How to Inlay Wood Veneer

Written by tamasin wedgwood
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How to Inlay Wood Veneer
Inlaid wood veneers with contrasting grain are decorative. (Commode en bois ancienne avec plateau de marbre. image by Blue Moon from

To inlay wood veneer, small pieces are cut from one veneer, leaving holes, and identical pieces cut from other veneers are inlaid into those holes to create a decorative design or picture. Designs can be simple or complex, according to skill level. Historically, other materials---mother of pearl or tortoiseshell---have been used in addition to veneers. This is an ancient art, also known as intarsia or marquetry, and results can be stunning. Select veneers for contrasting colour and grain.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Craft knife
  • Sharpening stone
  • Cutting board
  • Masking tape
  • Assorted veneers
  • Wood glue
  • Full-size design template
  • Pencil
  • Tracing paper or black carbon paper
  • Set square
  • Metal ruler
  • Backing board of plywood or MDF
  • Spare board of same size
  • Plastic sheet
  • G-clamps
  • Electric iron
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Rag

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  1. 1

    Trace the design onto tracing or carbon paper and then onto the first veneers to be used, beginning with larger background sections. You will work from background to foreground, gradually adding smaller details.

  2. 2

    Cut the first piece of background veneer and the second veneer that will be inlaid into it. Using the cutting board and craft knife, either firmly cut through background and inlay veneers together for best fit, or cut the "hole" in the background veneer first; lay this over the inlay veneer and draw around it as a stencil. This is the "window technique."

  3. 3

    Gently pop out cut areas. If the knife has not cut cleanly through, carefully complete the cuts. The shape cut from one veneer should fit snugly into the hole cut in the other.

  4. 4

    Glue the inlay into the hole, using tiny amounts of glue. Wipe off excess with a rag.

  5. 5

    Repeat until the whole design is cut, assembled and glued. Cut any surrounding border strips slightly oversized, using the ruler and square--these are trimmed after assembly to baseboard.

  1. 1

    Apply a thin layer of wood glue to the baseboard. Carefully lower the glued board onto the back side of the veneer assembly. Wipe up excess glue; ensure the edges are square.

  2. 2

    Tape the veneer to the base. Flip the right side up.

  3. 3

    Cover the veneer with a plastic sheet. Place the second board on top of this. Clamp so the veneer is sandwiched between boards and held flat, ensuring a good glue bond.

  4. 4

    Release the clamps after 15 to 20 minutes. If the veneer has bubbled, iron flat with a warm iron. Clamp again. Allow to dry.

  5. 5

    Remove the clamps, second board and plastic. Trim the edges and very gently sand the inlays. Finish with wax polish or varnish.

Tips and warnings

  • Practice cutting on scrap veneer first. Ensure you are holding the knife almost vertically.
  • Secure veneers with masking tape during cutting.
  • Change or sharpen blades frequently.
  • Tape the backs of intricate pieces with paper tape before cutting--if the wood splits, it is still held together until glued.
  • Pins or cocktail sticks are useful for applying small amounts of glue around veneers.
  • Self adhesive veneers and ready cut inlays are available.
  • When cutting straight edges for borders, keep the knife following the ruler rather than slipping into the grain of the wood.

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