Intarsia George

A Stylish Display for Your Presidential Dollars

Show off your presidential coin collection in style with this straightforward scrollsaw and sanding project that has room for 22 dollars. In a future issue, Woodcraft Magazine will feature Lincoln in a second presidential intarsia project with plenty of room for the remaining dollars.

The problem with most coin collections is that they’re hidden away in an album or drawer. Here’s an attractive alternative that’s also a fun introduction into intarsia, a technique that uses a scrollsaw, flexible drum sander, and a few scraps of contrasting woods. Intarsia is more than just a way to mimic the look of a three-dimensional carving. This technique offers the freedom to choose pieces of wood for color and grain textures. You won’t find a more rewarding project that uses so little material. 

For my work, I like adding detail, but “going the extra mile” doesn’t mean extra work. With the help of a few special accessories, I can quickly and easily add convincing details that look like I spent hours with a carving knife. Alternately, you can make a very attractive plaque without any texture at all. See a simpler version at

Judy Gale Roberts

Judy Gale Roberts was instrumental in the rebirth of intarsia in the 1980s. Judy and her husband, Jerry Booher, teach intarsia in Seymour, TN. For more information about their school and Judy's patterns, visit or call (800) 316-9010.

Cut out the parts

1 Make five copies of the full-size George pattern from the Patterns section on pages 78-79. Tape together one pattern to make a master template to help you assemble the parts after sawing. Using the other four copies, overcut the patterns for the remaining parts. You'll saw up to the line after they're glued onto the wood.

2 Each pattern piece has an arrow on it identifying grain direction, and a letter identifying the type of wood I used, but as you’re searching for stock, you may want to use a different species in order to get the right color. (See Finding The Wood That Works, page 60.) The parts also have reference numbers. Use at least ½" thick wood; use ¾" wood to make the project really stand out.

3 cut out the patterns for the individual pieces. For each pattern piece, you’ll want to align the grain of the wood with the arrow printed on the pattern. Tack-glue the patterns to the selected stock pieces. 

4 Fit your scrollsaw with a #5 or #7 reverse-tooth blade and make sure that it’s properly tensioned and square to the table. (You’ll use these for the larger parts.) Next, cut the outside edges first. These do not have to fit next to another part; therefore, it is a good way to test your skills before cutting parts that have to fit together. When making the inside cuts, cut down the center of the line, leaving the paper on until the project is cut out so that you can see if there is a fit problem in Step 7. Switch over to a smaller #1 blade then saw the really small pieces, like the pieces that make up the eye or George's waves of hair. Consider using thin plywood to make a zero-clearance opening around the blade so the parts do not fall through.

5 Cut out the hair spacers from the full-size patterns on page 78. (For this high-relief version, make the spacers from ¼"-thick material. If you’re making the simpler version, cut the spacers from 1/8 "-thick hardboard.) Temporarily place the spacers aside until it’s time to reassemble the parts.

6 While the patterns are still in place, carefully sand off any burrs from the cut edges, then reassemble the project on your master pattern. (Don’t forget the spacers.) You don’t necessarily need an absolutely seamless fit, but the parts should come close, as in Photo A. 

7 Once all the parts fit together tightly, transfer the number on the pattern to the back of each part. You can now peel off the pattern paper and take a closer look at your work. 

Sand and shape the noble face

1 When contouring the parts, I usually start with the background, and work up to the foreground. Sanding the thicker parts to meet the thinner ones allows me to focus on the overall look of the project without a lot of needless dimensions. Shaping the jacket and shirt parts is a good introduction to the sanding/shaping process. Starting with the collar (refer to the Contouring Guide photos, page 61), taper the shoulder or bottom edge of the collar on a sanding drum (see the Convenience Plus Buying Guide, page 63) so that it’s about ¼" thick, but leave the neck edge thick. Round over the back and front ends slightly.

2 Draw a few “sand here” contour arrows on the top face to indicate the edge that you’ll taper at the sander. Reposition the collar on your master template and use a pencil to mark the height where the collar joins the two shoulder sections, as in Photo B. Taper the shoulder sections down to the edge line, as shown in Photo C.

3 Sand the aspen parts that make up the shirt so that they sit slightly below the collar. To find the right thickness, position the shirt pieces against the collar, mark an edge line, then sand slightly past that line so that each shirt piece stair-steps down to the neck in 1/16" increments.

4 Sand the face next. Start by sanding the nose and upper lip pieces down to ¼" thick. Reposition them against the face and make a pencil line along the outside edge of the cheek.

5 Sand the face and neck pieces as a single unit. To do this, you’ll need to make a sanding backer board from a piece of ¼"-thick hardboard. Trace the face on the board, as shown in Photo D, then saw to the line. Temporarily adhere the head, eyebrow, and neck to the board with “light duty” double-faced tape.

Finding the wood that works

We often hear the comment: “I can’t find that beautiful cedar.” Guess what? Western red cedar (WRC) is available almost everywhere, and you’ll find the best colors in the lowest grades. Building your “pallet of colors” takes time but I think the hunt is part of the fun.

To start, check your local lumberyard or big box store. You may need to dig through the pile, but you can find tons of great color in the 1x6 fence picket rack. (Note that aromatic red cedar is not the same as WRC. Aromatic red cedar is great for cedar chests, not intarsia.) 

What I call “dark” on one project may be “medium dark” on another, because that “medium dark” board may be the darkest chunk I have at that time. Don’t worry about it. In a pinch, walnut is a good dark wood choice.  From there, look for progressively lighter shades. For white, I use aspen because it’s relatively soft and stays white over time. 

When starting, stick with straight-grained stock. Figured wood works for some details, but it’s easy to go overboard with too much grain.

Contouring Guide

Presidential Coin Hole Locations

Marking the center point for the dollar holes can be tough if you choose to use a compass and protractor. We’ve made it easy for you!

The drawing to the right is 25% of actual size. Enlarge it on a copier by 400%, lay it on your frame and through punch the center points with a scratch awl.

Don’t forget to use a presidential coin Forstner bit when you drill your holes. It has been designed specifically to cut a flat bottom hole with a snug fit.

Add A Personalized Engraved Brass Nameplate

Want to personalize your plaque? If your work is a gift for a child you could add an engraved message—“Chad's Coin Collection” or “For Chad From Grandpa Ken.” A wide variety of personalized plates are available at Just search on “Brass Nameplate” to review your options.

6 Using the Contouring Photos as a guide, sand the neck and head so it blends into the bottom of the cheekbone, as shown in Photo E. Round down the forehead toward the outside edges. Begin tapering the front edge of the face down to the nose and upper lip line you drew in Step 4. Sand the lower lip to match the thickness of the upper lip piece.

7 Sand the neck’s bottom edge so it’s thinner than the top edge of the shirt.

8 Tape the nose and upper lip pieces onto your backer board and mark the areas that need transition sanding, as shown in Photo F. Use your pencil to mark any areas that need additional shaping. (At this point, you can also pencil in a few additional wrinkles around the eye and on the neck.)

9 Shape the eye after contouring the face. First, sand the lower lid so that it is thinner than the top of the cheek and curves down to meet the nose. Sand the upper lid so that it’s slightly thinner than the eyebrow. After shaping both lids, tape together the eye parts and then round them over on the drum sander as a single unit. When finished, the eye should sit below the upper and lower lids. 

Sand and shape the President's hair

1 Reposition the face on the master template. Using a pencil, make an edge line where the face meets the hair.

2 Sand the tie ribbon down to 3/8"-thick before rounding over the tie knot. Now, contour the hair pieces above and below the knot so that both gently slope about 1/16" below the knot.

3 Continue contouring the hair pieces from the outside row in. Round over the back edges, but keep the front edges sharp so that they mate cleanly with the adjacent row. Round over the front edge of the front row of hair to the pencil line drawn in Step 1.

4 Sand down the bottom edge of the hair piece that's positioned above the earlobe so that the lobe looks like it’s projecting out of the hair.

Details make the difference

1 Carve the nostril with an X-acto knife and a #22 blade. Using the dashed lines on the pattern as a guide, cut a groove where the nostril starts, then remove the wood from the rest of the nose, as in Photo G. Cut lightly so that you don’t chip out too much wood.

2 To add hair-like texture, I use a Wonder Wheel, a firm abrasive disc that carves and burnishes the wood in one stroke (see the Buying Guide). I find the stationary tool more convenient than attempting to hold a part in one hand and a rotary tool in the other. To make the realistic-looking hair texture, pencil on a few grain lines, then sand grooves in that general direction, as in Photo H. 

3 Carve the wrinkles or crow’s feet around the eye with a rotary tool and a slot-cutting blade. Make a few practice cuts to be sure you’re getting the look you want. 

4 inspect, then Carefully hand-sand each part with the grain to remove the cross-grain scratches made by the sanding drum and/or other tooling. Start with 180 and finish with 220 grit.

Final finish and assembly

1 Cut a 16"-diameter circle from a medium-dark ¼" thick plywood, such as walnut or mahogany. Cut the circular frame from ¾-thick stock, such as cedar or walnut, and saw it to a width of 1½". Finish-sand these parts up to 220 grit.

2 dry-assemble the intarsia parts and position George within the frame. Mark the outline with a pencil. Mask that area with tape so you’ll have a patch of bare wood to glue onto after finishing.

3 Apply the finish. Wipe on, and then buff off, three coats of General Finishes’ gel topcoat. (See the Buying Guide, below.) It’s a lot of work, but the finish does more than just look good. 

4 Reposition the George parts on the board. Now establish a few “anchor points,” as shown in Photo I, so the parts don’t slip during assembly. Using just a few dabs of glue, affix the nose, shoulder and outer-most band of hair to the board. Allow these pieces time to dry before gluing the remaining ones in place.

5 Glue the two-part circular frame to the plywood. Use the pattern to transfer the center points for the coin mortises, then drill the holes with the special dollar-sized Forstner bit. Don’t drill these holes too deep. By keeping the holes shallow (about 1/16" deep), the coins won’t be over-shadowed by the frame. 

6 Finally, scrollsaw the filler stars and replace them with coins as new presidential dollars are minted and distributed. Screw a centered picture-frame holder 3½" down from the top edge and locate your prized intarsia for all to see and admire.

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