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Liquid inlaid, laser cut guitar headstock - made at Techshop

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This a laser cut, inlaid headstock for my carbon fiber acoustic guitar project, made as part of a workshop at Techshop. I'm going to show how I designed and cut the headstock shape and inlay using the software and laser cutter at Techshop.

In addition to showing how I made my particular headstock, I will be demonstrating the broader technique of liquid inlay. As opposed to traditional wood inlay - which involves fitting many carefully cut parts into carefully cut pockets - liquid inlay uses a liquid binder, such as epoxy, mixed with colored filler to make inlays with nearly unlimited colors and materials.

Disclaimer:

Before I get started, I want to say that I am NOT an expert luthier (stringed instrument maker). I tried my best to do my own research and follow the plans for my guitar design, but only time will tell if I was successful.

If you choose to make your own guitar, please do your own research using professional guides. There are several amateur luthier communities online, as well as good books. I personally used How to Build Your Own Acoustic Guitar - by Jonathan Kinkead, found at my local library.
 
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Step 1: Tools and materials

Picture of Tools and materials
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Tools & software used

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Corel Draw
  • Epilog 60 watt laser
  • Table router with pattern cutting bit
  • Tool for mixing and spreading epoxy - I used coffee stirrers
I used the laser cutter because my inlay was small, and the laser is the best tool for doing fine details. However, many other tools could be used - a router, dremel, carving knives - anything that can make a pocket for the inlay material..


Materials used

  • Cocobolo headplate 1/8" veneer - ordered from Luthers Mercantile International. Can also use any hardwood
  • Lyptus 3/4" thick headstock base - can be any hardwood, but should be strong to withstand the string tension
  • Painter's tape - used for masking off un-lasered surfaces
  • Double stick tape - used for pattern routing headstock shape
  • Epoxy (slow cure is best) - Can use other resins or binders, but I've only tried epoxy
  • Atomized (powdered) brass - Can use many different types of filler - paints, powdered dye, sawdust, etc... The filler should not be chemically reactive with the epoxy. If unsure, ask around and check online.
There is at least one company specializing in this type of product - InLace. They make pre-mixed versions, as well as selling clean resin and pigments. I found some at a local art store, but not in the colors I wanted, and they were charging a lot for the pre-mixed version. For small projects, I'm sure their stuff is great - but I intend to play with inlaying a lot more, so I went ahead and used my own epoxy and pigments to save money.

Pictured is a plate with some of the different fillers I tried before deciding on just one. In addition to the powdered brass, I tried ebony sawdust, gold pigment, silver pigment, pearl pigment, and white pigment.

A good source of coloured powder is to buy artist chalks - sometimes called pastels (not oil pastel but chalky textured ones) They grind down really easily into a nice colourful powder just by pressing firmly and rubbing.

An alternative to epoxy is to fill the inlay with powder and put on a few drops of superglue. Unfortunately superglue reacts with some fillers (including the powdered chalks) so test it on a piece of scrap first and keep some water handy. By reacting I mean either setting on contact (so it does not seep in far making it only good for thin layers) or catching fire. Google superglue and cotton wool to see what I mean by catching fire. Bicarbonate of soda works really well in conjunction with superglue for white inlays.

On open grained timbers liquid inlays can seep into the surrounding wood, resulting in fuzziness and a sunken inlay so sealing with a small amount of epoxy or superglue will help prevent that. I prefer superglue for this job.
workislove (author)  titchtheclown1 year ago
Thanks a lot for the info! Lots of great tips here, you've given me some things to try out next inlay session.

Especially the part about the sunken inlays - I was wondering about that. So far my approach has been overfilling and planing the excess away, but seeping into the wood makes sense.