Introduction: Tap Handles With Laser-cut Veneer Inlay
As a homebrewer, I often make batches of beer to bring to festivals, weddings, picnics, and other fun gatherings where beer is appreciated. I have a two-tap jockey box setup that is convenient for cold beer on the go, and it always makes things a little more special with custom tap handles installed instead of the default small black stubby ones.
This is part of my experimentation of doing wooden inlay using the Epilog laser cutter: inlaid tap handles.
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Step 1: First Make a Tap Handle.
We will enlist the help of our good friend the ShopBot for this task. These guys are being cut from some 3/4" hardwood from the scrap bin which should finish up nicely with a little Emmet's good stuff.
The design is pretty simple, with the most important parts being to:
- choose a wood that is thick enough for a nut insert or for a ferrule
- make sure you leave enough of a base to thread in the insert nut
- don't make it too tall, or else you run the risk of not being able to turn off the faucet
If you defy rule #3 as I have done in the past with some massive tap handles, they do make an offset adapter that is called an "angle bonnet" which will kick the tap handle forward a bit so that the faucet can reach the off position.
Step 2: Raster Etch a Well for the Inlay
This part takes a little experimentation with power and speed settings. Basically you are going to raster etch into the wood approximately the thickness of your veneer, while erring on the side of a little too deep. My trials and errors have shown that it is easier to sand down the plywood until it is flush with the inlay than to attempt to sand down the veneer.
Here's the process:
- Cut a sacrificial piece of wood to be the registration jig. This will position the tap handle on the laser bed for the raster etch.
- Apply masking tape to the tap handle and place it in the jig. The tape keeps soot and other laser smarm off of your nice wood, and doing these deep raster etches is a pretty smarmy process.
- Determine the appropriate settings for the depth of cut. This is totally trial and error, but here are the ones that worked for me with approximately 1/16" veneer.
- Etch that sucka!
Step 3: Cut Up Some Veneer for the Inlay
Previous experiments had shown that, due to the laser kerf, I didn't need to offset or shrink the design to cut the inlay pieces. This step was as simple as throwing a piece of veneer on the bed and going for it.
Obviously it cuts really fast and the little bits love to fall through the grate or get sucked into the ventilation system, so make sure you cut extra. Also it helps to tape down the veneer so it doesn't curl from the heat or flap around from the ventilation system.
Step 4: Glue Up, Sanding, Finishing
Now that we have all the fiddely-bits ready to go, it's time for the good ol' Titebond III. Apply liberally to the well, insert your inlays, and clamp it down.
It also doesn't hurt to do a bit of damp cloth cleanup at this step so you don't have to do as much sanding later.
After the glue dries, sand it flush. Make sure to use a sanding block or you'll inadvertently apply too much pressure to some spot and go through the veneer as I've done a few times.
My wife gave these a finishing sanding with fine grit paper and a quick coat or two of Good Stuff which brings out the shine in the walnut inlay.
Step 5: Insert the Threaded Fitting
Drill carefully into the bottom of your tap handle and turn in the threaded fitting. If you are using a ferrule on the bottom of your tap handle, then you'll be turning in a hanger bolt instead.
For the curious, the inner thread to mate with a normal beer faucet is 3/8"- 16 UNC.
I usually put some glue in the hole before turning in the fitting, especially when it's a pretty tight clearance as in this case. I figure it will help keep the wood together as a solid piece.
A quick blast on the bench sander will flatten down the bottom of the wood and the insert nut.
Step 6: Attach to a Jockey Box and Enjoy!
I'll update with a picture of the enjoyment in a week or two after the event!