that they are done and I can look at them without the 5x magnifier I’m happy with the results. The inlay should really pop when I get some finish on the wood.

      I’m not sure about how this was done originally (certainly NOT with a tiny router and even tinier router bits). My guess is that the petals were excavated using chisels, gouges with sweeps to match the curve of the petals and maybe a tiny router plane to finish the bottom. I could see that working really well if you matched the gouge sweeps to the shape of the petals.

      I saw a Make video about doing side inlay where the groove was wedged open using a sharpened chisel, for wire that would work well. Some of the vine work was actually shaped silver, and would have been done using chisels like the petals.

  5. Is there any thing you can’t do? That looks really awesome. BTW, did you know that you were mentioned in the Studley Chest book for your calipers.

    You have to sign mine next time I see you! You’re famous! 😀

    • Dang, I didn’t know that Marilyn. How fun! I’m waiting for my copy in the mail — and one I bought for a buddy.

      Now that the inlay is done I’m feeling much better about this project. Eager to see it come together.

  6. Joe, what is this about your calipers, and your mention in Don Williams book about Studley?

  7. Pingback: Window Seat Bookcase: Work on the Seat Resumes | Jeff Branch Woodworking

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