Inlay a Compass Rose
Simple technique for a classic motif
Synopsis: This classic inlay pattern harkens back to the New England furniture-making boom of the 1700s. It features a nautical motif that works well with contrasting woods. Here, you will learn how to inlay a compass rose using a pattern that can be adapted to any size. Michael Fitzpatrick has used the rose in all different sizes—in cases, tabletops, and drawer fronts—all scaled from the same pattern presented here.
I learned how to inlay a compass rose in 2006 while at North Bennet Street School in Boston. Longtime instructor Lance Patterson studied and taught this pattern from a secretary desk that lives at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and is attributed to a Massachusetts furniture maker.
This popular inlay was derived from the nautical heritage of New England during the furniture-making boom of the 1700s. The original compass rose was done in holly and rosewood. I like using ebony and holly for a more stark contrast, but any contrasting woods will work.
I first used the compass rose in the top of a small mahogany jewelry box. Since then, several other clients have requested the rose, in all different sizes—in cases, tabletops, and drawer fronts—all scaled from the same pattern presented here.
The rose can be inlaid in solid wood as well as in veneered panels, but if you are doing it in a solid panel in the summer, make the fit of the pieces a little bit looser. That way, when the substrate shrinks in winter, the pieces won’t press together too hard and possibly lift. In time there may be subtle gaps, but those can easily be filled with colored wax.
Layout leads the way
Layout begins by determining the locations and the sizes of the pieces. Bear in mind that each…