Sparkling Star Inlay

Create an eye-catching combo of epoxy and crushed mother of pearl. 

I’ve been told that my striped cutting boards, without stars, bear more resemblance to slabs of bacon than waving banners. Don’t fret…all it takes to transform Oscar Meyer to Old Glory is a little spangle. Like the project itself, this star teaches my students new routing techniques and offers an opportunity to experiment with new materials.

The secret of the sparkle is mother of pearl, a natural material obtained from the inner shells of oysters and abalones. This material’s iridescent shimmer has been prized by luthiers and used in marquetry for centuries, but traditional installation—cutting the material to fit a matching mortise—can be challenging. Filling the cavity with Easy Inlay flakes (see the Buyer’s Guide, p. 70), and then sealing it in clear epoxy is a simpler solution. In addition to accentuating routed cavities, this material can be used to highlight naturally-occurring cracks and voids.

Start with the star-shaped template

My technique for drawing a perfect 5-point star is easy. Forget math, and keep your computer off. Just a grab a compass and follow the instructions below. (Note: Because of the bushing used to guide the bit, the routed cavity will be 1/4" smaller than your template.)

It’s OK to cut corners. Drill a starter hole within the star, and slice out the points. If you have trouble following the lines, leave them and finish up with a file.

Use a compass to lay out a 5-pointed star 

Set the compass to your desired radius (or 11⁄2" for the flag) and draw a circle. Find the midpoint, E, of one radius.

Place the compass point at E and set the distance to EC. Swing the compass and mark point F.

Place the compass point at C and set the distance to CF. Swing the compass to mark points G and H.

With the compass set the same distance (CF), place the compass point at H and G and mark points I and J.

Connect the 5 marked points to draw a 5-pointed star.

Ready, set, rout

The trick with template routing is selecting the right bit and bushing combination. I used a 1/8"-dia. bit and bushing (from an inlay kit) because the pair could follow the pattern more closely than a larger bit. (Take care when routing. If you push the bit too hard, it might snap.) Now, straighten the rounded points as shown.

Rout the recess. Attach the template with double-stick tape. Next, set the depth to about 3⁄16" and tip the router into the template opening. Run the bushing around the edge, and then rout out the material in the middle. Check your work before removing the template.

Get to the point. A single-edge razor blade sharpens the star points. Use a chisel to pare out the waste. To avoid adding a bevel to the edges of the mortise, use the flat side of the chisel outward when paring out the waste.

Finally, fill in the star

Adding sparkle to the star is easy, but don’t rush it. To prevent bubbles, or having the blue base bleed outside of the mortise, seal the cavity by brushing on a light coat of clear epoxy. Once it’s cured, mix up a second batch and tint it with a few drops of dye. Pour a thin coat of the colored epoxy into the cavity, and let cure.

Finally, sprinkle on the Easy Inlay (let a little blue show through) and top it off with a coat of clear epoxy so that it starts to puddle above the surface. Finally, wave a propane torch over the surface. 

Curing times can vary, but you should plan on giving the star three days before levelling it off with a sander, and then working your way up through the grits (I stop at 4000 grit) until the epoxy regains crystal clarity. Finally, finish the entire board with your favorite food-safe finish.

Add the twinkle. After sprinkling the flakes evenly in the cavity, encase them in a coat of clear epoxy, and then inspect your work. Use a sharp-tipped tool or tweezers to put extra flakes in any empty spots and to dunk floaters. 

Star power. Waving a propane torch about 8" above the inlay surface encourages bubbles to rise to the surface. Give the star three days to cure before sanding and finishing.

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