Basic Inlay Workshop with Dan Fobert

Saturday 3/24/12 Dan Fobert conducted a terrific hands on workshop on basic inlay techniques. As a class project, everyone inlaid a rose into a block of flamed maple.  The block was of sufficient size to be incorporated into a later project.

Preparing to cut

The drawing of the inlay is cleaned up and reduced or enlarged to the appropriate size for the inlay then a copy is made for each type or color of material used in the inlay design.  In this case the entire rose will be made from one type of material so there is one copy of the drawing. 

Here is Dan explaining that the drawing is like a puzzle.  Each line has to define an enclosed space that can be cut out.

Dan had prepared a variety of wood inlay materials.  They were all about 1/8" in thickness and selected for color and grain pattern.

The drawing is glued to the surface of the inlay material.

A glue stick is handy for this purpose.

Cutting the inlay pieces -

On an intricate drawing like the rose, it is essential to plan the path of your cutting ahead of time.  Here Dan is using an enlarged drawing of the rose to plan the cut path.

The cutting was done on scroll saws using jeweler's fret blades and slow reciprocating speeds.

The smaller parts are cut out first then the larger parts.

Here you can see the auxiliary zero clearance table that has been clamped to the scroll saw so small parts will be better supported and won't be lost.  The small black tub contains the cut parts.

Sand shading -

Once the parts are all cut, shading is done using silicon sand which is heated in a small cast iron skillet on a hot plate.

The edges to be shaded dark are buried in the hot sand.  The longer they are left, the darker they become.

Assembly -

The shaded parts are now glued to a sheet of paper.  The glue stick comes in handy again for applying the glue to the paper first.

Then the parts are placed like puzzle pieces.  (This is harder than it looks.)

Once the glue is dry the inlay is brushed with sealer to prevent the wood colors from mixing during sanding.

While the sealer was drying was a good opportunity to get some lunch.

Routing the inlay cavity -

In a bit of a stupor after eating a burger the size of a hubcap, I forgot to take a couple of pictures: 

The inlay was cut from the paper sheet with an Exacto knife, exactly and cleanly following the contour of the inlay.

The trimmed inlay was then positioned on the maple block and while firmly held in position, was carefully traced with a sharp pencil.

The routing is started at the center of the cavity and worked outward so there is plenty of support for the router base.

We used a variety of high speed rotary carving tools equipped with flex shafts and router bases.

All used 1/16" carbide bits and all seemed to work equally well.

The inlay is checked for fit and the cavity adjusted as needed.

Gluing in the inlay -

The inlay cavity is first sealed to prevent staining of the maple by dust from the darker inlay woods or the colored epoxy during the sanding and leveling process.

Once the sealer is dry, a suitable amount of epoxy is dispensed.

Coloring is added to closely match the color of the inlay material.

Half of the epoxy is buttered into the cavity and spread evenly.  The inlay in placed in the cavity and the remaining half of the epoxy is spread over the surface of the inlay.

A sheet of wax paper then covers the epoxy followed by a glue caul block.

The whole sandwich is then clamped until the glue sets.

Rough sanding and check -

Once the glue is set, the excess glue is sanded from the surface of the inlay. 

A check is made for any gaps or bubbles in the epoxy.  Repairs are made at this point as needed.

The inlaid piece is now left so the epoxy can fully cure before final sanding and finishing.

A completed inlay

All the inlays done by Tom, Steve, Mike, and myself turned out terrific. Be sure to watch the calendar for future opportunities to catch this not-to-be-missed workshop.