This is 15 Helpful Tips for Doing Epoxy Inlay in Wood. Epoxy inlay is one of the most rewarding types of inlay, mainly because it’s so easy. You can pull off an amazing look without very much practice, and these tips will help you make it even easier. Enjoy.
Epoxy Inlays in Wood
If you have never worked with this type of inlay before, you’re in for a real treat. Most of the time, traditional inlays are time consuming, and the work is very difficult. You have to make one piece fit into another, and that can be challenging on intricately shaped pieces.
Another frustration with traditional inlay is that it takes a long time to learn. This is because you have to make two pieces perfectly match each other, and you have to do that repetitively in order to make the design look good.
With epoxy inlay, the only thing that you have to get right is the cavity. This is the area that you remove wood from on your main project. As long as that looks nice, then the epoxy you use will take that exact same shape when poured inside.
This means if you have a Dremel tool, or a router with a very tiny bit, you can start creating beautiful inlay cavities without having to worry about making other wooden pieces fit inside them. It’s all of the beauty, with a small amount of the work.
Good Times to Use the Technique
There are several great times to use this technique, though in reality you can use it on almost any project that requires an inlay. The sky is the limit, and the look that you can create is way more detailed than the amount of effort.
Here are a few good times to use this technique:
- Inlay you’re lathe projects, and then turn them flush.
- Create an interesting looking inlay for a jewelry box.
- Inlay your fretboard on a guitar.
- Decorative inlays on the edges of a cutting board.
- Great looking inlays on rifle and pistol stocks.
That’s just a tiny list, and like I said you can use this technique on nearly any project. Now that you’re familiar with the concept, let’s go into some tips to make the process easier than it already is. Here is the list, and I will go into each one in more detail coming up.
- Get good Epoxy
- Find very Clear Epoxy
- You can dye the epoxy if you want.
- Add stones and dust to make your own filler
- Create the cavity carefully
- Clean the cavity really well
- Make it deep enough to not see through to the bottom
- Mix up enough to pour in one session
- Pour carefully and make sure it fills deep
- Overfill the cavities
- Let it cure completely
- Sand on the belt sander to start
- Finish with sandpaper and a block
- Polish the surface
- Apply a Finish
See Also: A Beginners Guide to Woodworking
Get Good Epoxy
First and for most, this technique is only as good as the epoxy you use. Make sure that you buy a name brand that you trust, and that you work with it a little bit in practice before you try it on the real thing.
Make sure that you don’t skip this part of the process. Don’t buy a bottom shelf product and expect to get good results. There are differences in epoxies, and you don’t want to experience the difference with a ruined woodworking project.
Besides, the difference between good and bad is not very much as far as your financial commitment. You can find nice enough epoxy for a few dollars more than the bargain stuff, though the high end epoxy will be significantly more than that.
The good news is that for most inlay work, middle end is perfect.
Find Very Clear Epoxy
Buy a product that dries clear, the clear the better. The really high-end versions dry so clear that you almost can’t tell anything is there. Most normal epoxy mixtures will dry clear, with a very slight yellow tint.
If you are planning on using additives, or coloring the epoxy, then it shouldn’t really matter if it tries with a slight yellow tint. However, if you need something absolutely clear, then make sure you search out a product like that.
Again, there are times were in a little bit of color doesn’t matter, but for truly water-like epoxy inlays, the clearest of the clear epoxies will cost quite a bit more, but they are nearly invisible when set.
You Can Dye the Epoxy if You Want.
Not a lot of people know this, but you can add pigment to your epoxy. You can get these pigments from a number different places including online, and for the amount that you get they are not very expensive.
To save money, you could also buy primary colors plus black and white, and that will let you mix up any color that you can dream of. You do need to know a little color theory to make this work, but its less expensive than trying to buy every color you like.
All you do is start small, and add a little bit of pigment to your batch. Stir it up and see what it looks like, and then adjust if necessary. Start small, because it’s much easier to sneak up on the color then to go over it and try to get back.
When you fall a little short, just add a little bit more pigment. However if you go past your color, then you’ll need to make some more epoxy and add it to the mixture to thin it out. While this is not devastating, it is a lot more involved than adding another drop from a pigment bottle.
See Also: Woodworking Tips Cards – Two Part Epoxy
Add Stones and Dust to Make Your Own Filler
The Inlace company sells all kinds of additives that you can use for your epoxy. You don’t actually have to use clear or a solid color anymore. They have stones, dust, glitter, and other additives that allow you to create a very custom look.
The other nice thing about their additives is that they’re designed with woodworkers in mind. The stones and other materials are actually not real stone, so they machine a lot easier. They will look just like stone, so you get the best of both worlds.
Take a look at their products, and I’m sure you can find others online that are also meant for the same purpose. Take a look at some of the recipes of people of come up with, and you’ll have a lot of fun creating your own.
This is where a lot of the beauty and charm comes in with this type of inlay. You get to experiment with your additives, and create a signature look for your inlay that’s all yours. Eventually, he might even create several looks, because this is a fantastic technique.
See Also: Inlace for Easy Wood Inlays
Create the Cavity Carefully
One of the most important parts of this process is creating the cavity. While there are a lot of ways to do it, and it really doesn’t matter which method you prefer, you do need to take the time to get this part of the inlay right.
The beauty of epoxy inlay is that you only need to get half of the equation correct. There are no pieces to match, and there is no difficult fitting process in the end. You just need to do everything humanly possible to make that cavity and design perfect, and the rest just works out.
That being said, you can absolutely ruin your project by making a poor cavity. Since you’re already getting a huge break, take the time that you need to get that design perfect. You will be so happy you did, because it will make the second part of the process that much easier.
See Also: Wood Filler Inlay Step by Step
Clean the Cavity Really Well
Easiest way to do this is with a dry brush, but you can also do it with an airline. Take care that the flying debris doesn’t get you in your eyes or anywhere else sensitive, and make sure the entire project is clean before going forward.
This cleanup will also allow you some time to look over your design, and make sure that it’s perfect. If you see anything wrong at this point, stop and address it. You’ll be happy you did, and your project would look that much better for it in the end.
See Also: Why I Wear Safety Glasses
Make it Deep Enough to Not See Through
Another great tip about your cavity is to make a deep enough. A shallow cavity allows the epoxy to become translucent, and sometimes you can see the bottom of the cavity through the finished inlay. Unless that is your intent, it won’t look good.
Instead, make sure that you excavate at least an eighth of an inch of depth. Typically an eigth of an inch is enough to hide the bottom of the cavity, though sometimes you may need more. The clearer your mixture, the deeper you need to go.
For most mixtures, the epoxy is clear, but that’s just so it doesn’t alter the color you are going for in your mixture. After adding stones, dust, glitter, and other additives, it should be essentially opaque.
When you fill an eighth of an inch of this material into the cavity, it’s plenty to obscure the look of the wood underneath. Again, this is where a little practice run never hurts. It’s much better to find out you need to go 3/16 on a practice peace then on to finished piece.
Mix Up Enough to Pour In One Session
A money saving tips for this type of inlay work is to only make as much epoxy as you can use in one session. It all depends on how fast you work, and how big of a project you have to fill. It’s easy with a little practice though.
Most of the time, you’re going to be working with 60 minute epoxy. This stuff allows you an hour of open time to work with the material. That’s good, because sometimes you run into problems and you need a little extra time to get things right.
Also, if you know that your only filling about an ounce worth of a cavity, then don’t mix up a gallon of your epoxy. Not only is it a waste, but it’s also a waste of the additives if there are any, which can be expensive if you’re pouring them down the drain.
It may take a little bit of time to get your eye for the volume that you need, but in the beginning try your best. Also, make sure that you don’t underestimate it too much, because you rather have a little extra than not enough.
When you don’t have enough epoxy for your poor, you end up having to mix more. While this isn’t the end of the world, it might be difficult to replicate the same look if you use a lot of additives and didn’t really measure that well.
Pour Carefully and Make Sure it Fills Deep
Pour your epoxy mixture in to the cavity slowly. In fact, depending on how detailed the cavity is, you may end up scooping it with a wooden stick, or something like a furniture repair knife. Either way, do it in a controlled and careful matter.
Make sure that the epoxy has an opportunity to fill all the way down to the bottom of the cavity, and into the corners and tight spots. This is where you can accidentally leave a bubble, and have a fill at doesn’t look very good.
Instead, when you pour slowly, the epoxy has an opportunity to drive itself into those areas. This makes the fill more complete, and in the end it helps bond the epoxy to the wood in a far better way then if there were air gaps.
See Also: Router Inlay Basics for Beginners
Overfill the Cavities
Another thing to watch out for when you are pouring is that you over fill the cavity slightly. It’s important that you leave a little extra on top of the surface to sand off later. This helps create the inlaid look that you are going for.
In order to sand your in layers flash, they need to be a little taller than the surrounding wood when they start. This is where your part comes in. Pour a little heavy, and don’t worry because it’s easy to sand through this mixture.
As you sand an over filled cavity, it makes the piece look like it was inlaid rather than just poured in. A cavity that doesn’t have enough filler in it tends to look like filler when you’re done, which is definitely not the goal that you’re going for.
Let it Cure Completely
This is the hard part for a lot of woodworkers. You just had a whole bunch of fun, you can’t wait to see what it looks like, and it’s hard to wait. However, you need to make sure that you give the epoxy enough time to care.
Most basic epoxy has a 24 to 48 hour cure time. Some of the high-end stuff can take up to seven days before you can actually use the product. No matter what it says, give it the full amount of time before you cut and handle the piece.
The unfortunate part if you don’t, is that you could end up damaging the look because the epoxy wasn’t fully cured. If that happens, you may have to use your tools to dig out a portion or all of the epoxy inlay and start over.
Any time that you saved from rushing is now long gone, and you’re in a worse position than when you started. Give the epoxy as much time as a manufacturer recommends to cure.
I promise that once you reveal your first inlay that it will be well worth the time you spent excitedly waiting.
See Also: The Last 10% Principle for Woodworking
Sand on the Belt Sander to Start
Once your epoxy has cured, the fun part begins. This is where you reveal the look of your inlay, and see how well you did. It’s always a favorite part of the process, and you will enjoy it quite a bit.
These inlay materials are more dense than wood, so you need to start on the belt sander or with a power sander to make them flush. You can do this with a sanding block, but use 80 grit sandpaper to make sure that you are powering through the initial waste.
At this stage, you’re only concerned with removing the bulk, and nothing more. Get the level of the inlay very close to the surface. Don’t go too far though, because power sanding can remove a lot of material very quickly, and you don’t want to go to deep.
Instead, sand until you can start to see small outlines around the inlay cavities. This is an indication that you are down to the epoxy layer that is stuck to the surface of the wood around your cavities. At this point, it’s a good place to stop.
See Also: 17 Important Tips on How to Sand Wood
Finish with Sandpaper and a Block
Next you want to switch to sandpaper and sanding block to flush out the inlay. Start with some sandpaper that’s a bit more aggressive to remove the scratches from the previous step. As soon as you can, switch to something more medium grade.
Then, once you’re very close, switch to something like 220 grit for your final sanding and leveling. Not only will this still cut well enough to be useful, it will leave a surface behind that doesn’t require much additional sanding to make it look nice.
For your final few strokes, make sure to go with the grain. Also, take a look when you’re done and make sure that there are no areas that need to be filled again. If there are, scuff them with 100 grit sandpaper, fill them again, and repeat the same process to level the new fill.
See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker
Polish the Surface
When your sanding is complete, you can go even finer with the sandpaper if you want to have a more polished look. Due to the additives and the nature of epoxy, it can look better when you sand it with finer papers.
Start with 320 and then 400. Spent some time on these two papers, because they will remove the majority of the scratches from the 220, and set you up with a much smoother surface. This makes the following steps a lot easier.
Next, switch to 600 grit and then 800 grit and evaluate the inlay once you are done with these two sanding sessions. Wipe it off really well with a rag, and remove all the sanding dust. Look at the inlay, and decide if it has the look you’re going for.
In most cases, once you get down to this level, and such a fine sanding grit, the inlay will look very natural, and be a seamless part of the project. At this point, you are ready to apply finish to seal in the look, and complete your project.
Apply a Finish
The nice thing about epoxy inlay is that it takes pretty much any kind of finish. Some of the natural oils are not going to stick as well, but any film finish with modern ingredients will do just fine in most cases.
Always do a test piece, just to be sure. However, typically you can coat your project in lacquer, polyurethane, or other film creating finishes. Oils that are designed to penetrate will not go into the acrylic of the epoxy. So avoid those types of finishes.
As always with finishing, work in thin layers, and slowly build them up. As you do, you’ll be creating a protective layer over your project as well as your inlay. Again, don’t rush, and slowly build the layer of finish.
After several coats, you should be very satisfied with the look. Allow the finish to dry for several hours and then go back and make sure there are no areas that need to be addressed. If there are, take care of them, and you can look forward to a beautiful project afterwards.
See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing
Your Action Assignment
If you have never done epoxy inlay before, you are in for a real treat. If you’ve made it this far, don’t leave without at least trying this technique. Not only is it easy, even for beginners, but it’s extraordinarily beautiful.
You can literally go from zero experience with inlay work, to creating inlays that look to the average person like they required years and years of experience. It’s a beautiful thing when you can do a technique without spending a ton of time practicing and learning.
Take a look at a few of the companies that I mentioned, and buy some ingredients. You can even go on Amazon and buy a bunch of the ingredients at the bottom of this post.
Spend a few bucks, and get the stuff in your shop. You’ll be glad you did, and it could transform your woodworking forever.
If you have any questions about these epoxy inlay tips, please Post a Question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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