Woodworking Inspirations of Italy #4: Decorative Inlay Patterns for Custom Hardwood Inlays

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Blog entry by Bob Simmons posted 06-11-2011 05:36 PM 6645 reads 3 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Santa Maria del Fiore...Duomo Cathedral of Florence, Italy Part 4 of Woodworking Inspirations of Italy series Part 5: Custom Inlay Designs for Arts and Crafts Woodworking »

“Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all come.”
Michelangelo…Italian Sculptor, painter, architect, engineer, and poet (1475-1564)

Inlay Design from the Duomo in Florence Italy

If you have been following this woodworking blog for anytime you know that there is quite a bit of attention devoted to creating wood inlay in the workshop. As woodworkers who love our work, we are constantly on the lookout for new ideas and fresh inspirations. Sometimes, we are able to capture insights from woodworking magazines, DVDs, or books on working with wood. However, on a recent trip I came across something very stimulating that I’d like to share with you, my viewers. These decorative inlay patterns for custom hardwood inlays are actually inlay designs from the facade of the Santa Maria del Foire Cathedral in Florence, Italy.

When you first see the this church it can be quite overwhelming as it truly magnificent and is just loaded with such a vast amount of finely crafted detail. What is even more amazing is the fact that entire facade of this Cathedral is wrapped in polychromatic veneers of marble. For the purpose of this posting on decorative inlay patterns for custom hardwood inlays, I find it best to begin with an extremely simple and yet elegant marble inlay design. The white marble is from Carrara. The green is from Prato and the red marble is from Sienna. (Carrara, Prato, and Sienna are all towns in Italy from which the marble is quarried.) Notice how the marble color combinations play off of one another. Also, take a look at how the interior mouldings of the rectangle and the square are mitered. As a woodworker, if you want to learn how to inlay wood, this design in marble is a great place to start.

Starting from the small square at the very center of the inlay pattern, notice how this white square is turned on its point and sets the stage for the direction of the overall inlay design. The rounded red cross follows this same direction as does the larger square. Here, the larger square with its mouldings and shadow lines adds a perception of depth as does the surrounding rectangle with its mouldings.

The overall inlay pattern may seem difficult at first. However, this is where we woodworkers take our time and enjoy the woodworking process. As you can clearly see, the inlay design is not hard once we break it down into its smaller components. However, my first thought is that it would be best to lay this custom inlay pattern out on paper and then take our measurements from there. By making duplicate copies of the overall pattern we can make templates available for each component’s pattern. From there it is just a matter of fitting the components together.

Marble inlays from the Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy

When creating wood inlay patterns we are able to utilize our veneers from an assortment of hardwoods. Here, we can experiment with different wood colors to see how they contrast or compliment one another. We can also pay special attention to the wood grain patterns as this may provide a positive influence to our custom woodworking inlay.

Keep in mind that once we have the overall decorative inlay patterns and individual component templates made, we can then create any number of custom hardwood inlays. From here it is simply a matter of production work and if we choose, we can repeat the inlay pattern throughout our wood project. As you can imagine, the craftsman of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral used this custom inlay and other inlay designs continually on the marble facade to create an astonishing work of art. What type of an affect could inlays like this have on our furniture pieces, fireplace mantels, and other wood projects?

Note: The installation on the front facade of the Santa Maria del Fiore began in 1876 and was completed in 1887.

Recommended Videos:
How to install Wood Inlay
Ripping Thin Strips of Wood Inlay on the Band Saw
Let’s Install Wood Inlay Bandings
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-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

5 comments so far

View Roger's profile


21007 posts in 3252 days

#1 posted 06-11-2011 07:36 PM

awesome. thnx

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 3462 days

#2 posted 06-12-2011 06:37 AM


Thanks for checking it out.

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

View Walt M.'s profile

Walt M.

245 posts in 3458 days

#3 posted 06-12-2011 03:13 PM

that was awesome, what an inspiration thanks for posting. I gotta get into inlays.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18633 posts in 4124 days

#4 posted 06-13-2011 02:30 AM

You always have interesting and useful posts, thanks, Unfortunately I have been playing hooky with too much work at the same time lately. Maybe I can catch up on some of your posts ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 3462 days

#5 posted 06-13-2011 03:54 AM


Always welcome.
I know what you mean…been playing hooky here too.

Your quote is spot on…

—“some old things are lovely, warm still with life … of the forgotten men who made them.” – D.H. Lawrence

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

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