How to Do Wire Inlay

Written by darla ferrara
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How to Do Wire Inlay
Use wire inlay to create art. (red wine poured into wine glass image by Allen Penton from

The process of inlaying art pieces with metal has been around for centuries. You may see examples of wire inlay in every store you go to, from gold-rimmed wine goblets to filigree jewellery. The method involves filling an engraved channel with annealed metal, often gold, silver or copper. Any substance carved can also have a wire inlay, such as glass or wood. The art of inlaying takes skill and practice. It is best to start small and work your way into more elaborate designs. Once mastered, wire inlay will give you some beautiful works of art.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Pencil
  • Ballpoint pen
  • Vice
  • 1/8th-inch flat file
  • 1/16th-inch flat file
  • 3/64th-inch flat file
  • V graver
  • Knife engraver
  • Round punch
  • Hammer
  • Metal wire in assorted thicknesses
  • Torch
  • Bunsen burner
  • Bowl
  • Cold water
  • Pliers
  • Tweezers
  • Flat-end punch
  • Metal file
  • 220-grit sandpaper

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    Creating your Design

  1. 1

    Design your pattern by marking the material you are inlaying with a pencil.

  2. 2

    Go over your design again with a ballpoint pen, once you have a pattern that works. The pencil drawing will not leave much of an impression but allow you to perfect the design. Depending on the surface you use, the pen will leave a slight depression on the piece you are inlaying. This is especially true with a wood product. Regardless of the medium, it will enhance the pattern and make it more visible.

  3. 3

    Secure your piece in a vice to safeguard it from scratching before engraving.

  4. 4

    Engrave your design into the material. The engraving tool used will depend on the material you are inlaying. Most media will respond to flat metal files such as a 1/8th-inch flat engraver, V graver or a knife engraver. Have several files available for engraving. Lay the tool of your choice down onto your design and scratch the pattern into the surface. Use a hammer to add depth to your lines. Small round holes can be punched with a round punch.

  5. 5

    Create notches in any wide channels, the lines created in your design. For instances, if you have a wide engraved channel, 1/8 inch or more, that runs vertically, engrave small lines, horizontally, into the channel. Think of the texture on the edge of a dime. You want to create a pattern inside the groove to lock the wire into the channel. Shallow or very thin lines will not need this additional step.

    Annealing the Wire

  1. 1

    Select wire that is close to the same width as your engraved channel. The wires must fit the size of the engraved channels closely.

  2. 2

    Set up a torch or burner as your heat source. Fill a container, such as a bowl or bucket, with water. This will be your water bath.

  3. 3

    Handle the wire with pliers. Run the wire through the flame, moving it back and forth. Watch the metal carefully. Remove it from the flame as soon as any portion of the wire reddens. It will only take seconds for most metal.

  4. 4

    Dip the heated metal into the water bath. This process of heating then cooling, known as annealing, will soften the wire and make it pliable.

    Inlaying the Wire

  1. 1

    Use pliers or a pair of tweezers to lay the annealed wire into the channel and slice it off at the appropriate length with a knife or engraver. Do not worry if the wire exceeds the depth of the engraving. You will be sanding it down. You may need to anneal the wire repeatedly during the inlay process.

  2. 2

    Hammer the annealed wire into the channel with a flat-end punch or a small hammer. Trim the ends using an engraving tool.

  3. 3

    Use a metal file to remove any excess metal around the edges of your pattern.

  4. 4

    Sand the inlayed metal with 220-grit sandpaper until it is flush with the surface of your piece.

Tips and warnings

  • Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris.
  • When doing the engraving, consider the depth and thickness of the pattern. You may want some areas of your design to be deep while other regions will be shallow. The engraving is the actual pattern. It will be representative of the inlay. Vary your degree of depth to match the look you want to achieve with your wire inlay.

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