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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! ;-)