Introduction: How to Make Interesting MDF Panels With Inlays

About: 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 in me.

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:

  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:

  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:

  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:

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:

  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.

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.

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.