Customize a Keyhole with an Inlaid Escutcheon

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This article is from Issue 76 of Woodcraft Magazine.

This decorative detail adds something special to any cabinetry project

When I receive a commission to build a spice box like the one featured in this issue (see p. 49), I always plan to include a custom-made escutcheon for the door’s keyhole. Many escutcheons are designed to be surface mounted, but an inlaid version adds an extra measure of craftsmanship. The escutcheon shown here consists of a brass keyhole insert surrounded by diamond-shaped synthetic ivory. This embellishment can be found on many antique case pieces and on new furniture too. The benefits of an escutcheon are practical as well as aesthetic. Without the protection of a brass insert, the wood that surrounds a keyhole will become worn and unsightly as the key is used over time.

Before beginning work on the inlay, install the lockset, as shown on p. 54. You’ll also need to gather the right tools and materials (see photo, right). The Elforyn© material I use as an ivory substitute looks like the real thing. Although brittle, it can be drilled, cut, and sanded.

Distinctive detail. A brass keyhole insert, surrounded by diamond-shaped ivory, adds elegance to any cabinet door or drawer front.

Prime ingredients. Sources for the tools and materials required for this inlay project are listed in the Buyer’s Guide on p. 60.

Install the keyhole insert first

I start with a brass keyhole insert and a 1/8"-thick piece of synthetic ivory (Elforyn) that’s about twice as large as my planned inlay. Before tracing the insert’s outline, scuff its outside surface with a small file to improve the adhesion of the epoxy. If the insert is thicker than the ivory, plan on filing the brass flush with the ivory surface.

Brass into ivory.

  1. Working over a centerpoint on the synthetic ivory blank, trace the outline of the keyhole insert using a sharp pencil.
  2. Remove material inside your layout lines. Start by drilling, then use a chisel and files to creep up on the finished opening. Elforyn is brittle, not flexible like wood. To avoid cracking the material, take tiny parings with your chisel. Test-fit the insert, and keep refining the opening until you get a fit that’s snug but not forced.
  3. Epoxy the insert in place, then (if necessary) file it flush with the ivory.

Cut, scribe, excavate, and epoxy

The diamond shape of my inlay is traditional, but other shapes are also possible. Although synthetic ivory can be cut by hand with a fine-tooth hobby saw, I prefer to cut the shape on my tablesaw. My technique depends on double-stick carpet tape and a sharp, finish-cutting blade.

Fine work for a perfect fit.

  1. A plywood sled cut flush with the blade provides a cutting platform and a reference edge to align each cut. Adhere double-stick tape to the sled, then press the blank firmly in position before cutting.
  2. Double-stick tape holds the inlay in place on the door frame as I scribe its outline. Make sure the inlay is positioned to center the lockset’s pin (where the key will fit) in the round portion of the keyhole.
  3. Match the mortise depth to the insert’s thickness. After removing most of the waste with a trim router and a 1⁄8" straight bit, I finish the mortise with chisels.
  4. When the fit is right, spread epoxy in the mortise, and tap the inlay in place. Place waxed paper over the inlay, and clamp. When the glue dries, sand the inlay flush with the surrounding wood.


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