Simple Wood Inlay Techniques

Written by tom king
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Simple Wood Inlay Techniques
Luthiers use wood inlay to decorate musical instruments. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Simple wood inlay techniques make the difference between a wood project which has value only for its utility and one with value beyond mere function. Wood inlay has long marked wood furniture, cabinetry and handcrafted pieces as the work of a professional. Once a difficult art to master, wood inlay is now within reach of even average woodworkers with the aid of modern power and hand tools.

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Router Method

With a router or rotary hand tool and router attachment, woodworkers cut very accurate recessed shapes of exact depth into the surface of a wood base. The woodworker may use a template or cut the pattern free-handed. Then a pattern is made of the shape and a template made from that. The template allows you to draw an exact duplicate of the recessed shape in another colour wood or contrasting material like mother of pearl, plastic sheet, ivory, metal or even stone. Glue is spread in the recess and the inlay pressed into it flush with the surface of the wood base. A weight is placed on the inlay and it is allowed to set and cure. The method requires great care and accuracy, but thanks to modern hand and power tools and templates, isn't beyond the capability of a moderately skilled craftsman.

Epoxy Inlay

An epoxy inlay starts out the same way as traditional wood inlays with the recessed cut usually made with the aid of a router and template. Clean out the recess and fill it with an epoxy resin tinted the desired colour. Allow the epoxy to set and you have a perfect inlay. You may need to sand the surface of the epoxy to insure it is perfectly flat. Do so before staining the wood base.

Wire Inlay

Wire inlay techniques involve cutting narrow grooves in a wooden base material with a router or chisel tool. The grooves can be simple straight lines like fretwork or even complex scroll work. Silver, gold or other metal wires are carefully tapped into the grooves to create a metal inlay.

String Inlay

Similar to wire inlay, string inlay utilises a router or chisel tool to create a groove. Instead of wire, thin strips of contrasting wood are gently tapped into the grooves to create inlaid lines in the surface of the base wood.


Marquetry differs from inlay in that pieces of laminate are laid on top of the base layer of the object or piece of furniture to be decorated. Pieces are added on top in puzzle fashion to create often intricate decorative geometric or naturalistic patterns. The result may look like inlay, but the patterns are not inlaid flush with the base material.

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