A router inlay kit is a great way to cheat a little and create simple inlay shapes that match perfectly. The kit fits any router with a bushing option, and makes creating inlays far easier than it should be. Being primarily a guitar maker, I purchased this kit for making custom electronics cover plates.
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The router inlay kit comes with a screw in bushing, a centering rod, an adapter, and a spiral cutting bit. Installing the kit is easy, but many of them leave out valuable information in their instructions.
Centering the plate is by far the most important part of using this kind of kit. Loosen the screws on the router plate first. Then, tighten the centering pin in the collet and install the bushing. Now, tighten the screws on the router plate. This centers the collet and bushing perfectly, making the kit work far better.
Next, throw away the spiral cutting bit that comes with the kit, especially if you purchased it from a discount store. This bit is entirely too long, and flimsy. Purchase a 1/8″ diameter carbide cutter with a shank that matches your router. Use this for all your inlay work, because it cuts cleaner, and moves less under pressure. The long thin bit will bend as you are using it, and this will cause gaps in your inlay. These will have to be filled, and that weakens the look.
The router inlay kit works best when you use a different bit, and center the bushing well before making any cuts.
Next, the router inlay kit is great for simple shapes. Very complex shapes, or really tight curves is not what this tool is designed for. However, it is great at making larger rounded shapes like guitar electronics covers.
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The plate on the left was made with my kit, and it fits perfectly. It almost looks like it was made using a CNC machine, but it was all by hand with the router. Making a really nice custom electronics cover is an expected step when you are making an electric guitar or bass. The standard cover plates on mass produced instruments are not very pleasing to the eye. Thankfully, the router inlay kit makes the process very easy.
Making the Template for the Router Kit
One template will be needed for each design made on the router inlay kit. Making a template involves drawing out the shape, and cutting out the inside. Then, sand the inside so the edges are smooth. This allows the router bushing to ride against it without bouncing. Spend a little time making sure that the template is well made. A great template will produce great results every time you use it. They can be saved, and used over and over again. Make it well, and it will save you way more time in the future than it took to create it.
Use a template for the router inlay kit. Save it with your other templates, and they can all be used over and over again.
There is a small bushing that comes with the kit, and it fits over the main bushing that screws onto the router base. This moves the router bit away from the template the same distance as the diameter of the bit itself.
With the first pass for the cavity, the extra bushing is used to cut the inside path, which is a smaller size. This creates the cavity, which requires the bit to be farther inwards. The second pass is made without the bushing, and the bit cuts outside the path. Finally, the piece is pressed into the cavity, and it will fit perfectly.
Whether you are doing actual inlay work, or making electric guitar component covers, a router inlay kit is a great tool to have in the shop. Almost anything can be made better looking with an inlay or two. The kit makes anyone an expert, and they are not expensive to purchase.
My book, Acoustic Guitar Making: How to make Tools, Templates, and Jigs covers the router inlay kit. Though not used for acoustic guitars as much, it can be helpful if you are doing a massive inlay on the back of the guitar. It can also help with modest headstock inlays. Inlays are pretty much expected on a handmade instrument, and a jig can be very helpful.
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If you have any questions about the router inlay kit, please leave a comment. I will answer any questions that come my way. Happy building.
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