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25 April 2014

How to inlay wood

I've been wondering whether I've got what it takes to do some fancy wood inlay. Perhaps I can spice up my banjo build with a few choice embellishments? I've inlaid fret-dots on previous builds, but nothing more complicated than this. Today, I'm going to give you an update on a little experiment I've been undertaking...

Here's a panel from my new comic. It's a work in progress. I've drafted four chapters and I'm working on the last one now. The good news is that it's finally got a name; I'm calling it "The Black Pirate" in honour of my Mexicali Rose. The bad news is that the App I'm using to storyboard has stopped working! Damn! I'll give the makers a chance to fix it, but I may have to find another way of getting to the end of this.

I show you this panel for a reason. See the hand-print. This is the design I decided to turn into an inlay. My thinking is that a handprint is the simplest, most basic symbol that anyone can put on anything. I mean, people have been making hand-prints since time immemorial. I resolved to try and inlay a handprint based upon this picture.

You might remember this ebony stock that I was working in my recent trial of my new table saw. I cut out the cracks to create a blank that I can use as a veneer on my banjo headstock. I figured that it might be cool to inlay some maple to give a stark black and white look, like in my comic art.

I couldn't get my printer working, so I ended up tracing the image off my laptop screen and sticking it to the maple using some double-sided sticky tape. Here you can see me holding the maple having cut and filed it to shape. See the centre-line. I used this to help me to place it correctly on the ebony blank.

I did a fair bit of research into the best way to do inlay, but in the end I wasn't impressed with anything I saw, so decided to make it up as I was going along. I'm not convinced that I made it any easier for myself, but I'll detail the steps I took here for you to have a chuckle at.

First off, I stuck some double-sided sticky tape to the ebony blank. I stuck down the maple hand and drew round it. Then I pulled the hand off and cut the centre of the tape away using a sharp craft knife.

Next, I set to the ebony with my Dremmel with a tiny router bit. It took me many sittings to hollow out the hole as the Dremmel kept over-heating. I was paranoid about cutting the hole too large, so nervously kept checking the fit.

Here's the final fit. The hand sits proud of the ebony, but my intention was always to sand it flush. 

I took a leap of faith and glued the hand in place yesterday and left it overnight to set. It looks pretty messy, but I had faith that once sanded, everything would be fine. 

And here it is! I've roughly sanded the hand flush with the ebony, and there's a pound coin to give you a sense of the size of the inlay. Not bad! It's actually not a bad rendition of the hand I started out sketching in my comic! I'm sure that it will come up even better with some proper finishing. I'm chalking this up as a success. I need to do more!

That's it! I've finally done some proper inlay! And I'm going to do some more... just have to figure out what I'm going to do.

Parts are still arriving for the banjo build. You can see here that I now have a stock of hooks and lugs to work with.

I really need to decide on a name for this instrument before I get too much down the line. I'm not sure what I'll do next, but it will probably be to try and fashion a pot. Til next time...


  1. I didn't know you could be so handy when it comes to working with wood King. ;-)

  2. Naw... I'm all fingers and thumbs! ;-)

  3. Looking good, it takes awhile to learn wood inlay, I have documented some of it on my blog, If anyone is interested I'm happey to talk to them.

  4. I'm definitely intererested Peter! Will check out the blog soon!

    1. Welcome, happy to answer any questions, I don't know much about computers, but have put a spot you can email from.

    2. Hi
      Thanks for looking at my blog I am so new to this blogging a can't workout how to reply to your comments from my blog yet, I will get there. I appreciate your comments, and have visited Seven Neystrom's blog, I will return and have a really good read. I hope I'm heading in the right direction with the blog. Good idea doing an inlay of the old house, I hadn't thought of that, it might take me awhile to perfect it. The hand powered scrollsaw started life as a foot powered machine, until my son pointed out that was a flowered plan, dumb bugger I am in a wheelchair, so converted to hand power, I intent doing a post on it at some stage.
      again thank you
      Peter Holmes

  5. For those interested in inlay; check out my site.

    My first post is about this inlay panel that I reproduced for a pair of tables.
    Future posts will be comparative studies of eagles, shells, fans, husks, and floral inlay. Technical aspects of making inlay, dyes, and woods will also be covered.

    All are invited to share images, links, and stories about inlay whether historic or contemporary. IT'S ALL ABOUT INLAY

    1. Good luck with your blog Russell. If you cover off only half of what you say you will then I reckon it will soon become the Mecca of Inlay!

      I'd love to see some examples of your work posted... maybe some projects you're doing with detailed "how-to" steps. Also, I love to see pieces on the tools of the trade and workshops. ;-)

      Thanks for commenting and get to it!