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How to Make a Checkered Inlay

comments (6) December 29th, 2010 in blogs

Ed_Pirnik Ed Pirnik, Senior Web Producer
thumbs up 23 users recommend

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 cant always predict a perfect alignment, but the detail is so small, its 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.
This mahogany picture frame needed just a touch of embellishment to bring it to life. A checkered inlay did the trick. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

This mahogany picture frame needed just a touch of embellishment to bring it to life. A checkered inlay did the trick.

Photo: Ed Pirnik

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.

posted in: blogs, how to, mahogany, inlay, picture-frame, checkered inlay

Comments (6)

jlr64 jlr64 writes: Thank You for the tips. Looks good and I am going to try it.

Posted: 11:25 am on January 22nd

butchf18a butchf18a writes: Nicely done. For those interested in making inlay bandings, I highly recommend Steve Latta's dvd "Fundamentals of inlay: Making ornamental bandings". He demonstrates the entire process beginning to end, in a manor that anyone could follow. I was particularly impressed with his methodology for cutting pieces on the table saw. Efficient, accurate, repeatable, and above all safe. One of the nice features of the dvd is he'll use large blocks to illustrate the techniques.
Posted: 6:09 pm on January 7th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: tmercer: I used a satin finish paper and had the print made at a custom digital outfit in New York that I love. The only downside was that - since this is a panoramic print - they had to use 16x20 paper - which makes it a bit more expensive for the print (in this case, $45). But the materials were essentially free as was the actual image so I felt it was worth it, and now have a happy grandmother. LOL.


Posted: 1:53 pm on January 4th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: Hi wdcraftr1:

In my frame, I actually experimented by using the end grain side but the demonstration in my post is for face grain - since that's more popular.

Man, you have a sharp eye!


Posted: 1:52 pm on January 4th

wdcraftr1 wdcraftr1 writes: Looks like you ended up with end grain showing. That's a different look vs face grain.
Posted: 11:50 am on January 4th

tmercer tmercer writes: Great information on inlays but I'm curious about the photos. What kind of printer and paper did you use? Thanks!
Posted: 11:05 am on January 4th

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