Shell, Stone & Metal Inlay
By Marco Cecala
I come to the field of woodworking with an unfair advantage. I grew up in a family jewelry business and did a lot of detail work from an early age. So it’s no surprise that when I started making furniture I was drawn to the detailed work of marquetry and inlay. Even a simple inlay can make an otherwise plain piece of furniture more appealing. It can also serve as the perfect final touch on a near-masterpiece.
Using a combination of materials – from wood to more exotic materials such as shell, stone and metal – endless effects can be obtained. The work can be done with tools found in most shops and the results are beautiful.
I’ll guide you through the straightforward process of installing a shell inlay. I’ll break down the steps required to achieve great results, even if you’ve never tried your hand at inlay before. For the most part, metal and stone are applied using the same methods; I’ll explain the few differences as we go. You will be surprised by how much effect you get with the addition of inlay to your projects.
Design Made Easy
There is no need to be a great artist to produce pleasing inlays. Books and web resources will give you plenty of design ideas. While you are learning you should choose a design with crisp lines and pieces that are not too small; simple is better.
The inlay should also be sized to fit the scale of the piece. If it is placed high or low on a larger piece, it can be positioned in order to be more easily seen. Start by drawing your design on tracing paper. Make a copy and trace it one or two more times to refine the design.
As you will learn, there are several opportunities throughout the process to improve the look of an inlay or save a piece that chips or breaks. Until the cavity is routed in the wood, the design of the inlay can be changed.
Once you’re happy with the design, make at least four copies of it. Cut the individual pieces outside the lines so you can see the entire piece. I cut on a self-healing cutting mat available at fabric stores. To attach the pieces of paper to shell or stone, use medium-viscosity cyanoacrylate (CA) glue. For metals, use epoxy. The heat from sawing will loosen the paper from metal if you use CA glue. For more on glues, see “Choosing Adhesives for Inlay Work” on page 35.
Video: Watch a free video presentation from Marco Cecala on making and installing shell inlay.
To Buy: Paul Schürch’s DVD “Creating Veneer, Marquetry & Inlay.”
In Our Store: Glen Huey’s DVD “Line & Berry String Inlay by Router.”
From the February 2013 issue #202
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