Tag Archives: inlay

A Router Jig, or a Ingenious Method of Work?

A_BasePhotoThose of you who read this blog know my penchant for routers. My router, and a circle-cutting jig, made easy work of the inlay on my clock base, as shown at the left. Circle jigs are not used on every project. In fact, they are not used on most projects, but when you need one, it’s nice to have options.

Recently, I teamed up with Popular Woodworking Magazine for a new router-based DVD. “Router Joinery & Techniques with Glen D. Huey” is available as a DVD or a digital download. Click here to pick up a copy.

A_Router DVD CoverIn the DVD I talk about and demonstrate using circle-cutting jigs. There are jigs that replace a router base-plate and those that work with router bushings. These jig designs work in different ways so it’s good to have both in your shop. But there is a circle-cutting jig in your shop already and you may not realize it’s there.

Obviously, I used a circle jig to cut the groove at the center of the base for my white/black/while banding. (Not wanting to ruin my veneered panel meant no pin at the center on which to pivot my jig, so I made a plywood pattern of the circle, a large hole if you will, then ran my router – guided by a bushing – around the inside of my pattern to cut the inlay groove.)

I also used my router to cut the quarter circles for my fan inlay. At a 1 1/2″ radius, I could not use circle-cutting jigs as they are normally used. To make these cuts I drilled a hole in my router base then swung my router in an arc.

A_Veneer PanelI began with a veneered panel attached to front of my clock base. (I had my veneer bonded to a backer to make life easier. Bonding to a cross-grained back allows veneer to be worked and stored more like boards – no veneer softeners, newspaper layering or time lost waiting.) Before moving on, I used a straightedge and a pattern bit to create an area for edge banding.

A_PinPin placement was a snap. I used a Czeck Edge Birdcage awl to start my hole – really like this tool – then drilled for my pin. Measured 1 1/2″ from a 1/16″ inlay router bit toward the outside of my router plate, then drilled a hole the same diameter as my pin.

A_QuarterCutThe router slips right over the pin and because I was cutting in from the edge-band area, there was no need to plunge my cut. All I had to do was flip the router switch to the “on” position and rotate my router through the cut. A perfect 1/16″-wide, quarter-circle groove was made.

A_CutCompleteWith the grooves complete, I cut and installed my edge banding, installed stringing that straddled the veneer and edge banding to cover my seam and to define my fan area, then used my router again to waste away the fan area before installing the sand-shaded fans.

Is using the router plate as I did considered a jig? Is it an example of “out of the box” thinking? Or, is it a standard router technique?

Build Something Great!


Filed under Inlay, Jigs, Power Tools, Routers, Shop Tips

Inlay Tools With A Twist

IMG_0012 copyLast week I shared the two oval designs, one of which I planned to use on my tall clock. Which did I choose? I selected the oval drawn using Freddy Roman’s method from the Popular Woodworking Magazine article. The other oval looked almost pointed when routed. But with choosing Roman’s method, there was, of course, a problem.

If you have followed any of the work I’ve done with string inlay, you know that I prefer to use a heated pipe section to bend my string – I have tried to use a solder iron, but have found it much more difficult.

Take a look at the finished oval shown the photo above. Look closely at the round ends. Those ends are way smaller than any pipe section I have in stock. I shot over to my favorite hardware store for a new section, but found nothing acceptable. Was I resolved to use a solder iron and power through? Don’t think so. This is when they say you should think outside the box, so I did.

IMG_0009I went to my shop drill bit drawer and found a new method to bend small rounded sections of inlay. Could an old twist drill bit do the trick. I had to give it a try, so I locked the bit in a pair of vise-grips and heated away. Cool thing is that the bit – due to its size or to its solid body – was quicker to heat. That made the task that much faster.

I went about the bend just as I would using anyone of the steel pipes: wet my string pieces slightly, backed the bend using a piece of metal strapping salvaged from a lumber shipment that came to the shop, heated the bit then bent my string. Everything worked perfect. In fact, four bends later my inlay was ready to install. All I had left was to taper and fit the ends to try and hide the joint.


If you have string work in front of you that has small tight bends, give this technique a try. It works.

Build Something Great!


1 Comment

Filed under Hand Tools, Inlay, Jigs, Shop Tips

Tall Clock Oval Inlay

The Egerton tall clock I’m working on has two small oval inlays set into the waist-section face frame, so this is a perfect time to discuss and evaluate ovals.

In the period, channels for inlay were scratched into the surface using a compass, or something similar tool. Today we can work with a variety of tools, both hand and powered, to plow our grooves – hand work with a compass or inlay tools available from LeeValley & Veritas or Lie-Nielsen, and, of course, a router if you wish to power-up the process. But before you actually get to that step, you have to design your oval.

For me, ovals have been pulled from some type of computer drawing program, such as SketchUp. In the August 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, Freddy Roman (periodcraftsman.com) wrote an article about the ellipse. More to the point, about false ellipses. What is the difference and why should you choose one method over the other? Here is my take on this. If you plan to scratch in your oval pattern, or to use a router attached to a trammel to swing an oval, You better understand and use false ellipses. If, on the other hand, you plan to make a pattern to guide your router setup, any old ellipse will do.

Which technique do I choose? That’s not as easily answered as you may think. Because I have my clock waist assembled just as shown in the opening drawing, I would be unable to scratch my ovals into position – in order to draw the flat arcs necessary to create the long sides of my ovals require that I set my compass point more than 5″ from the center of my oval and that area is not available. That, however, does not keep me from using Freddy’s method to develop my pattern which would guide my router. Another option would be to create a piece of veneer with the string inlay in place, then glue that veneer to my clock.

Let’s begin with a comparison of the two ovals. Above you can see a distinct difference in the two drawing methods. A false ellipse, shown on the left, has ends that are more rounded because a compass or inlay tool works on a radius. The oval on the right is drawn in SketchUp. It’s ends are more pointed and could not be grooved using hand tools alone.

I will refer you to Freddy’s article for the steps necessary to produce a false ellipse. (I worked through the layout for my ovals.) Here, I’ll share how I use SketchUp and Preview (a MAC program) to produce an oval. (Before MAC, I worked in Microsoft Publisher for similar results.)

The first step is to layout the perimeter of the oval you wish to draw, then use the Circle tool centered at the middle of your proposed finished oval. Pull the radius out to the long end of your oval – here that is the top and bottom of the oval.

Next, use the Scale tool to pull in one side of your oval. Repeat the step to pull in the second side, as well.

The last step in SketchUp is to export your drawing. (This process is shown with the drop-down menu.) The image is saved in a file on your computer.

Open your file in Preview or another similar program, then set the parameters to crop the image touching all four sides as shown.

Under the Tools menu in Preview, select “Adjust Size”, enter in your required size then click OK. (Note that the size shown is not the actual size I needed for my clock.)

After the size is established, click print. As the menu to print opens, you’ll notice there is an option that allows you to print to scale. Set the scale at 100 percent before you print.

You now should have an oval that fits to your required layout size. I take that print-out into my shop, cut it free then transfer the pattern to a piece of plywood to use with my router. Which design do I plan to use on my clock? I believe that when you are working with small or narrow ovals, your design should be a false ellipse because the other drawing process produces ends that are too pointed, almost unbelievable. However, when I work with larger ovals, I prefer the ends be not so rounded. What do you think?

Build Something Great!



Filed under Design, Inlay, Shop Tips

Best Place to Find Figured Wood

The second week of June, I had the pleasure of spending a week in Hawaii thanks to an all-expenses paid trip. (Thanks again, Steve and Chris.We had a great time.) While there I learned more than a few things. I learned a guy that is rather round at the middle should stay far away from two-person kayaks – that revelation didn’t surprise many of my friends – and I discovered that a mustache prevents a dive mask from attaining a seal strong enough to keep water out of your nose when snorkeling. That was the first day’s events.

On the positive side, I learned that hiking in the rain forest and jumping from cliffs into water filled via a waterfall is a blast, that sunset cruises on sailboats are relaxing even though you have to wade through knee high ocean to get aboard and that a “lava flow” cocktail at the Four Seasons Resort is mighty tasty.

One more thing. If you ever have a chance to get out of bed at 2:00 in the morning, ride in a van for an hour to pick up gear for an sunrise bike trip down from Haleakala’s 10,023′ summit, TAKE IT. It’s magnificent. We were above the clouds as the sun rose. We stood in 40 – 50 MPH winds in temperatures around 30 degrees, but it was so worth it. Then before the bike ride began, we stopped to take in an incredible view of Maui’s crater. It looked as if we were on another planet.

What does all this have to do with woodworking? Each day of the week the Resort invites in artists from many different mediums. Day one of my stay included a ukulele builder. I spent a while talking with Colly Norman of Blue Maui ‘Ukulele. As he showed me his ukuleles, he introduced me to a wood that I knew nothing about, Mangifera indica or mango in layman’s terms. I did not know that this wood existed, or was harvested for use, and I surely didn’t know it was available in a high-figure variety.

Don’t shake your head yes. I dare you to tell me you’ve seen this before if you live any where on the United States mainland and haven’t visited a tropical paradise. I think it’s a secret kept from woodworkers that favor figure.

Immediately, I began my search for mango. I need to build something in mango just to say I have. (Here is a page with all the technical data, click here.) An online search shows many small pieces, but I want slabs. Then I stumbled onto Keim Lumber Company’s Mango page and received a bit of a shock. Check out the price. Maybe small pieces are the way to go? Then I found mango at Roy Lambrecht Hawaiian Woods and mango, at $15.00 per board foot for curly, was back in the running. I’m still in the hunt.

Even though the above linked data base doesn’t mention any toxicity, Colly told me that mango was a wood that some woodworkers cannot work due to a potential skin irritant much like poison ivy. I have also found that Mango wood should never be used in fireplaces or for cooking fuel, as its smoke is highly irritant.

Below are a few more photos of Blue Maui Ukulele instruments. Check out the inlaid surf board, which is Colly’s signature. Very Cool.

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Filed under Design, New Products

Protect Your Inlay

My Shaker counter, featured in the June 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, has small diamond inlay pieces set as escutcheons. As I finished the project, I paid particular attention to those inlays – I wanted them to stay white. It was about that same time that the folks at The Finishing Store asked me to write an article for their newsletter. Naturally, how to protect inlay came to mind. Below is the article I contributed to The Finishing Store newsletter. You can read the piece here, but you should also check out their web site and monthly newsletters for more information. This month Bob Flexner has a piece about boiled linseed oil – a highly debated topic in reproducing period furniture (click here).

Protect Your Inlay

One of my earliest furniture projects was a Sheraton Field bed that I built when I was 14 years old. Later, another version of that same bed was built. This time, however, I inlaid small Birdseye panels into the square sections of the mahogany posts – an idea that caught my eye while surfing museum books.

From nearly the beginning of my furniture building career, my favorite finish has used aniline dye to color my project with top coats of shellac and/or lacquer. As I contemplated how to finish the bed, I was concerned that all the work put into those Birdseye panels would be for naught if my inlay became muted as dye was added. I believed that the distinctive figure and light color of the Birdseye inlay against the reddish hue of the mahogany would be enough of a contrast to keep the inlay a real eye catcher in the finished bed. I moved forward.

As I sprayed dye onto my first post, the panels changed in color far greater than I expected. While the mahogany achieved a deep red hue, my Birdseye, beginning as a pale yellowish color, gained almost that same red hue. In the end, the panels were barely visible. I learned a valuable lesson that day, one that I adhere to strictly these days. Protect your inlay.

How can you achieve great color on a project without muting or otherwise coloring the inlay in the design? That’s a question I get get asked many times. There are a few techniques I’ll share to help keep your inlay fresh, but only one that works every time. If you have an inlay-laden project sitting in your finish room waiting to be completed, or you have little patience as I explore options that work but not necessarily all the time, you may want to jump ahead. Be warned however, there is beneficial information in the less effective techniques discussed.

As I contemplated my first heavily inlaid project after my ill-fated bed finish, I, like all good woodworkers did, turned to books and magazines for ideas and to discover the correct method to color everything but my inlay. (Today, we would turn to the Internet for the same information.) I did get get a couple nice pointers, but are these the way to work?

One technique that I read about, but have not attempted on an actual project, is to install inlay after your finish is complete. For the life of me, I cannot see any benefit to this process. I suppose, if you were more than cautious, you could bring your inlay to just even with a completed finish, but if you go one millimeter more, you’re in trouble. I would lay odds that I would scrape, sand or otherwise hit the completed finish as I tried to level inlay. That would have me starting over. For me, this one paragraph sums up all that needs to be said about this technique. No thank you.

Chemical coloration is another option. Chemicals can color some woods without coloring others, but for the most part we do not work with chemicals today as woodworkers did centuries or even decades ago. In fact, if you’re building a reproduction, there is little written evidence that the chemicals discussed below were used on period pieces built before 1800. Most period colorants were made using natural products. Also, many of the chemicals mentioned are not easily accessible or simply too caustic to use.

Potassium Dichromate is most often mentioned to deepen the color of  mahogany and cherry. In turn, it leaves inlay less affected although holly, which has a firm association with period inlay, yellows slightly. Lye is another chemical used to adjust color, as is nitric acid which is the primarily choice to color gun stocks, especially tiger maple stocks. (Use of any of these chemicals should always be done outside to offset potentially toxic fumes, and while fully protected with gloves and goggles. After your initial coating you still need to be careful not to ingest any of the chemical. You should even go so far as to blow sanding dust away from you as you sand your project.)

Even if you decide to don a hazmat suit and make chemicals your choice to color hardwoods, the process is more involved than aniline dyes or stains. Not only do you apply your chemicals, but there can be the added steps of neutralization. What neutralizes what is something you need to know prior to getting started.

In the end, I’m not a chemist, nor do I wish to be one. And my finish room is not equipped for chemical mishaps. Besides, how many different soakings do you think your project can withstand before you run into problems?

The preponderance of information gathered from Internet woodworkers suggests that you coat inlay with a topcoat of some kind prior to a dye application. To me, this practice is conceivable if you’re coating a nice patera or larger-sized inlay, but what patience does it take to coat a piece of 1/32″ stringing that runs up and down card table legs? What brush should you use and how steady must your hand be? Don’t think about taping off each and every piece of string. If the time factor doesn’t bog you down, dealing with seepage under your tape will frustrate you to no end. And remember, you need to cover your string and only the string – topcoat that spills over the edge or is wicked into nearby woods also repels dye and that’s not going to look good in a completed finish.

One additional thought. You must choose your top coat to work with your dye or stain, not against it. As an example, if your dye was alcohol based, you would not want to use shellac to guard your inlay because shellac is also cut with alcohol.

I tried the coat-your-inlay technique on a slant-lid desk prospect door that had the only piece of inlay used on the project. I taped off an inlaid maple diamond and sprayed a couple layers of lacquer over only my inlay. I let it dry completely before moving on to dye the desk with water-based aniline dye. As I soaked my desk with dye, I noticed that my diamond had gone from near colorless (a high grade in diamonds) to a light yellow. It appeared as though my top coat held off a complete coloring of the inlay, but that there was some color added. Why?

In a previous article, I wrote about glaze. One area discussed was why you should glaze your entire project instead of simply around mouldings or other areas expected  to show age. The same reason also comes into play when dying over inlay which has a topcoat added. Your topcoat, while smooth to the touch, has small craters if viewed under magnification, even after sanding. Those craters gather dye and that turns inlay from white to something less than white. It may be acceptable, but it is not uncolored.

On a recently completed project I again used this method, but added another couple steps to kick up my results. As I installed my inlay, I made sure to spread glue around the edges of my recess. This would help deter dye from wicking into the inlay. After spraying a couple light coats of lacquer over the inlay, I also taped over the inlay to eliminate any microscopic craters from drinking in my dye. The added steps did the trick. In fact, I felt that the inlay may have ended up too bright when compared to my dyed finish, but that was taken care of as I added several additional coats of finish. I would highly recommend this technique if you have minimal inlay in your project, but if you are working with myriad amounts of string and other inlay the process is long and tiresome and boring and dull.

Now that we have covered techniques that should be avoided and those that work some of the time, let’s take a look at the one technique that I find works every time I use it. If you study pieces found at our museums, you’ll find mahogany, walnut and cherry furniture full of inlay. There are spice boxes with extravagant compass inlay doors, card tables built during the Federal period that have intricate leg, apron and top stringing, and English tea caddies with a multitude of banding work. In most examples you’ll find that the woods used did not have its color altered in any way.

The technique that works all the time is to build using woods and inlays that do not require color alteration. No dyes, stains or chemicals. I know it’s simple, but it is the best technique. If you keep the rules simple, success is much easier to find.

One additional note worth mentioning to achieve the best look in your project is to carefully select woods for any project you intend to finish without colorants. In fact, this is a good idea when doing any woodworking. Make sure your wood matches in color. That means before you begin have enough lumber on hand to get through your project.

Build Something Great!



Filed under Finish Techniques

Woodworking Questions

My email address is not secret. Many of you send questions to me once in a while. Most ask for information or help. Others wonder what the hell I’m doing. I like the questions, so if you need information or have a question about a project I’ve built, please contact me. Below are questions and answers that I thought were good information that should be passed along.

That Tricky Rabbet
I have started on a slant front desk based on the New England Secretary in one of your books. I have one question as I prepare the sides; what is the distance from the top of the writing surface to the start of the slant? It looks to be somewhere between 3/4″ and 1″, but I am not sure and it is not shown in the book.

John S

That’s a question I get a lot. The answer depends on the thickness of your lid – more exactly, on the thickness of its rabbeted edge.

Take a look at the photo. You need to start with your writing surface laid in, then determine the rabbeted area of your lid which would be 1/2″ on a 3/4″-thick lid if you are using a 1/4″ lip. Create a setup similar to the one shown in the photo to determine your length. My longer rule is attached at the edge of the desk top. The two rules are set to form a 90 degree corner with the 6″ rule measuring the thickness of my rabbet. (You can see how this figure could change based on your rabbet, lid and lip dimensions.)

Another method is to figure the distance algebraically using A squared + B squared = C squared where the measurement you’re searching for is C and the rabbet of your lid is both A and B. Using 1/2″ as the rabbet thickness results in a slightly under 3/4″ measurement. (Again,  you can see how the size shifts given the thickness of your rabbet.)

Build Something Great!

Tall Clock Dial Size
Hi Glen,

I have a year old copy of your “Building Period Furniture” that now looks like 10 year old copy (well used). I have two block fronts about 90% complete, two secretary bottoms about 50% complete. I like to build two at a time. While I am waiting for some more mahogany I am drawing the bench rod for the Pennsylvania tall case clock.

To keep proportions as perfect as they look, I am wondering what is the dial size you used in this clock and who is the supplier. Looking at suppliers here in the UK the the largest dial seems to be 280mm x 395mm. which seems too small. I bought your “Finishes that Pop” DVD just before Christmas. Great informative DVD.

Thank You,
Northern Ireland

Greetings Alan,

I’m glad to see your book getting such use. You are taking on very nice projects. I enjoyed building them, as well.

You are correct on your assessment of the dial sizes. Your dials are undersized as to what I use and what is a common size here in the States. The dial for my clock was 12.5″ wide (317.5mm, if my conversion is correct) by 17.625″ tall (447.675mm).

The movement  I used for the clock in the book was produced by David Lindow (Click here to visit his web site). You can get more information, movements and dials  from Mike Siemsen’s web site (Click  here).

Best of luck on your projects and …

Build Something Great!
Glen D. Huey

What is That Finish?
Hi Glen,

I am familiar with your aniline dye/shellac finish for a deeper tiger maple finish.  I always seem to get  a finish that is too shiny. I noticed that you recommend a ” dull-rubbed” lacquer. Is that the name of the kind of lacquer, a rubbed out lacquer or what?


Hey Bob,

When using shellac, I generally use either of two options to knock down the sheen. I either rub-out the finish using #0000 steel wool (sometimes I use wool lube to make the work a little easier), or I topcoat my project with a pre-cat lacquer from Sherwin Williams with a dull-rubbed effect sheen. The low sheen finish is made so by adding flattening agents to the lacquer. Sherwin Williams sells this product through its commercial divisions, not in the regular paint stores.

Another option that I am just beginning to explore is to use a water-based urethane in a satin finish, such as General Finishes Enduro-Var Satin. With this product, you apply a single coat, then after it’s dry lightly rub with steel wool.

Build Something Great!

Small Diameter Router Bits

I am a home shop woodworker who makes reproductions of American Colonial furniture.  I am having trouble finding a way to make 1/16” vein line for string inlay.  Is there a 1/16″ router bit available or how else does one prepare for a 1/16” string inlay.  I have previously used a 1/8” bit to inlay 1/8” string inlay and that worked very well, but in some pieces a 1/8” string inlay is too thick for the piece at hand.

I bought two of your books and have enjoyed studying them and using some of the demonstrated techniques on the pieces I have reproduced.

Several of the pieces I have made were from Lester Margon’s 1949 book “Construction of American Furniture Treasures”.  It’s a great hobby!!

Montgomery, AL

Hey Henry,

I’m glad that you found a few ideas in my books to make woodworking better for you. I, too, have spent many hours looking through Mr. Margon’s book – it’s a great woodworking book.

There are 1/16″ router bits to be found. If you visit inlaybandings.com there is a section that has router bits used for inlay work. The site also sells inlay and banding in many different configurations. I especially like the router bits because they are longer than many other 1/16″ bits available – as such, they reach past patterns and get to the workpiece. These bits have an 1/8”-diameter shank, so you would also need to purchase a  sleeve (shown in the middle) unless you have an appropriate collet for your router or are working with a hand-held rotary tool such as a Dremel.

Bosch has 1/16″ bits, too. These bits have shorter cutting lengths which could require that you set-up differently in order to use them for inlay as it is more difficult to reach past patterns.  The Bosch bit has a  1/4”- diameter shank.

I would suggest that you pick up a couple bits when and if you order. Bits this small tend to break more easily than larger diameter bits.

If you have additional questions, please contact me again.

Build Something Great !
Glen Huey


Filed under Design, Finish Techniques, Power Tools, Questions, Routers, Shop Tips