Iridescent String Inlay
ZipFlex, a laminated shell material brings sparkle to your work
String inlay has been used for centuries as a decorative detail on fine furniture. Traditionally, furniture makers have used woods like ebony and holly to create delicate yet beautiful stringing. There are, however, more exotic materials that have been developed in recent years that can be used for inlay, and these complement modern furniture designs wonderfully, adding more visual interest and complexity to my furniture than traditional wood stringing.
One of the most interesting new materials I’ve been using for string inlay is called ZipFlex, manufactured by Advanced Shell Technology. It’s a flexible version of the straight strips of shell-based material used by luthiers. ZipFlex is available in a variety of colors, including white, gold, and black mother-of-pearl, blue and green abalone, and others in a variety of widths.
ZipFlex is made from a laminated shell material called Abalam, which is sliced into narrow strips and then cut into roughly 1⁄8-in. lengths. These little pieces are held together on a flexible black tapelike material called the matrix (which looks a bit like electrical tape). I’ve found ZipFlex to be extremely useful when doing curved inlay because it is quite easy to bend around even very tight curves. It works equally well in straight sections and the cost is comparable to straight shell strips, though it is much more costly than wood strips.
Installing ZipFlex and similar inlay is much the same as installing traditional inlay: Cut a groove the width of the inlay, glue it in, and trim it flush to the surface. However, before you do any of that, you’ll need to seal the surface surrounding the inlay with several washcoats of shellac (or lacquer). The best glue for this type of inlay is cyanoacrylate, and the shellac protects the wood from being discolored by the…