How to Make Router Inlay Templates the Easy Way

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This is How to Make Router Inlay Templates the Easy Way. Router inlay templates are used with a router inlay kit, which makes inlay work very simple. I’ll show you everything you need to know right here, and you’ll be doing great inlays before you know it. Enjoy.

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Router Inlay Templates

How-to-Make-Router-Inlay-Templates-the-Easy-WayIf you haven’t used an inlay template for the router, or you don’t know what it is, then I recommend you check out my post on router inlay to start. You’ll learn everything you need to know about the kits, and how you can start creating amazing inlays without a lot of practice.

Once you understand how the process works, you’ll be happy that it’s based off of templates. These templates are easy to make, but there are some tips along the way that will help you create good templates right from the start.

The beauty of a template is that it creates a repeatable process, and the results are uniform from example to example. All you need to do is get one thing right, and you will get every single other thing right.

Again there are a few tricks, but it’s a fairly straightforward process and anyone can follow to make an excellent router inlay template.

Here’s a quick overview of the process, and then we’ll go into each one of these parts in greater detail.

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  • Start With the Right Material
  • Make the Templates Large Enough
  • Create a Design Without Tight Corners
  • Simple Designs at First
  • Make Multiple Smaller Templates on One Board
  • Mark out the Design Very Clearly
  • Drill First to Allow Saw Access
  • How to Saw By Hand and With Power
  • Sand the Inside Walls Smooth
  • Make Your Template Perfect
  • Test the Template on Scraps

See Also: A Beginners Guide to Woodworking

Start With the Right Material

The very first thing you need to consider for your inlay template is the material. This is based on economy, but it’s also based on your router inlay kit. Take a look at your bushing on the kit, and see how far below the router base plate it sticks out.

You need to create a template that is at least a pinch thicker than that distance, so that the bushing on the kit doesn’t drag on the wood surface below the template. That means if you’re bushing is more than a quarter but less than a half, then a half inch piece of wood is a good choice.

Another thing to consider is the actual type of wood itself. One of the easiest types to use is MDF, and it’s actually really easy to work with. It’s not super expensive, and it does not cause the same problems in a template that plywood sometimes does.

The edges and the inside of the wood are very easy to smooth, and that means a smoother cut with your router. Another thing you could do is use hardwood, or at least solid wood. This is going to be more expensive, but it will still make a very good template.

For all of my templates, I use MDF. It’s very inexpensive, and if you buy a big enough sheet, you can cut out several smaller pieces to make router templates. Make them all look the same, and if you cut them roughly the same size, you can store them all in the same spot.

See Also: Woodworking Templates

Make the Templates Large Enough

This is one of the biggest rookie mistakes when doing router inlay. Until you have the router on top of the template, it doesn’t really dawn on you to make the template a lot bigger than it actually needs to be to hold the design.

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However, once you put your router on top and try to start working, you’ll quickly notice that you don’t have any room to move around because the clamps are in the way. If the template is too small, it’s not something that you can actually use.

Instead, allow several inches on all sides of the design, and then a tiny buffer of extra room for clamps. This is going to depend on the size your router base plate, and even the handles on your router, so make sure you measure.

If you want to make it easy, just measure the entire width of your router, and add that much distance at least on all sides of the inlay cavity. This is too much obviously, but at least you know you’ll have a ton of room, and you won’t have to worry.

It’s very important that you clamp down the template really well when you’re using it, so adding this extra size will make that part of the process easy. It will also make your template more secure, which will make your overall inlay far better.

See Also: Binding Inlay to Dress up a Project

Create a Design Without Tight Corners

Router inlay uses a rounded bit. Typically this is 1/8 of an inch in diameter, so you need to bear that in mind when you’re making a design. You really can’t make anything with sharp corners, or very tight curves.

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You would be surprised however, because that limitation really doesn’t limit you all that much in the end. Most inlay shapes have room to be modified to have slightly more rounded curves, and no sharp corners.

It’s not something that most people would notice on the design itself, and even something that looks fairly intricate can be done with the router inlay method. All you need to do is make the right kind of templates, and experiment with the product.

See Also: Pickup Routing Template

Simple Designs at First

One of the best things you can do for yourself in the beginning is to make a simple template, and get a little experience. You would be surprised how nice even a simple design looks, and it’s a really good place to start and get your feet wet.

Execute a simple design really well, put a lot of time and attention into the template, and be careful as you route out the cavity. Practicing like this will let you get your technique down, and without the headache of a complex design.

Once you have a few of these simple designs under your belt, you can then branch out to templates that create a more elaborate design. Sometimes this can be one template, but often times it’s going to be several.

See Also: 19 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Woodworking

Make Multiple Smaller Templates on One Board

If you have a design that calls for several different cuts, consider creating all of the cavities next to each other on the same board. They may not look like the final design, but is long as you know which cavity is for what part, you’re fine.

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All you need to do is arrange them so that way the openings on the template all fit next to each other somewhere near the middle. This will give you plenty a room for router clearance as we talked about earlier, and it will keep all of your designs in one place.

The other nice thing about having all the openings in one spot is that you’ll be able to see through your template to place the design on your project. Normally you would just measure and make marks before laying the template, but it’s nice to be able to see through.

As you go from pass to pass, all you have to do is switch which part of the template you use. Keep on going until you complete the entire design, and then cut out your positives to fill the openings.

See Also: How to Make Printable String Art Templates

Mark out the Design Very Clearly

When you’re working on your template, one of the best things you can do is mark out the design of your opening very clearly, with a sharp pencil. You don’t want to have wide or blurry lines, and that’s important for a couple reasons.

First, wide and blurry lines make it difficult to tell where the design actually is, and that makes it harder to cut out. When you make your marks, make them is fine as possible, so that way you know exactly where to cut to create the opening.

The lines that you draw actually have thickness to them. This is the second point. If you draw a really thick line, and then come back and try to cut on it, it can end up being off by sometimes as much as an eighth of an inch.

In a situation where you’re trying to work in a confined area, or you need to make a certain size inlay, that can be the difference between success and failure. Also, when you’re sanding, thin lines make a big difference.

It’s much easier to sand right up to a thin line than a thick strip. Thicker lines make it more difficult to know where you are, and blurry lines are just about useless. Make your marks nice and clear, and make them thin when you’re designing the template.

See Also: 15 Great Tips for Making Wooden Tool Handles

Drill First to Allow Saw Access

The next step in making a template is to create an access for the saw. In order to get your saw into the wood, you need to be able to thread it through a hole. This is where the drill comes in.

Drill a series of holes that are all tangent to the lines that you drew on the template. Keep the drill holes on the inside portion of the design that will be cut out as waste. Space them as tightly or widely as you like, depending on how many points you need access with the saw.

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If you don’t have the ability to saw out the center, you can always drill your holes very close, and then use a chisel to finally free up the middle piece. This is a bit more work, but it can definitely be done if you just have some patience, and spend the time.

Be extra careful when you’re drilling the holes, because you don’t want to go over the line. It’s actually better to play it safe and drill slightly inside of the line so in case you make a mistake, you won’t go completely over.

Once you go over the line, you’ll have to modify the entire template to make that blemish go away. It’s not a fun place to be, and you would probably be better just marking out another design and trying again.

See Also: How a Practice Break Can Make You a Better Woodworker

How to Saw By Hand and With Power

There’s a couple different ways that you can saw out the middle portion of your router inlay template, and they are both fairly easy. The non-power version is a coping saw, and the power version is a scroll saw.

Another option for non-power is to take a scroll saw blade and embed most of it into a dowel rod, and use that. Essentially you’re making a little saw, and that can get you into the middle of templates that you’re coping saw can’t reach inside of.

If you’re lucky enough to have a scroll saw, all you need to do is thread the blade through one of the drill holes, and then start sawing. Keep on going with the saw until you complete the cut and the middle portion falls out.

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Enter with the saw in several different places if that’s what it takes, and make sure to follow just inside the line so that way you don’t go over. The next step will take care of any excess beyond the line area, so just make sure to get close.

See Also: Clearance Notch Saw For Acoustic Guitar Making

Sand the Inside Walls Smooth

Once you remove the bulk of the material with the saw, it’s time to refine the edge of the design so that way the router bushing can move smoothly. This involves sanding, and it’s a pretty quick process.

Use a sanding stick, or a sanding block when you can. If you need to make a small flat stick with sandpaper, feel free to do so because it will make a big difference. It sometimes frustrating to sand inside of a small design, so do what you need to make it more comfortable.

Take your time, and smooth the inside of the template really well. You need to have the router inlay template completely free of scratches and marks, that way in a router can move around the design without transferring those imperfections to the inlay cavity or the piece.

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Make Your Template Perfect

This part can’t be understated. Make your template perfect. Take the time that you need in order to make the template absolutely perfect, and it will reward you many times over with successful inlay after successful inlay.

The inlay that you do with his template will only ever be as good as the template itself, so that should be all the motivation you need. Make the template right, and don’t start using it until it’s 100% correct.

You’ll be very happy that you spent this extra time, because you’re inlays that you make with the router will have nice smooth edges, and they will look professional. All of those little scratches and dents will come out, you just need to sand.

See Also: 17 Important Tips on How to Sand Wood

Test the Template on Scraps

You need to test every template you make, especially in the beginning. After a while, you’ll get good enough to know how tight of a curve you can make, and what you can actually do with the designs on your router templates.

Until then, spend the time and just test the template. All you really need to do is put a scrap underneath, and run the router around the template to check. Evaluate the cavity after you’re done, and address any issues with the template.

If you can buzz the router around the new template, and it leaves a cavity has nice smooth edges, then you know you’ve done the right thing. Your template will work out well, and it will serve you for a very long time.

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See Also: 16 Great Tips for Setting Up a Workshop in the Garage

Your Action Assignment

Now that you know everything you need to know about making router inlay templates, it’s time to head out into the shop and make one. Don’t spend all this time reading and not actually get out there and make some sawdust. It’s easier than it looks.

Pick a design, and commit to it. It doesn’t even matter if it’s something you ever plan on making, this is just to teach you how to make templates. Once you see how fun and easy this is, you’ll end up finding a lot of reasons to do it.

Pick something easy, and something that you could knock out in a couple hours. Make yourself a great looking template, and make it perfect. Then, pick a scrap and create a cavity. Finally pick another thin piece and make an inlay piece from it.

Glue those together, and sand them flash. You now just officially created your first inlay using a router inlay template that you made yourself. You should be proud. You should also be ready for all the amazing woodworking ideas this new technique will give you.

If you have any questions about this post, please post a question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
Buy My Books on Amazon

I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.

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Check Out My Shop!


You Can Find My Books on Amazon!

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