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

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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.



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    49 Discussions



    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.... ;-)


    2 replies

    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.



    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? ;-)

    3 replies

    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?

    ;-) 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....?


    4 years ago on Introduction

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

    1 reply