Picture of Handcut inlay
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This should give you an overview of all the basic steps used to do inlay.
Inlay is the process setting in shell, wood, stone, metal...etc. into a cavity that has been hollowed out of the surface. It is then glued, filled, and sanded flush. The possibilities are endless and the techniques vary, but these are the key steps to create your own inlaid piece.
(I do all my work by hand! I would love to have the option of using some laser cut pieces!!!)

All of the work I do is for custom guitar builders. It is important to have a clear understanding of the instrument before working on it. I can't interfere with the guitar's appearance or structure in any way. The fingerboards are radiused and slotted for frets. I have to be cautious of the tools I use and conscientous not to sand away any material other than the material I inlaid. Its quite difficult, but well worth the effort. There are many more steps involved in working on insturments. For your purposes, the following steps are more than enough info for creating your own personal inlaid piece.

Your first project should be fun and easy. Choose something simple, like inlaying a wooden box, or plaque. Select a dark wood as the background for your inlay design. The design will stand out beautifully and gaps will be easier to manage. Choose a simple design.

Here are a few of my completed inlaid projects, to show that inlay is more than square fret markers and plastic dots.
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Those are beautiful!
AndrewE94 months ago

thank you so much for this tutorial. I can't wait to try inlaying on some wood pieces. I am going to try and cheat a bit though, and use my CNC router to make the pieces to insert as well as make the routered out bit into which to put the inlay.

I was thinking of trying this with brass. Have you ever used metal and if so, do you use a file to smooth it off? Thanks

Corinbw made it!6 months ago

I made it sort of. I did some stone inlay in a ring I made. The ring was pvc and the stone was just a piece of gravel from my driveway, but it turned out great I think. Please tell me what you think. I will be making an instructable on how I did it also.

Thanks for the inspiring instructable. I absolutely love how your inlays shine. How do you polish it?


Great writeup on inlay techniques! Thanks for taking the time to do this, I've been wanting to try this technique to embellish some of my furniture projects for a while.

sdinh1 year ago
hey Jimmi,
we supply the premium inlay material lie white mother of pearl blanks, gold mother of pearl blanks, black mother of pearl blanks, red abalone, green abalone, paua shell blanks. here is our web site: www.exotichandcraft.com
If you want these inlay materials, please contact us to this email address: exotichandcraft@gmail.com
Thank you
dondiegos1 year ago
hi jimmi, thanks for the tutorial, it really inspired me to try and inlay something, if you don't mind, could you tell me where to buy the inlay materials and what model router is best for the job? thanks, Matt
joewinmor2 years ago
loanshark3 years ago
Whoa! That is so cool!
NukeWeldor3 years ago
For anyone who missed the site plug at the start of this instructable go to ........>>>> http:\\www.wingertguitars.com ........<<<<<<< to see the amazing work his mom creates as one of a kind heirloom museum quality accoustic guitars. There are numerous high quality images of her work with some amazing original one of a kind art inlays of a wide variety of subjects. ...........

I would not be surprised to learn that one of these guitars could sell for as much as $20-$25,000 dollars each. Possibly more given the present state of the worlds economy in 2011...............

Thanks Jimmi for a very inspiring and informative presentation of the ancient art of inlay. .............Not a shill______Just Impressed!
Emu face.jpg
mr.frob3 years ago
That is really beautiful!
sjhuse4 years ago
Do the peices stay glued to the wax paper or do you remove the wax paper before inlaying it into your project (box, gutiar etc)?
This is really nice!
taria4 years ago
wow, amazing and time consuming I would guess..but the end results are stunning. I don't have the patients for something like that.
brass24 years ago
is that a black and decker rtx? and if so where did you get that router base and how well did it work with the rtx? anyone?
kobekid5 years ago
Jimmi Really nice instructable.....the pics are great and the work outstanding. I would like to be sure about thickness of inlay you are using..... Step 1 says -wood,shell,stone,metal,plastic...etc.(about 0.004 thick) That's about the thickness of a safety razor blade......controlling depth when routing for this thickness must need really careful set up and control during routing. Later on you mention in one of your replies 0.060 thick. I am hoping Step one should say 0.040 not 0.004.....sneeze and it's gone forever! Here in the land of the rising sun these inlay materials are really expensive particularly abalone shell.....The thicker shell is generally more expensive than the thinner.......
Googled "How to inlay"......Checked out your instructable.......Perfect......exactly what I needed........Nice work-woman-ship
snubber5 years ago
Great tips, and inspiring works. Cheers for the instructable!
This really breathtaking work, and the Instructable makes the process seem very doable. The only router I have is very large and not-so-handheld, would a dremel tool have enough power to pull off the downcutting?
Absolutely.  I use a dremel and the precision router base found at Stewart-MacDonald (stewmac.com).
snubber5 years ago
Can you show pictures of the jig you are using?   Looks like theirs some sort of support or something that the router is one?
where do you get the mother of pearl (and the other stuff)?

I wanted to do an inlay on one of the knife handles im making.
These are absolutely gorgeous. Just wow!
Beautiful! Love it! I want to do this to my acoustic. Did you take the neck off of yours? That would mean that yours has a bolt-on, right? I don't think mine has a bolt-on neck. (Its a classical). Please help! P.S. 5 stars
astrong06 years ago
just a quick question how many guitars did you jack up during the whole span of doing this?
astrong06 years ago
wow... that's incredible
Excellent instructable! Well written instructions, good pictures, and it's definitely fun to look at the amazing end results.
PaulNYC6 years ago
Love the Instructable. How do you keep the inlay affixed to the base when you set it?
Very beautiful! are you a luthier, or do you just do the inlaying?
These arnt just inlays that you made there master peices .
FeedTheGrid6 years ago
Highly impressive. Very nicely done!
NCchance6 years ago
Thank you for the excellent Instructable! Personally, I've had nothing but trouble with using an X-acto knife to scribe. What I do instead is take a small piece of stainless steel rod (approx. 1/8 in dia.) and insert it into the chuck of a drill. While spinning the rod I hold it at an angle to a belt sander. What you will get is a near perfect and very fine pointed tip that is plenty sharp to scribe with. It will also hold an edge quite well, but when the tip does become blunted just repeat the whole process. That's just me though. Great job and thanks again!
larrysak36 years ago
You do incredible work! What size bit are you using to rout the inlay channels?
magma66 years ago
I'm curious to know how you did the "stained glass window"-like black lines between the pieces ( like in the second picture of the intro). I imagine you use a black strip of something to separate the pieces, surely lot more easy than trying to create a regular spacing between pieces and fill it with ebony dust later.
hi is my first time trying these. do you think shell tiles for walls have the same use as the shell inlays you use? by the way love the job.
maulgryve6 years ago
It is impressive that the dust matches exactly with the wood you used. When I do things like this I usually use the sawdust that I carved out mixed with epoxy. I love the way you did this. You are awesome.
lachapa6 years ago
this is awesome.. i'm officially inspired
ghostrider27 years ago
how did you remove the frets?
well you can pry them out they are held in with glue
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