Luthier Tips du Jour - Inlay - O'Brien Guitars

Uploaded by OBrienGuitars on 02.04.2009

Inlay is a wonderful way to dress up a guitar visually.
You can make an artistic statement and add your own personal touch.
Mike Snider is one of the best inlay artists I know.
Not only does he do masterful inlay work but he also builds some very beautiful electric guitars.
I have asked Mike to talk about how he designs and executes a simple inlay.
This particular inlay was done on an electric guitar being built for an advanced electric guitar building DVD
that Mike and I are working on together.
Mike makes it look easy, so, I will let him explain how it is done.
Thanks Robbie.
Inlay is actually not that difficult. It just takes practice, patience and attention to detail.
It also takes only a small number of tools and supplies to get started like the ones shown here.
The first step is to come up with a design.
This should have crisp, fine lines and should be relatively simple if it is your first try.
You will also want several copies of your design for a multiple piece inlay.
We chose this Gemini sign because we were both born on the same day in June.
Go ahead and cut out a copy of your design and make sure it fits within the designated inlay area.
Now choose your inlay materials and make sure they are big enough for your design.
I chose white mother of pearl and some recon stone for this project
and now I am cutting out a copy of the image for each piece.
Next you’ll need to glue a copy of the image onto each piece to be cut out.
I find that a bottle of super glue with a brush is perfect for this.
Be careful not to glue your fingers together.
This is a jeweler’s saw, which is what you will use to cut out the inlay.
There are over a dozen different sizes of saw blades that fit into the saw frame.
I usually use a 3/o size blade.
Make sure that the blade is installed with the teeth facing outward and pointing down.
You also need to put a fair amount of tension on the blade.
It should make a nice ping sound when you pluck it.
You will need a cutting block as well which is nothing more than a piece of scrap wood with a notch cut out of it.
This is where you will place the material as you cut it.
Clamp it to your bench so it is about at chest level.
For this inlay I need to start by removing some inner portions of the design.
I mark these areas with an “x” and drill a hole through them so that I can thread the saw blade through.
Then I tension the blade again.
You might have noticed that there is a vacuum hose attached to my cutting block.
This sucks up the pearl dust which is not good for you to breath.
If you don’t have a vacuum be sure to wear a respirator.
Now it is time to start cutting.
Try your best to cut the line of your design right in half.
This might sound impossible but it is something to shoot for.
You can always clean up the cut with a needle file afterwards.
The key when cutting is to keep the saw blade as vertical and as perpendicular to the pearl as possible.
Try and use as much of the blade as you can too.
This will greatly extend the life of the blade.
When you get to a corner you need to keep the saw moving as you make the turn.
Ideally the saw stays straight forward while you move the pearl with your other hand.
Often you will find yourself turning the saw too. That’s okay.
For an inside corner make the turn just before reaching your line or else you will cut into the design.
For an outside corner make the turn just past the line for the same reason.
Continue cutting out all of your pieces and be sure not to lose them.
Once they are all cut out, see if they fit together.
If they don’t you can clean up the edges with a needle file.
These files come in a variety of sizes and profiles including flat, round, half round and more.
When the pieces all fit, assemble the inlay on some wax paper.
Now wick in some thin viscosity super glue or CA glue to make it one solid piece.
Now we are ready to inlay this baby into the wood.
Start by placing it where it is going to live and hold it down while you scribe around it with an exacto knife.
If you prefer you can temporarily glue it down with a tiny bit of CA glue as you scribe the line
and then remove it by sliding a razor blade underneath.
You can rub some chalk dust into the line you’ve just made to help you see it better.
To cut out the cavity I use a Dremel tool with a router base attached to it and an 1/8 inch spiral downcut router bit.
Adjust the tool so that it cuts the cavity to the same depth as the thickness of the material to be inlaid.
Start in the center of the cavity and work you way outward in a clockwise motion slowly creeping up on your scribed line.
If you are using a smaller diameter router bit for a more detailed cavity,
you probably don’t want to make a full depth cut in one pass.
Instead, make two or three shallower passes so you don’t over heat or break the bit.
Test to see if the inlay fits in the cavity.
If it doesn’t, note where it is tight and route these areas some more.
If it feels tight, don’t force it in.
You’ll risk breaking it and you do want to be able to get it out.
When it does fit, you are ready to glue it in.
There are several ways to do this.
I am going to use some 5 minute epoxy and I am going to add some black dye.
This will nicely fill in any gaps in the ebony.
If you are inlaying into a different wood than ebony, color the epoxy accordingly.
You can mix in sawdust or acrylic paint to color the epoxy as well.
You can also use sawdust and super glue to fill the gaps.
If you use the epoxy method, mix it up and spread it all around the cavity.
Don’t be shy. Any squeeze out will help to fill the gaps.
And by the way, you will have some gaps so don’t get too sad about it.
Once your cavity is all gooey, place the inlay in it and push it all the way in.
Then place a piece of wax paper over it and clamp something flat on top of that.
If you use something clear like what I am using, you can see all the action underneath.
Let the epoxy cure for the appropriate amount of time.
Now you are ready to sand the inlay flush with the wood.
You want to use a nice, flat, hard sanding block for this.
Start with about 100 grit and work your way up to at least 220 or 320,
and SHAZAM, you are done and ready for a finish.
Thanks Mike.
Although Mike has shown us a fairly simple design, he uses the same techniques for his more complicated inlays.
However, this is a good starting point and the more you practice, the better you’ll get.