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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:28 PM Thread Starter
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Default Inlay Technique

I’ve had several people asking me about how I inlaid the trays I posted earlier. Here is how I do it.

Since there seems to be a limit on how many pictures you can post at a time, I’ve broken this up into 4 sections:
  • Materials & Tools
  • Cutting the inlay slots
  • Cutting and fitting the inlay strips
  • Glue up and sanding

Part 1 - Materials

You can make your own inlay strips or buy them. I have done both but in this case, I’ll use strips purchased from Rockler. These are 3/8th Inch walnut with black and white accent stripes. I think it’s a nice touch to complement the recipe card box I’m making.

You will need a router table with a fence and 2 stops, straight bit, chisels, miter box and saw, roller, utility knife and lots of clamps.

Always measure your strips as there can be a lot of variation. Take measurements from several places along the strip so you know the worst case. As you can see from the pictures, the strip I bought measures very close to the listed size. This is actually pretty uncommon for me. I used the same inlay on the trays I made earlier and those were quite a bit wider, requiring sanding the edges to get them to fit.

I used a 3/8” straight router bit in my router table.

The strip is .035” thick so I tried to set my router bit to .030” (but got .029” which is good enough). If you don’t have a good depth gauge, you will need to use trial and error to set the depth. We want the inlay to stand just a bit proud so we can easily sand it flush.

Make a test run in some scrap – use the same wood as your project if possible. As you can see from the picture, it’s a nice tight fit.
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Measure twice, cut once and CROSS OUT THE WRONG MARKS.

Last edited by PhilBa; 11-17-2015 at 06:37 PM.
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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:31 PM Thread Starter
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Default Part 2 Cutting the inlay slots.

Cutting the inlay slots.

I use my router table to cut the slots. You can do this freehand with a template but I’ve found it easier to use the table. In this case the inlay will be 7/8” from the edge of the work piece so I move the router table fence 1 ¼” (3/8+7/8) from the “inside” edge of the router bit. We will make 2 sets of cuts – first on the long sides and then on the short one. I mark 1 ¼” from the corners on two of the bottom sides of the piece to aid in setting up the stop blocks. Sorry for the blurry picture. To avoid routing too far, I tend to make my marks just a little long (1/32” or so). Check and double check your setup. There is nothing worse than routing too far – don’t ask how I know this.

Make your cuts. I use the right stop block as a pivot point. Pressing the edge of the workpiece against the fence, I tilt it onto the spinning bit. Make sure the right edge of the workpiece is perpendicular to the fence. Keeping the workpiece firmly against the fence, slide it towards the other stop block, holding it down against the router plate. I use a Grrripper but any push block will do. When you reach the other stop block, carefully lift the piece up with a similar tilting motion. Double check the cut to make sure it’s clean and uniform in depth. If not, redo it. Then cut the other side in the same fashion.

Now, set up the stop blocks for the short side and repeat the process.

You should have a workpiece that looks like the next picture.

Now, get your chisels and square the outside corners. Make sure your chisels are sharp.
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Measure twice, cut once and CROSS OUT THE WRONG MARKS.
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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:34 PM Thread Starter
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Default Part 3 - Cutting and fitting the inlay strips

Cutting and fitting the inlay strips

Clean up your inlay slots. Sand the top of your workpiece and use a chisel to gently clean out the slots. Take care not to nick the sides.

Now, cut the first inlay strip using your miter box. Make sure that the length is good and avoid damaging the sharp ends of the strip when test fitting. I cut my strips a tiny bit too long and then carefully sand it down. Use a sanding block to bevel the bottom of the 45 degree cut so that when you butt the next piece up to it, there will be a “compression zone” that allows for a tight miter. Also, bevel the bottom edges of the strip to make it easier for it to slip into the slot. See the picture. Cut and fit each piece in turn, making sure the miter is tight. On the last strip, leave it just a tiny bit long (like a hair’s width or two) so you can get a little compression at the miter. Use a utility knife to very carefully pick the strips out. Be sure that each of the strips makes contact with the bottom of the slots. If they don’t, they won’t glue well and could pop out some day.
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Measure twice, cut once and CROSS OUT THE WRONG MARKS.

Last edited by PhilBa; 11-17-2015 at 06:56 PM.
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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:34 PM
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nice job Phil
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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:35 PM Thread Starter
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Default Part 4 - Glueup and Sanding

Glueup and Sanding

Once you have all 4 pieces fitted, it’s time to glue up. Don’t scrimp on glue. Use the roller to ensure the strips are fully seated in the slots.

Use 2 pieces of wood for clamping. They should be about the same size as the workpiece. Place a piece of waxed paper over the inlay and then sandwich the workpiece between the 2 pieces of wood. Clamp firmly and let dry for at least 4 hours. I like to let it dry overnight.

When the glue is dry, you can sand it flush. Be careful to not catch the inlay edges as you can damage them. I hand sand for that reason and use my fingers to feel for imperfections.

You can see the final result in the last picture.
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Measure twice, cut once and CROSS OUT THE WRONG MARKS.
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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:46 PM
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Great tutorial, Phil.

We need more things like this to help inspire those that have never attempted something like this to give it a try.

Hi, sorry I missed you. I have gone to find myself, but if I return before I get back, please ask me to wait.

Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.

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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 06:52 PM Thread Starter
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I agree - more tutorials = good. However, I think we also need people to not be afraid to try something new. I'd never done it before 3 months ago. Worst thing that could happen is firewood. It seemed kind of complex but figured I'd just give it a try. I did make some mistakes along the way but now I feel like my projects can stand out a bit more. And, it's really not that hard.
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Measure twice, cut once and CROSS OUT THE WRONG MARKS.
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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 07:04 PM
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Dang it Phil, now I don't have an excuse to not do an inlay correctly!

Thanks for the time and caring that you put into the tutorial.
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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 07:04 PM
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thanks Phil...
outstanding tutorial...

This would have been the week that I'd have finished chewing thru the restraints...
If only new layers hadn't been added....

Stick....
Forget the primal scream, just ROAR!!!
"SNORK Mountain Congressional Library and Taxidermy”

Last edited by Stick486; 11-17-2015 at 07:07 PM.
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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 11-17-2015, 07:11 PM
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Thanks Phil. Excellent work, and Eloquently presented! We need more of these tutorials.
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“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” - Mark Twain
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