Stone Inlay - a tutorial for the "Birches" #1: Getting Started

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Blog entry by swirlsandburls posted 11-08-2010 02:09 AM 6162 reads 10 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Stone Inlay - a tutorial for the "Birches" series Part 2: Playing with Stones »

The raw Hickory blank was one I purchased a few years ago, which was wax-dipped and about 11” in dia. by 2” thick. It was completely dry when I started. I mounted the blank from what will be the front with a faceplate ring and 6 screws. I think I used a 100 mm ring.

After truing up the blank, I cut the dovetail into the back for the chuck jaws to fit into. By the way, once I mount the piece into the chuck and start working on the front, it never leaves the chuck until the piece is finished (except for final buffing). This keeps the registration the same and provides a way to hold the piece in a vise for the inlay work.

I usually finish the back completely before starting on the front, including a coat of varnish for protection.
In this case, though, after I reversed the piece and began shaping the front, the large knot came loose and fell out, despite the fact that I had tried to stabilize it with CA glue. OOPS! Now, things get complicated quickly.

See the hole?

The next thing I had to do was to decide if the piece was worth saving. Since I had paid for the blank and I HATE to throw pieces away, I decided to fill it. First, though, I had to plan the inlay around the hole. See the rough sketch.

I finished cutting the profile for the front of the plate, and sanded it to about 100 grit to give a smooth enough surface to start the repair.

To accomplish the repair, I backed the hole with tape, then partly filled it with a mixture of anthracite and mica, then added CA glue to stabilize it for the back. Then, I filled the front side with hickory sawdust and CA glue to provide a reasonably consistent (and strong) base for the inlay.

Once the repair was cured, I sanded back and front to probably 220 grit. I use mostly 3” wave discs and an angled electric grinder. It makes the whole project go faster, and the results are far, far better than hand-held sanding pads.

Then I drew the pattern onto the blank, and cut the groove for the frame on the lathe with a cutoff tool. I decided I wanted to use large chunks of green calcite for the frame, which are almost transparent. So, I typically smooth the groove to 220 grit or so, prime it, and apply gold leaf (or imitation gold in this case) to provide a mirror-like reflective base that enhances the color of the calcite and catches the light and sends it on a round-trip back to your eyes.

Once the gilding was finished, I began cutting the inlay with a rotary cutter. I use solid carbide down-spiral cutters for a clean edge. You must do this VERY carefully, since mistakes in the inlay cuts are almost impossible to hide (unless you change the design!)

Here is the piece with the trunks and branches cut in. Notice that I had not yet decided to put leaves in. The inlay cuts for leaves should be added later, after the trunks, branches, and frame is basically complete, in order to prevent the different colors of minerals from mixing where I don’t want them.

OK, that’s it for now. I will show you how to start the stone inlay process in the next installment.

-- patience is a virtue ... in woodworking, cooking, and life in general

6 comments so far

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3694 days

#1 posted 11-08-2010 02:44 AM

Very good blog, but be careful wearing gloves while working on the lathe, heard some horror stories. I love your work.

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View shipwright's profile


8495 posts in 3474 days

#2 posted 11-08-2010 03:08 AM

To answer another thread here, where it is appropriate, Yes, woodworking can be art. Very cool process. Are you following a known process or making it up as you go along? Either way it’s just great work.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View savannah505's profile


1839 posts in 4262 days

#3 posted 11-08-2010 03:14 AM

Great description, and looks like your doing it right, look forward to your next showing.

-- Dan Wiggins

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18922 posts in 4352 days

#4 posted 11-08-2010 03:37 AM

Thanks for taking time to do this.

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

View TJ65's profile


1381 posts in 3726 days

#5 posted 11-08-2010 06:48 AM

Yea, thanks for posting this. It is certainly very interesting.
Looking forward in the next installment

-- Theresa,

View swirlsandburls's profile


117 posts in 4072 days

#6 posted 11-13-2010 09:28 PM

To answer Paul M’s question. I first learned about how to do this by visiting Steve Hatcher’s site. His art is way beyond mine, but the basic process is the same. This is the sort of process whereby everyone comes up with their own tips and techniques.

-- patience is a virtue ... in woodworking, cooking, and life in general

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