Telephone Gossip Bench: Part II – Inlay

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Bench Inlay

Join Lori Haught, Woodcraft Marketing Manager and Woodworking Adventures Blogger, for Part II of a three-part series on refurbishing a unique thrift store find — a Telephone Gossip Bench.

In Part 1, we prepped the bench for finish and re-covered the seat cushion. Part II focuses on the inlay on the desk’s top. Follow along as we add a dramatic touch to this thrift shop treasure using a marquetry kit from Woodcraft! 

Assembling the Kit

For the inlay on the desk portion of my gossip bench, I chose a circular-patterned marquetry kit called Altairian by Digital Wood. This timeless design seemed perfect for the vintage feel of the bench and complemented the cushion fabric I selected. (See Part I for the cushion re-upholster.)

These wood marquetry artworks are unique designs from artist Christy Oates. The kit comes with laser-cut wood veneer parts and high-bond adhesive applied to a backer board, perfect for framing in a standard 8″ x 8″ frame. The Altairian design features colorful Douglas firbubingawengewalnut, and purpleheart species.

I will admit I didn’t know exactly how this inlay thing worked but the instructions were pretty simple, and the video I watched (below) helped me to visualize the process.

Bench Inlay

The kit includes a backer board which I used as a work surface only, as I chose not to actually mount my finished piece on it. It would add an extra 1/8″ of thickness to rout out on the top of my desk, in my case. However, if you wanted to frame your work, the backer board adds stability.

Once I had the contact paper on the front of the main piece, the rest was just like working a puzzle. I started with the larger pieces around the outside edge first, removing a piece at a time and fitting it into the appropriate spot on the inlay frame, wood side down. The parts are held in place with a very small tab and can be removed by pulling towards the tab or cutting the tab with a craft knife. I kept a nail file nearby to file off any little “burrs” that might remain. Tweezers also came in handy on this step, especially for the smaller pieces. The kit provides some extra pieces in case one gets broken during your assembly process.

Bench Inlay

Routing the Top

The next step was to rout out a section in the top of the bench to place the inlay. Woodcraft product managers Ben Bice and George Snyder stopped by the shop during this process to lend a hand. 

I chose to add a 3/4″ border around the outside edge of my design to really make it stand out against the dark stained wood, and the round shape worked better with the lines of the Gossip Bench.  I used a template that was created out of  3/4″ MDF board to match the shape of the design—in this case, round. I took a very sharp craft knife to trace the circle around the outside edge of the marquetry pattern, which had been centered and taped to the board.

We used the same template and a Porter-Cable router with a flush trim router bit to cut the area where the inlay goes. The flush trim bit allowed us to determine the true diameter of the circle, whereas when using guide bushings, extra allowance would need to be given for the distance away from the edge.

Next – Practice! You don’t want to mess up by taking too much material out. Practice your depth of cut to ensure accuracy, and practice your technique, keeping the router steady. We did a practice cut on another board to make sure the depth was set properly — in this case, measuring 1/32″ with calipers to accommodate our inlay.

Once we were confident in our settings and technique, we attached the template to the tabletop using double-sided tape, measuring to center the circle. With a precise and steady hand on the router, we cut the outside edge of the circle first as cleanly as possible.  Then with an even back and forth motion, the middle was routed out. 

A small section of the middle of the circle was left, as it could not be reached without moving the guide. A simple readjustment of the template took care of that, and the circle was now routed down 1/32″ to accept the inlay. 

Using a wide chisel, we smoothed out any rough spots to prepare for gluing in the inlay piece.

Bench Inlay

Two Coats of Stain

Before I could finish the inlay, I first needed to get two coats of the finish on. I’m already a fan of the General Finishes Gel stains, as I used the newer Black color in my Jewelry Armoire makeover, so I chose the Java color for this project. The heavy bodied gel flows evenly (no drips or runs), but not so heavy that it floods the grain.

I wanted to be careful not to get paint in the routed-out circle as it might change the surface depth enough to make the tabletop unsmooth. Using the circle that was cut out for the MDF template, I placed it directly on top of the routed portion of the top, holding it firmly while I painted around it. I added one coat, then came back the next day after drying for a second coat.

Stain can be applied with a bristle brush or foam brush, and I always wear gloves when painting. But I always still manage to get paint on myself! I might advise a shop apron next time. 

Bench Inlay

Putting the Inlay in Place

Now — time to place the inlay! After the two coats of Java stain were dry, we gently sanded along the edges of the inlay piece to ensure a perfect fit in the circle. Using some compressed air, we made sure all dust particles were removed from the bench’s top and the back of the inlay — this step is super critical before gluing the inlay into place.

We applied E-6000 adhesive to the back of the inlay with a glue spreader for light, even coverage. Too much glue will ooze out when gluing it into place and we did not want to add any unnecessary thickness. We gently positioned the inlay in the circle, lining up the grain of the bench’s top and the outer circle on the inlay design.

Apply an even layer of adhesive to the back of the inlay.

Use a veneer roller to apply pressure to the design.

After 24 hours, peel back the contact paper to reveal the design. 

We then used a veneer roller to apply even pressure across the design, getting it firmly into the circle.

Finally, we applied pressure to the glued-in design while it dried, using the MDF circle again directly over the inlay and a granite surface plate for added weight.

After 24 hours, we removed the weight and peeled back the contact paper from the veneered pattern. Now it’s ready for top coat and final finishing touches!

Stay tuned for Part III — the final in this series — to learn about General Finishes Java Gel stain and Pearl Effects paint, and to see the completed flip. 

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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