One of the best ways to add flair to any project is to include some inlay. It’s an easy technique for elevating your projects to the next level.
It’s also a great way to feature some exotic lumber without having to buy much of it.
Like all decorative enhancements, it’s easy to go a little overboard with inlay, so here are a few general things to keep in mind:
- Use restraint. Adding inlay to every part of a project can look tacky. One thin strip around the edge of a tabletop or on the lid of a box is classic.
- Use contrasting wood. Dark inlay on a light colored wood usually looks better than light inlay on a dark wood.
- Thin inlay usually looks better than wide strips. Think of it as furniture pinstriping.
Of course, these are very general aesthetic rules and there’s no rule that says you can’t experiment and break the rules. So you do you!
First, you’ll need to cut a groove in your project piece using a tablesaw or a router. The depth doesn’t really matter, but I like to keep it fairly shallow.
Make the inlay strips
Next, rip the inlay strips on your table saw. There are a lot of ways to do this but here are my two favorites.
Method 1 – This method gives good results and is a safe way for cutting thin tiny strips.
For this method, work on cutting the width first and get it to fit perfectly. It’s very important to install a zero clearance insert plate so the wood doesn’t fall into your saw. Use a scrap board for testing.
Once you have your rip fence set, put your good board in a resaw position and cut partially through the board. Use a feather board to keep pressure against the board and be sure to use push sticks.
If you want, you could just resaw all the way through, but this way will give you more control over the workpiece. Depending on how narrow your inlay is, you might be able to make two passes. Just flip the board around on the second pass.
Now all you need to do is cut out the strips to their thicknesses. Cut them so the inlay is just slightly thicker than the depth of the grooves. I prefer setting up a stop block on the left side of my blade rather than trying to cut the strips between the blade and the fence.
Method 2 – This method spares you from having to make a resaw cut with the board on its edge.
This time, cut the thicknesses first, just by ripping strips from the edge of the board. Again, you just want this to be slightly thicker than the depth of the grooves.
The drawback to this method is that you have to rip these thin inlay strips to their exact widths without much material to hold on to. Just make sure you support both sides of the strips either with a push block or just a sacrificial board.
However, depending on how thin you made your strips and the grooves, you might be able to cut their widths using a utility knife.
To install the inlay, just squeeze some wood glue into the grooves and press the strips in place.
There’s usually no need to clamp them, but if they fit a little loose, you can hold them in place with some painters tape.
Plane or sand them down flush to the workpiece.
PRO TIP: I like to sand while the glue is still wet so in the event that there are any gaps, the sawdust will fill it in and dry with the glue!
Finish it off to make it pop by adding a little spray lacquer!