This is 5 super easy inlays you can start doing right now. Inlay work does not have to be super difficult, and you don’t need to spend a lifetime learning it. Instead, look to these simple inlay methods as a way to get you into the craft with a much lower learning curve.
Traditional Inlay is Not Easy
The problem with traditional inlay is that it’s not easy. Like all skills, inlay needs time, attention, and practice. As it should be, inlay work, especially at the high end is a marvel to behold, and a craft of beauty.
In the beginning, you might think that inlay is just part of woodworking. It is technically, but that’s just at the basic level. Inlay is a skill that you can spend a long time refining, and even then still be learning new things.
There is a way however, to short cut all of this. The following simple inlay methods can have you doing great looking inlays in a very short amount of time. They require little practice, and you will look like a professional very quickly.
I love round inlays, and you will too. If you can drill a hole, you can do round inlays. Literally, the process is not much more complicated than that. Drill a hole, create an inlay. The nice thing is that you can pick this up in a short shop session, and keep the skill for a long time.
The basic process is to find a dowel rod, and then find a drill bit that is the same size. You drill a little into your inlay surface, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch, and then cut off a small portion from the end of the dowel to be glued in. After the glue dries, sand flush and you are done.
This is super easy, and since you can get dowel rods in several different diameters, and several different colors, you have a lot of design options. There are even ways to make your own round inlays, and this will give you unlimited color options.
To make your own inlays, follow the directions in my post on Homemade Fret Dots. All you need is a plug cutter, and follow the direction in the post. After that, you can literally make round inlays from any kind of wood that you want.
I love this method, because you are in total control. You can make inlay pieces for next to nothing, and they will look better than store bought inlay dots. You can fully customize them too by picking out the exact species and color of wood that you want.
See Also: 13 Myths About Getting Into Woodworking
Square inlays are not that much more involved than round inlays. If you know a couple tricks, you can make the inlay process super simple. They do take a little more time than round inlays, but the different look is worth it in many cases.
The trick is to find an average quality chisel and grind or sand it down to the same width as one side of the square. Then, all you have to do is punch straight into the wood surface on all four sides. The width will be perfect, and then all you do is clear the middle section.
Once you have the cavities prepared, just glue in the inlay pieces. These can be store bought, or you can mill them yourself on a table saw or with the help of a thickness planer. Again, if you mill the materials yourself, you get more control and you get to pick the exact color and species for every project.
Router Inlay Kit Inlays
A router inlay kit is a simple add on for your router. It is essentially a bushing that goes onto the base of the router, and it has a removable collar and a twist bit. The kit works with templates that you can make yourself too, so the cost is very low.
The only drawback of the kit is that the shapes have to be fairly rounded, and not have any corners. While this is not a terrible thing, you are not going to be doing any very elaborate inlays unless you are willing to spend a lot of time and make a lot of templates.
The way the process works is you simply buzz the router around the outside of the template. The template controls where the router bit goes, and you set the depth for the depth of your inlay.
Once you have the outside cut, you can then remove the template and remove the material from the inside area. Once it is a flat cavity, and all the material inside the outline has been removed, you are ready for the inlay piece.
There is a setting on the inlay kit moves the bit to the outside of the line that you just created around the outside of the inlay cavity. You clamp down a thin flat piece of wood, and then follow the template a second time.
This round creates a piece from the flat wood, and this is the positive. This inlay piece will fit perfectly into the cavity nearly every time. It may require a pinch of sanding every once in a while, but it’s still a thousand times easier than trying to fit the two completely by hand.
If you want to see the kit in action, my post on the Router Inlay Kit is a great start.
Fine Line Inlays
These are fun inlays, because they are literally anything you make of them. Fine line inlays are simply a long line of inlaid wood that can be curved or straight. It’s easier to make the curved lines sometimes, because you have more freedom with the router.
The basic process involves finding a router bit, a fluent or a spiral, that is the same width as the material you will be inlaying as the fine line. These are very thin bits, anywhere from 1/16 inch to 1/4 inch at the very high end. At 1/4 it can be difficult to bend, so only use the bigger sizes for straight inlays.
Basically, you set the depth of the inlay, and then drag your router to make the cavity. You can set a guide for a straight inlay, or you can go freehand for a curved inlay. Either way, keep the router moving so that you don’t accidentally make too wide of a channel.
Once you have your channels, simply add glue and tap in the long pieces of wood. If you buy guitar binding strips for this, you just need to find a matching router bit. The strips are about three feet long, and that’s a lot of inlay.
Another great inlay option is epoxy inlay. This is a method that has been made popular by the wood turning community, and they really make it look like a lot of fun. Essentially, the process is just making a cavity, filling it, and then leveling it after the epoxy cures.
The fun part of this process is that you can create a lot of interesting and creative looks in the epoxy. You can also just buy it already made if you are not super creative, or you just want to have an easier time.
InLace is the biggest player in the epoxy inlay market, and they sell a lot of stuff. You can buy their kits that have everything you need in them, or the ingredients themselves. If you do the ingredients, you need to mix them with a slow setting epoxy.
The basic process is to create a cavity for the inlay. This can be with a router or a Dremel tool, and make it as perfect as you can. The cavity is going to be the part that creates the look. If you make a good cavity, you will have a good inlay.
Spend time on the cavity. If you need to go back and fix something, do it. The inlay portion of the equation is a liquid when you add it, so it will conform to anything that you make. Spend time, and make the cavity worth looking at.
Once you are ready, you then pour our epoxy inlay mixture into the cavity. Slightly over fill it, so you have room for settling and for sanding later. Allow the epoxy time to fully cure. In most cases, this is a full 24 hours.
Once completely cured, you can go back and sand. The ingredients sold for this inlay process are softer than you might think, and they sand easily. Do the bulk of the sanding with a power tool, and then come back with a block and sand by hand until the inlay is flush.
See Also: Inlace for easy Wood Inlays
Tinting Your Epoxy
This is not an inlay type, but it can help you if you are working with a traditional inlay shape and you need to hide some mistakes. If you tint your epoxy that you use to secure the inlay piece, you can hide the gaps better.
Simply get some pigment tints from a woodworking store, and tint the epoxy to match the background species of wood. This works really well on dark woods, because you can be a little off and nobody will notice.
On lighter woods, this process may not work at all for you. If you cannot match the target color really well, or of the lighter grain is too much, it can be difficult to hide anything finer than a sliver of a gap.
As always, test first, and then you will be in a much better shape to complete the process once the time comes to do the real thing. If you ruin a few test pieces, who cares. Throw them out, and keep on practicing until you are good enough to nail the actual project.
See Also: Wood Filler Inlay Step By Step
Your homework is to try out some easy inlay types and see what you like. Inlay is such an easy task at the basic levels that I just explained. You can add a lot of beauty, and also a lot of value to a piece simply by adding a few easy inlays.
On a jewelry box, adding fine lines, simple dot inlays, or a couple squares can take the design to the next level. This is far more than a basic box, and even though the techniques used are fairly basic, the inlays will not look that way.
You can add a ton of value to any project with a few inlays, and it’s well worth the effort. I recommend that you start with round inlay, and then branch out from there. You will love the look, and your friends and customers will too.
You can pick up round inlay in a couple hours. If it was not for needing to wait for the glue to dry, you could master round inlays in a few minutes. Literally, if you can drill a hole, you can make a round inlay, which means you need to give it a try right away.
This was one of those game changing learning experiences for me, and I hope it will be for you too. Once you see how easy it is, and once you start making your own round inlay pieces from exotic hardwoods, you will be hooked just the same.
5 Easy Inlay Methods Wrap-Up
Inlay can be a tough skill to master. If you want to make yourself feel like a real beginner, go online and look at some of the higher end examples of traditional inlay work. It’s incredible to behold. Just remember, those people started out just like you, and some in even worse places.
Inlay is an easy way to add value and beauty to a piece, and in the beginning, you need a few easy ways to create inlays without needing to practice forever. These methods give you a great looking inlay, and they also give you a skill that you can learn fairly quickly.
Try out some of these inlay methods, and see if you like them. If you have smaller projects, you can start adding inlays that will set off the look, and make it your own. You might even come up with an inlay signature that is all yours.
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