How to Make a Checkered Inlay
A few months ago, after shooting our recent Video Workshop on building and using a specialized tablesaw sled for picture-framing, I went frame crazy. With the holidays on the horizon and a new baby on the way, my shopping budget was cut in half, so I figured I’d find some interesting photographs to frame using my new toy.
By browsing the online digital collections of both the Library of Congress and the National Archives, I was able to find several great historical photographs-all of which are high-resolution, downloadable files, and free! But I digress.
My goal was to produce a unique frame and I settled on Honduran mahogany with a checkerboard inlay made of scraps I found laying around the shop (ipe and ash). The technique I used serves as a simple, inexpensive way to add a bit of class to the right project. Allow me to stress that last point: the “right” project. It’s easy to get carried away with this sort of technique and I strongly feel that embellishment just for the heck of it can lead to loud, gaudy furniture. So be careful!
How to Make a Checkered Inlay
I began by scouring my scrap bin for two woods of contrasting color that would work well with the subtle amber tones in my mahogany. You’ll want to rip several thin strips of each-in my case, I ripped some 2-in. by 9-in. strips to a thickness of 1/4-in. Once you’ve got these thin strips milled and cut to size, you’re ready to begin producing inlay.
1) Layout your strips of contrasting woods and apply glue to every other strip.
Try to be conscious of grain direction when gluing up the block. Later, you’ll be handplaning a face and will want to minimize tearout.
2) Create a sandwich by alternating between the dark and light woods. Be sure to give each strip a bit of a wiggle to distribute the glue evenly.
3) Clamp it up and leave it to dry. You’ll want to use a couple of cauls to help distribute the pressure evenly and to keep your clamps from marring your inlay.
With your inlay block glued up, your ready to prep it for final cutting. The process is simple. After jointing one side square, rip several strips at the tablesaw and then crosscut them by hand. The number of inlay pieces you’ll require will depend upon the perimeter measurement of your frame–or whatever it is you’re inlaying, and the thickness of your glued-up blank.
4) After the glue has dried, scrape away as much of the squeeze-out as you can and mill one of the sides square and true. Since my “sandwich” measured in at less than a foot in length, I jointed one side using a handplane (as opposed to my jointer). When dealing with stock this short, it’s always a better idea to joint by hand.
5) Now you’re ready to rip several thin strips at the tablesaw. Use a push-stick with a notch that supports both sides of the stock as it gets bisected by the blade. This will prevent off-cuts from being shot back at you. A featherboard also makes for a safer cut in this case.
Rip these pieces slightly thicker than the depth of the groove they’ll be fitting into. That way, you can go back and plane them flush.
6) Turn to your miter block. Use a stop block and cut a series of inlay pieces. In my case, I was cutting 1/4-in. pieces. My frame required me to cut about 50 parts, but this all depends upon the thickness of your “sandwich” and the perimeter length of your frame – or whatever it is you’re inlaying.
Once you’ve cut the number of inlay pieces required to get the job done, it’s simply a matter of routing a groove in your workpiece and gluing the inlay into place. Allow the inlay to dry and then handplane it flush. Voila!
|More on Inlay and Embellishment
• A Simple Way to Inlay Mother of Pearl|
• Dress Up Your Work With Creative Stringing
This mahogany picture frame needed just a touch of embellishment to bring it to life. A checkered inlay did the trick.
Perhaps the only potential sticking point with using this technique on picture frames is corner alignment. You can't always predict a perfect alignment, but the detail is so small, it's hardly noticable.
These small 1/4-in. slices of a long inlay blank were glued into a groove along the perimeter of the frame to form the inlay.
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If your combo square isn't as accurate as you'd like, don't buy a new one. It's relatively simple to square it up!
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