Bevel-Edge InlayComments (1)
This article is from Issue 94 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Prettify and personalize your projects
By Michael Kehs
Everyone loves a project that has been personalized for them. Inlay provides a beautiful way to reflect someone’s interests or personality, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Using a simple butterfly design as an example, I’ll show you how you can augment just about any project with tools you probably already have. (See page 50 for the table that displays this butterfly.) As for the materials, it’s not likely you’ll have to buy any, as you have here an opportunity to finally use some of those small scraps of precious wood you’ve been so jealously hoarding.
The sweet thing about the beveled-edge technique I’ll show you is that it allows you to finesse the fit, creeping up on a perfectly sized recess to ensure near-gapless results. Beveling the perimeter of the inlay material causes it to effectively wedge into its recess in the same manner that a tapered cork snugs itself into a bottle opening. Also, the relatively thick inlay material will stand up to abuse much better than thin veneers. If this is your first time making and installing inlay, not to worry. This butterfly motif is simple enough to guarantee success at first try, while introducing you to the basic techniques that will allow you to expand your design repertoire going forward.
Order of work
- Saw the design profile
- Trace profile onto surface
- Rout recess in surface
- Glue inlay into recess
- Level inlay to surface
Construct the inlay assembly
For this simple 3-piece design, it makes sense to glue the parts together before inlaying them as a whole. When cutting out the parts with a scrollsaw, keep in mind that the mating edges where the wings connect to the body must be cut at 90° for good gluing contact. All of the other edges constitute the perimeter of the assembled piece, and should be beveled at a 3° angle.
After printing out the pattern, mill blanks of your selected wood species to a little over 1/8" thick. Stack the blanks, attach the pattern, and then cut out the parts as shown. (I use a 28 tpi blade.) Separate the pieces (drizzling denatured alcohol between them to soften the tape, if necessary) and mark the top face of each. Then assemble the reconstituted parts as shown to complete your inlay assembly.
Recess, inset, and level to finish up
Place the assembled inlay top-side-up on your target surface, and use a very sharp pencil to trace around the perimeter. Outfit a small router with a 1/8"-diameter down-cut spiral bit, and set the cutting depth to 1/32" less than the inlay thickness. Then rout out the recess. Test-fit the inlay in the recess, using graphite as shown to indicate any areas that may need further cutting. Ever so slightly re-rout these areas until the inlay fully seats in the recess. Glue the inlay in place, and trim it flush to the surface. Then fill any gaps with a mixture of fine sanding dust and CA glue, sanding the excess away after the glue dries. When bridging two different woods, use dust from the darker wood, which will make the filler less noticable.
Getting tight with graphite. Rub a soft-lead pencil around the perimeter of the inlay (above). Then press the piece into the recess. The graphite will transfer to any areas that still need a bit of trimming, as noted at right. Press the tip of a craft knife into the edge of the inlay to lift it.
Flush with success. After gluing and clamping the inlay in place, trim everything flush to the surface using a plane or scraper and sandpaper.
Thank you for this article. After a recent visit to the Stickley Museum here in New Jersey, my wife and I will be building a long-needed headboard in the Craftsman style, and plan to try inlays to add visual interest.
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