This is How to Make an Acoustic Guitar – Part Twenty Four – Fretboard Inlay. In this part of the series I will show you how to inlay square abalone pieces on your guitar fretboard. As usual, there will also be several tips and tricks along the way, enjoy.
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Inlaying the Fretboard
Inlaying the fretboard is one of the parts of making an acoustic guitar that can be the most challenging, but also be the most rewarding. It’s also one of the areas that new builders tend to skip when they’re scared of the process.
Inlaying is no different than any other skill in woodworking. If you spend a little time practicing, and use methods that are easier for beginners, you can be really successful. You just have to give it a try, and choose the right path.
On this guitar, instead of doing round inlays which are the easiest to accomplish, I went with square inlays instead. These are also fairly easy to accomplish, though not quite as easy as drilling a hole for a round inlay.
If you’ve been doing round inlay work for a long time because it’s super simple, you’re going to like this part of the series. It will get you into another shape, and hopefully open even more doors for you to try different aspects of inlay work.
If you missed last week, here is How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Part Twenty Three
The Fretboard for This Guitar
Before we get started, if you’ve been following the series you might notice that the fretboard looks awfully finished already, even though we never really talked about it. That’s because I bought this fretboard already slotted and sanded to a radius.
Though I know how to make my own fretboards, and slot them, and sand them, sometimes it’s just not worth all of the effort when it’s only a few dollars more to have a fretboard serviced for you.
Especially in the case of a common species like East Indian Rosewood, there is really no reason for me to go through all of those extra steps when for about $10 more they can be done for me. It would be different if this customer ordered exotic fretboard that I had to cut myself.
So that’s where we are, this is a slotted fretboard with the radius already sanded, and at this point I’ve also tapered the edges by making a couple of saw cuts, and sanded them smooth. At this point, the board is ready for inlays and frets.
See Also: My Guitar Fretboard Slotting Jig
Measuring and Marking
For these little square inlays, the easiest way to place them is to find the center of the fret box, and mark the location you need to cut out. The easiest way to find the center is to draw an X from corner to corner. The intersection is the center.
From there, you can draw a vertical line that runs in the same direction as the length of the fretboard, and use that to align your square inlay piece. Use a very sharp pencil, and mark all the way around the piece on all four sides.
The better you mark, the better you’ll create the cavity, and the better the inlay will look. Take your time, and mark as close to the edge of the inlay peace as you can. It can be hard to hold in place, so consider using the eraser side of a pencil to help.
Mark the locations for all of your squares from one end of the fretboard to the other. Place them anywhere you like, though following the standard for guitars is definitely what I recommend.
Chiseling the Cavity
Now that you have everything marked out, you need to chisel the cavity. Depending on what the sides of your square inlays measure, buy a chisel it’s just a little bit bigger than that dimension if you can’t find one that’s identical.
If it’s identical, do nothing. In the case of an inlay with 1/4 inch sides, a 1/4 inch chisel is perfect. If the piece is a little bit smaller, use a belt sander or a grinder to reduce the width of the blade on the chisel to be the same measurement as the inlay.
From there, you can punch straight down through the four lines that border the inlay piece with your chisel. Go straight in, with the beveled edge of the chisel towards the middle of the inlay, which will later be removed as waste.
After you punch in through all four sides, make a few more vertical incisions in the waste area, and then come back from one side and scoop out the material. Try not to go any deeper than the thickness of the inlay square itself.
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See Also: Router Inlay Kit For Easy Inlays
Checking the Depth
On the first attempt, check your depth. It’s important to go deep enough that the inlay goes below the surface, but it’s also important that you don’t go so deep that it can’t be sanded level afterwards.
If you go too deep, you can always add a little bit of filler material underneath the inlay, let it dry, and the then proceed to inlaying the piece as normal. If you’re too shallow, simply come back with a chisel and remove a little bit more from the bottom of the cavity.
It can take a little bit of time to get this right, but it’s definitely worth it. Take your time, and make sure that each cavity is the right size for the piece, and the right depth. Once you get through all of the pieces, you can move to the next step.
Gluing the Pieces With Epoxy
Abalone is a type of shell. It’s not as porous is wood, and requires a different type of adhesive in order to keep it in the cavity. This is where two part epoxy comes into play, and is the best adhesive you’ll ever work with.
Epoxy is used when you have to glue just about anything to just about anything else. It won’t glue water to air, but it can stick just about anything else together. Buy a name brand that you trust, and the five minute variety is probably fine.
Mix the epoxy according to the recommendations on the bottle, and then using a toothpick or a tiny brush, coat the bottom and the sides of the cavity lightly. Then, press the inlay piece into position, and allow a little of the epoxy to squeeze out on the edges.
This little bit of excess epoxy will fill any hairline gaps that are present in the inlay, and make the work look very good. Since the epoxy is clear, it will take the background color of the wood, and again it will fill small gaps and make the inlay look very tight.
Sanding the Inlays Flush
After you finished inlaying all of the pieces, leave the fretboard alone to dry for the full cure time of the epoxy. For most, this is 24 hours. Simply put it away, and resist the urge to touch it before the time has passed.
Once the inlay is fully cured, grab your sanding block with a radius and put some 220 grit sandpaper around it. Then, carefully sand the inlay pieces to be flush to the fretboard. Work carefully so that we don’t sand away excess wood.
In the perfect world, you won’t sand away any wood at all. Work with that block to focus as much of the effort as possible on just the inlay piece itself. When the peace is level to the fretboard, move to the next one.
In the end, you want to cover your entire sanding block with a fresh sheet of sandpaper, and work the entire fretboard end to end just to level out any accidental dips that may have been caused in the leveling process. This shouldn’t take too many strokes.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Coming Up Next Week
In the next edition of how to make an acoustic guitar, I’ll show you how to fret this fretboard, as well as several different tips and tricks that make the process easier. Fretting is not as scary as it looks, and I’ll show you what you need to know.
There are also some cool things that open up from the simple fact that we are going to add frets to this fretboard while it’s not attached to the neck. There are several advantages for this, and I’ll go into them in the next post.
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