Did you ever want to try wood inlay, but thought it was too difficult?  It turns out that you can do some absolutely incredible stuff with a laser cutter and a little patience.  This instructable is a twofer:  you get instructions on building a vector file, and some instructions on doing the inlay itself.

I decided to see how extreme I could go with the inlay process using the Epilog laser cutters at TechShop.  It turns out, they can be pretty incredible.  Check out the photo:  There are 4 types of wood veneer there:  Red Oak, Walnut , and a couple more that I'm not sure how to identify.  

Notice that the perimeter wood literally continues around in between every reptile!  

All the hardwood you see is actually veneer.  

Here's how you can make your own crazy-awesome hardwood inlay.  

In case you didn't already notice, I made this at TechShop.  

This is the first installment of a 2 part instructable.  The first part takes you through the inlay construction process.  The second part (will turn these pieces into a super-sweet piece of motion art. (Part 2 not done yet though...). 

Tools Required
  • Laser Cutter
  • CorelDraw
  • Sanding Block:  must be FLAT.  Attach sandpaper with spray adhesive, rubber cement, etc.
  • tweezers are handy
  • a scalpel
  • magnifying visor is handy too
Materials Required
  • Veneer sample pack with at least 4, but preferably at least 6 species of wood.
  • 6mm baltic birch plywood, or just about any other substrate you like. 
  • contact cement (NOT rubber cement)
  • sandpaper (150 up to 400 grit or higher)
  • some kind of wood finish and a means to apply it:  I'm trying a few different ones to see what works for me.  Choose your own depending on your intended use (i.e. coaster, or art piece.  A coaster should use epoxy like 'Glaze Coat', whereas an art piece may just use oil or some other traditional finish, or even polyurethane).
  • Blue painters tape

Step 1: Create your design file

Once again, I started with this vector drawing of the Escher reptiles.  In my previous instructable on the subject, I had to make some major modifications to the drawing in order for it to work with a CNC router.  Since we are using a laser cutter in this case, rather than a cutter with a significant radius, we can start with the original vector drawing as-is without worrying about cutter radius.   There's still lots of work to do, but filleting every vertex isn't part of it :-)

Note:  If you simply want to get going, and not do any of the file construction yourself, you can just jump to step 15 and download the .cdr files and continue this instructable from there.

So, here's how to create your design file from scratch:

Download MC_Escher_single_lizard_tile.dwg and import it into CorelDraw..


This comes out fairly large, as seen in the first image.  Resizeit to be reasonable as seen in the 2nd image, maybe 2" across or so.

Nice job. As an extension, have you tried various angles of the inset pieces to use the variation of the grain, rather than color? I know it increases the complexity and effort by a large factor, but the results could be quite stunning. May even start a new industry. <br>Instructions were excellent. Pictures great. I will try if I ever get my hands on a cnc laser cutter.
Thanks. I have not tried using the grain itself as the color differentiation. I don't think it really increases complexity, especially if I don't make any partial reptiles. I can just cut out a ton of them and put them together however I see fit. Perhaps I'll give that a try. Thanks for the suggestion.<br>
You could also use a good acrylic stain on 6 pieces of wood, and then cut ?
Beautiful work. I've done similar marquetry tricks with my laser. <br>One tip: get the ultra-low tack masking tape that vinyl sign makers use to stick their signs on with - peels REALLY well ! <br> <br>Taping helps stop burning: If you're getting that, you have too much laser power, or you aren't moving fast enough
love MC escher

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