Introduction: How to Make Interesting MDF Panels With Inlays

Picture of How to Make Interesting MDF Panels With Inlays

How to make MDF panel inlays:

I'm hardly a master craftsman and this technique will likely have been used before, but I wanted to share an approach I use on some of my project builds. I was after a method to allow me to create a more interesting aesthetic for some of my game related accesories by including inlays into what would otherwise be quite uninspired flat panels. This process allows for a multitude of options when it comes to selecting and using different materials. Most importantly, it means that the wood can be finished separate to the window inlays for a clean finish.

Intermediate woodworking skills and a little imagination are required for this.


  • Drill
  • Jigsaw
  • Router with flush trim, rebate and chamfer bits.
  • Workbench
  • Clamps

Step 1: Cut the Basic Panel:

Picture of Cut the Basic Panel:
  1. Take an MDF board and mark out your design.
  2. Using a jigsaw, rough cut the shape out of the panel and use a router with a flush trim bit to tidy up the shape
  3. Cut a second piece using the first as a template. For this design, I used 18mm MDF for the main panel and a thinner 12mm sheet for the second piece.

Step 2: Decide on Your Design and Prepare the Windows:

Picture of Decide on Your Design and Prepare the Windows:
  1. Decide on the materials you want to embed and draw out the windows
  2. Drill holes on the inside of the windows. This will enable access for the jigsaw blade
  3. Roughly cut the windows out of the panel with a jigsaw
  4. Attach wood strips cut of the correct length to each of the sides of the window and use thin nails to attach them using the pencil lines as a guide
  5. Again using a flush trim bit, use a router to smooth the edges

Step 3: Complete the Windows and the Backing Piece:

Picture of Complete the Windows and the Backing Piece:
  1. Bevel the inside edges of the windows using a chamfer bit. I elected to use this on the outside of the panel as well
  1. Turn the panel over and use a rebate bit to create the inlay section. The depth should be determined by the type of inlay to be used. I used varying depths for each window:
  2. For the thinner back board, a cutout will be made. This should be cut to ensure that full access to the windows is possible. Again, mark out the lines, drill access holes for the jigsaw blade and cut a straight line as best as you can. This will create a thin outer frame and a larger panel inside.

You can see that there is full access to the window of the main panel from the inside:

Step 4: Prepare the Inlays:

Picture of Prepare the Inlays:

Make the inlays. I used automotive mesh, cast acrylic and fine ribbed rubber sheet.

For some materials, such as the rubber, a rigid structure is better suited. I cut a section of very thin board to mount the rubber onto. Once glued in place. This can be inserted into the back of the main panel.

Acrylic with backing board and a section of mesh were cut to shape.

Step 5: Finishing the Piece:

Picture of Finishing the Piece:
  1. Glue the main outer section and the inside perimeter section together.
  2. The MDF can then be prepared and painted. I tend to used car body filler on the edges and sand down to a smooth finish. I also use water based undercoat, water based blackboard / flat black paint and water based polyurethane varnish as a finish.

Two of the pictures show the finishing after the flat black application and the acrylic/artwork section in a fully varnished frame.

Once the painting is done, all the inserts can be fixed in place and the thin back board glued and screwed into place. In this picture, I applied a grey vinyl behind the mesh:

Step 6: Complete.

Picture of Complete.

The panel is now complete and ready to use on your build. The inside of the panel will be hidden from view so none of the back will be visible. I tend to try and assemble everything so that no screws are visible.

Step 7: Options and Ideas.

Picture of Options and Ideas.

This basic approach can be further enhanced. In one of the panels, I embedded some aluminium bars in addition to the mesh. This simply involved routing a channel for them to sit in.

I'm also using this approach on other projects.

If you liked this Instructable, you may wish to check out my other builds.


trailervert (author)2015-09-15

beautiful work!

Thank you!

Jake Maverick (author)2015-06-22


this is odd...getting your messages on the email but they disappeared off here again....;-)

yeah, i did have a quick look at your other instructables- all very impreesive! TBH, it's how to do the mdf panels with inlays that really got me...been trying to figure how to do that. just trying to make a list of instructables really that will help if i ever get to do what i want to do, which is unlikely TBH with fiances and the appalling situation i am in...but the dream would be...

reckon i cd do better though, more up to date anywa..if only funds and tools---- i need a router table more than anything, hand router igot, trouble keeping it str8 with my hands these days...early stage MS i think :-(

but did make as a test.... ;-)


I'd seen that room before and have to admit it does look incredible!

Sorry to hear about your current predicament and I hope you mange to get your project going at some point in the future Jake.

thanks man.

just a tip, if u ever feel like making those kind of panels....smd 5050 strip lights are very cheap/ work better these days, also dimmable...i cdn't get the decals to work, though that probably my printer.....backlit films works a treat, but pricey and you need to sandwich between two bits of plexi.....i think vinyl will actually work better...although slightly more expensive will work out cheaper as it you only need one sheet of plexiglass.

Jake Maverick (author)2015-06-20


i got the email...but comment disappeared off here....i guess because of the link you put in.....but can't access it, wdn't let me read the i registered and it still won't....can u PM me? ;-)

Hi Jake,

Can you remind me what it was in relation to? Was it the build log for the rig?

it was about the chair.....;-) but you got same username on that forum and i found it after the fact....CheerZ! ;-)

looks cool but probably bit more than i ever could manage.....but maybe a simplified version one day, it's more the overall look of the room i think i one day hope to do.....

love to see what else you done?

Ah, the space sim seat :) I have an arcade cabinet, console cabinet and gaming desk posted as Instructables here also. I guess you've look at those already?

Jake Maverick (author)2015-06-15

very nice...and very handy for things i got planned, cheerZ!

Thanks and I'm glad it's been of some use!

;-) well, my plan if i ever get the funds, time spaceship style office/ home theatre/ bedroom i also got to ask, is there an instrucatble for the chair i see there....?

That sounds very cool Jake! I don't have an Instructable for the chair (yet) but do have a build log. Very detailed with lots of pictures etc:

DrZhark (author)2015-06-14

I'm finally finishing my own scratch built Arcade, my next project will be a clone of your pod, I love it!

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)DrZhark2015-06-15

Thanks DrZhark. Sounds like you like building the same kind of things as me! If you get it built, Id love to see it ... and your arcade cabinet also.

I have my arcade cabinet posted as an Instructable if you're interested in looking:

gsalido (author)2015-06-14

Do you have the plans for the racing simulator? Love how it looks!

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)gsalido2015-06-14

Thanks gsalido. I don't have plans unfortunately - everything was made to measure with lots of adjustments while I put it together; it was a bit of a freestyling process really. I do have a very detailed log of the build (with 100s of pictures) here:

Hope that's of some use.

gsalido (author)ThereIs0nly0ne2015-06-14

Thanks looking forward to building a rig soon

cybercapri (author)2015-06-14

Great Project, very well done and creative use of materials...

Thanks cybercapri. Finding interesting materials to use on these projects is probably the thing I enjoy most.

You've done a great job with this as it looks about as professional as possible, at first glance I wondered where you bought it, then I realized you built it from scratch, very well done. The way you combined materials really worked well for this project.

Thanks very much again for the kind feedback Paul, and also for providing some useful information on the tools I'm using! The explanation and information is very much appreciated. Thank you.

No worries, if I can help, I will. I've dreamed of building something like this for decades now, it's nice to see someone actually doing it, I'm just glad I can lend a hand...

You may want to use Rabbet Joints on the inside edge of the back of your openings, much like a picture frame, that way you can keep wood thickness to a min while still having a strong joint. You can also use 1/4" sub flooring material as a backer for your rabbet joint to add strength behind the ribbed rubber mat. Or use a rabbet the thickness of the ribbed rubber then back it with 1/4" sub flooring to lock it in place, that way the ribbed rubber has a bit of room to expand and contract more than the wood will... I have been working with wood for over 30 years so if there is anything I can do to help, just ask, I'd be happy to assist you...


lardrake (author)2015-06-14

Nice job, particularly the finishing process. You used auto body filler to fill in and smooth the MDF edges but I have found that sheet rock joint compound works well too. Question: you mentioned a "rebate" router bit -- did you mean a rabbit bit ?

cybercapri (author)lardrake2015-06-14

If I may add my two cents here, it's called a Rabbet Joint and used to bond two edges together in a locking fashion as the Rabbet folds over the joining board allowing more glue up and nailing surface. The router Rabbet bit comes in various widths just as the materials you are working with. If your board is 1/2" you would use a 1/4" rabbet on both boards to create a 1/4" step in the two boards for a stronger joint than simply using a butt joint. Or you might use a 3/8" rabbet bit and have an 1/8" overlap to simply dress up the edge so that no side grain shows.

A Rabbet is used on the edge of a board while a Dado is used in the Middle of the board and both joint types use the same Router Bit. Needless to say you can invest in a 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" Rabbet Bits and make any size Rabbet or Dado you wish, wider cuts just need a few more passes. If you only want to invest in one bit, make it the 1/4" as it cuts wood like butter while the other two are slower cuts and you just need a few more passes to get the other widths.

I hope this helps...

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)lardrake2015-06-14

Thank you lardrake. I've tried a number of different fillers for the edges but none have given a good a finish as the body filler. I'm always up for experimenting with easier ways to do this so will give your suggestion a try on my current project.
Regarding the bit, it seems to have a few names including rebate and rabbet. I'm no professional so I couldn't tell you which one is correct!

CasingNinja (author)2015-06-10

Very nice work! Great ability to envision the final product add wells add an attention to detail!
I'm always looking for design ideas and will keep this in mind on my current project.
Thanks for the instructable and keep building!

Thanks CasingNinja. As you can see in the last picture, I'm in the middle of building a command seat for Virtual Reality space simulations. I'll post that one up when it's finished.

Wired_Mist (author)2015-06-09

Really Nice Pro Finish !

Gona have to break out my Router on the weekend !

Thanks for that! I can't do without my router these days :)

SeanS17 (author)2015-06-09

Thanks. This gives me an idea. If it turns out ill share it as my first instructables tutorial.

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)SeanS172015-06-09

You've piqued my interest! Curious to know what you're planning.

deluges (author)2015-06-09

That's one beautiful and precise project

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)deluges2015-06-09

Thanks very much deluges. The whole thing took about 350 hours to complete!

bravoechonovember1 (author)2015-06-08

That looks amazing!

Thanks for that bravoechonovember1, I'm glad you like it.

script_coded (author)2015-06-08

That looks great! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks script_coded and no problem, I enjoy sharing ideas.

ashwinzondag (author)2015-06-08

wow that's some great racing installation. do you maybe have full building drawings from it with all the measurments?

I don't have any plans available for this project unfortunaltey Angusdog. I do, however, have a very detailed build log here if it's of some use:

Angusdog (author)2015-06-08

Very timely - I'm about to make my son's bedroom furniture and these ideas will make it ten times better! Thanks for the inspiration.

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)Angusdog2015-06-08

No problem and glad to be of help Angusdog. Good luck with your project!

livichris (author)2015-06-07

wow, what an impressive finished article

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)livichris2015-06-08

Many thanks. I'm glad you like it vikasvarma29.

vikasvarma29 (author)2015-06-07

awesome... just loved it

Thanks for the comment vikasvarma29, it's appreciated.

SATSEM (author)2015-06-07

increible trabajo, felicidades!!!, saludos desde México

ThereIs0nly0ne (author)SATSEM2015-06-08

Muchas gracias Eliminador007.

About This Instructable




Bio: I love building things. There's little more satisfying than bringing an idea to life whether it be for my kids, or the big kid ... More »
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