How to Do Inlay Work


Adding inlay to any object, whether it is a piece of furniture, a musical instrument, or a piece of wooden art, can add an extra level of beauty. An inlay can be anything from casting resin to pearl. The techniques involved in casting are basically the same, regardless of material, though some materials require a wider range of tools. Here's a simple two-toned wood inlay to get you started.

Step 1

Choose a piece of redwood big enough to accommodate the design and place it on a stable work surface. Clamp the wood to the table to prevent it from slipping, then place a stencil design on the wood. You can purchase a wide variety of stencils in a hobby shop or even draw your own.

Step 2

Place your stencil on your redwood block and tape it down so it doesn't move. You can either draw the stencil onto your wood design or use a small chisel to go around the edge of the design and cut it into the surface of the wood. Either way works. The object is to transfer your stencil to the wood.

Step 3

Remove the stencil and make the cavity for the inlay. To make the design cavity, use either a sharp chisel and a rubber mallet to chip the wood from inside the design or a power cutter, such as a Dremel with a cutting attachment. The power cutter makes the work faster and easier, but if you are experienced with carving, you can do it by hand just as well. The goal is to remove the wood inside the design, which will leave the wood outside the design intact as a border. The depth of your inlay cavity depends upon how thick your inlay will be.

Step 4

Select the material for your inlay. In this case, use mahogany wood, which will be a darker contrast inside the redwood. Place your mahogany on your work surface and use the same stencil you used to create the inlay cavity. Tape it to your mahogany block, transfer the design, and then cut it from the mahogany using a jigsaw. A jigsaw is ideal for cutting irregular shapes, and since what you are essentially cutting is a puzzle piece, the jigsaw is the easiest tool for the job.

Step 5

Sand the inlay cavity smooth with a rough grain sandpaper, then apply wood glue to every inch of the surface, including the sides of the design. Place your cut mahogany design in the cavity and press it in place, then set it aside and let it dry.

Step 6

Finish your design with a clear wood stain to preserve the wood without disrupting the two-tone color scheme of your inlay.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood (redwood and mahogany used in this example)
  • Stencil
  • Tape
  • Dremel power carver
  • Jigsaw
  • Chisel
  • Rubber mallet
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • Wood stain
  • Paint brush (medium)


  • How to Do Wood Inlay
  • Guide to Inlaying
Keywords: wood inlay, inlay home improvement, inlay projects

About this Author

Carl Hose has been writing since high school. His work appears in the zombie anthology Cold Storage, which he co-edited. His work also appears in Champagne Shivers, DeathGrip: It Came from the Cinema, DeathGrip: Exit Laughing, the horror anthology Loving the Undead, the erotic ghost anthology Beyond Desire, and issues of Lighthouse Digest. Hose's nonfiction appears in Blue Review and Writer's Journal.

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