Compass Rose Inlay #2: Inlay the Compass Rose

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Blog entry by Jon3 posted 12-15-2009 09:25 PM 10992 reads 19 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Creating a Compass Rose Inlay Part 2 of Compass Rose Inlay series no next part

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take this part slowly. There are no shortcuts that leave you with a great inlay!

Most commercial veneer is thin, 1/42nd or so. So you don’t have a lot of room to work with, once you’ve inlaid the compass rose. That means you need to make sure your inlay surface is ready to go. I used this maple panel with a little bit of curl to it. This has been pre-sanded to 320.

You start by solidly taping down the inlay in its final position. Note the X on the work. I’ve also drawn a corresponding X (unseen) on the edge of the work so that I can return this to the correct position later. Although your inlay may seem to be uniform, I assure you, it is not!

Then you begin to trace the inlay with an exacto knife (with a fresh blade) around the outside edge of the inlay. When using an exacto like this, you want to make sure you’re using the inlay itself as a reference surface, and that you are performing a light scoring cut. You want to cut to the depth of the inlay (a little deeper actually works fine), but you don’t want to try and do this in one pass! You start with a light scoring cut, then you go over it again and again until you’ve got depth. If you try this all in one pass you’re going to do one or both of these bad things: You’ll slice into the inlay, or you’ll cut off path off into the inlay surface.

I tried to show, in this fuzzy photo, the light scoring cut.

Here you can see I’ve finished the scoring of the outside of the inlay. Before I route, I like to use a pencil (a chalk bag also works) to highlight the lines so that they’re easier to see when I am routing. A work lamp you can position closely also helps in the next step.

Router prep, I use a 1/4” downcut spiral bit, followed by a 1/8th, to remove the bulk of the waste inside the inlay. I think the Festool OF1010 is one of the better routers for this step, because you can index your zero against the work surface, as in this photo. (See the screw pillar on the right, with the bit resting on the surface, but not scratching it.)

Then, with the router locked into position, you take a piece of scrap veneer the same width (don’t use the veneer tape covered inlay itself, as you’ll cut too deep!), and you slowly raise the microadjust on the depth stop until the veneer just barely goes in between the post and the depth stop.

You begin slowly, working around the outside, then eventually clearing up to the center with the 1/4” spiral bit.

You want to stay clear of the lines. You aren’t cutting TO the lines, just fairly close. I’ll be chucking up a 1/8th afterwards for cleanup and to get closer into the corners. Once you’ve got the inlay routed as close as you dare, you switch to chisels for cleanup. This is a similar task to cleaning up your dovetails, but there won’t be any mallet work involved. A sharp chisel and hand pressure should be sufficient to free up the 1/42nd inch you need to remove to seat the inlay. If you’ve taken good time to clean up the edges of the inlay, you can use a large chisel on most sides. Since you’ve cut deeply enough with your exacto, you should not need to cut the outside edge, as in this photo.

But merely flip the chisel, using your bearing surface to make the chisel work like a chisel plane, and slowly pare to your xacto line.

You can see I’ve finished one of the minor points on the top right in this photo. This can be a fairly slow process, but ultimately worth the painstaking time. Here’s a closeup of the same point.

There are a few hairs of grain on the right side that I’ll carefully trim back with the exacto. After another hour or two of careful work, I’ve finished the first pass in the inlay’s final resting place.

Now I begin the dry fit. Keep in mind the inlay is thin wood. Once the water based glue comes in contact, there will be a tiny bit of gap filling going on, so the inlay should not be so tight you have to force it in place. Take the time to check each of the major and minor points of the compass rose and make sure the inlay does two things; that it seats properly flush with the surface of the wood (don’t count the veneer tape, which should be above the surface) and that the sides line up cleanly. Remove any hairs or impediments to the inlay seating properly with your sharpened fine chisels.

Glue up! Now would be a good time to cross your fingers and pray to an appropriate diety. I fill the inlay, right to the edges, with an appropriate layer of Titebond 3. Don’t overdo it on the glue, or soak it too hard. Make sure the layer is thin, but covers the bottom of the inlaid surface. Don’t put any on the veneer itself! Position and tape the inlay into position. Double check now for any protruding surfaces. Once you clamp or bag it, the clamps or bag won’t “fix” overlapping veneer, they’ll just ensure it ends up glued tightly. Then, bag it up and leave it overnight. This is one time when you don’t want to count on a 2-4 hour glue set up time. Leave it. Trust me.

Once out of the bag, inspect for overlapping veneer. Provided you don’t have any, its time to move on to removing the veneer tape. I have a small spray bottle of distilled water. Then i use a card scraper and start to work through the layers of veneer tape. Since you have several layers, you’ll probably have to spritz a few times to get all of it. Keep paper towels handy to wipe the veneer schmutz off your card scraper.

Take your time and let it dry thoroughly. Again, no rushing here. I left mine overnight in a warm part of the house to make sure the water wasn’t going to mess with the surface. The next day, I hit the shop again, gave it a very light sanding, and a wipe down with mineral spirits to see how it came out.

Didn’t require any cleanup! Ready to finish!

13 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8654 posts in 5107 days

#1 posted 12-15-2009 09:30 PM

very cool. nice how it all comes together at the end.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View SteveMI's profile


1175 posts in 4753 days

#2 posted 12-15-2009 09:46 PM

I got intrigued with your Part #1 blog on the Compass and followed your link to the online lesson also. During a trip to Woodcraft for other supplies I asked about a veneer knife (becauce the online lesson recommended one) and they showed me a veneer “saw” from Hirsch. This was recommended from their experience for straight lines. The comment was that a knife blade has a tendency to wander with the grain since the pressure you need to use is so slight.

I noticed in Part #2 that you use an exacto knife.

Is knife versus saw just a personal preference?


-- Being sawdust or first surface awe are dependent on the tool kerf

View Jon3's profile


497 posts in 5564 days

#3 posted 12-15-2009 09:50 PM

A veneer saw is for cutting the veneer itself. While I’ve tried that in the past, I feel a good straightedge and an exacto gives me a better cut, and as long as you don’t try to hack through veneer in one pass with an exacto, it doesn’t wander.

Start with a very light pass, no real pressure, then keep making more passes, slowly increasing the pressure. After a few passes, the exacto’s cut line is deeper than the veneer’s grain, and it will want to follow that deeper cut, rather than wander with the grain.

I would never use a veneer saw to try and inlay. The kerf of the saw would make the inlay quite loose.

But thats just my opinion!.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4793 days

#4 posted 12-15-2009 10:36 PM

Thank you for that very fine blog Jon. It gave enough detail to actually allow someone to do this job if he follows your instructions. I did an inlay of a stickwork piece I made awhile back. I did it as best I could without any any prior experience or outside info. It came out less than perfect, but wasn’t too bad either. However, I am grateful for your blog and I will surely do it your way next time around. I hope I get the same perfect results that you did.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 5333 days

#5 posted 12-15-2009 11:01 PM

I’ve never tried inlay. You make it look easy! Thanks!

-- Happy woodworking!

View zlatanv's profile


691 posts in 4693 days

#6 posted 12-15-2009 11:54 PM

Looks incredible! very nice job. Have only tried it with a router and inlay guide bushings. You have the skill!

-- Z, Rockwall, TX

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27248 posts in 5280 days

#7 posted 12-16-2009 12:55 AM

I have to agree that this has been a pretty thorough construction blog, Jon. You included enough documentary and pictures to thoroughly explain the process and I feel that even I could attempt something like ths. :)

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View bigike's profile


4059 posts in 4747 days

#8 posted 12-16-2009 12:59 AM

sweet, nice job

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View Jon3's profile


497 posts in 5564 days

#9 posted 12-16-2009 04:27 AM

The great thing about this technique, is unlike other wood things, this is incredibly inexpensive to learn!

A variety pack of veneer from woodcraft with like 30 slices is ~$10
Some veneer tape, another $5.
A bulk pack of exacto blades $5.

The rest, as a woodworker, you most likely have or can make quite cheaply.

View sedcokid's profile


2738 posts in 5057 days

#10 posted 12-16-2009 03:53 PM

Thanks Jon, you make it look sooo easy but isn’t that the way it is when we practice and know what we are doing. I think that I may try this and I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Thanks for a Great Blog!

‘The SedcoKid’

-- Chuck Emery, Michigan,

View Glen's profile


118 posts in 4536 days

#11 posted 01-01-2010 11:30 PM

Very nice blog, Jon. Thanks. I’m adding it to my favorites.

-- Glen

View a1Jim's profile


118322 posts in 5036 days

#12 posted 01-01-2010 11:59 PM

Very good blog Jon wonderful details and photos as good as it gets. Thank your for your time and instruction,


View D1st's profile


291 posts in 4499 days

#13 posted 05-08-2010 08:00 PM

Very good info, thanks.


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