How do you mask your miter keys?

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Forum topic by Cato posted 09-17-2011 01:18 PM 2224 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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701 posts in 4388 days

09-17-2011 01:18 PM

I have been building a few boxes for gifts with different joinery on several of them.

When using mitered joints and installing a couple of miter keys for strength how do you mask them off when finishing so that you have a contrast between the keys and the box?

11 replies so far

View Pick's profile


30 posts in 4108 days

#1 posted 09-17-2011 02:15 PM

Just make them out of a contrasting wood, and then use a clear finish.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 4898 days

#2 posted 09-17-2011 02:26 PM

Cato, +1 on Pick’s comment. I will usually use maple to contrast with walnut or cherry, for example.

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

View Cato's profile


701 posts in 4388 days

#3 posted 09-17-2011 02:30 PM

Pick- with the finishes I am using on curly maple for instance I am dyeing the maple brown and then finishing with a topcoat of amber shellac and I was trying to figure an easy way to keep the dye and amber shellac from coloring the miter keys.

Since the miter keys are the thickness of a saw kerf it seems like it would be hard to accurately tape them off, so I was wondering how others did it.

View tom427cid's profile


294 posts in 3546 days

#4 posted 09-17-2011 04:41 PM

When I am trying to highlight something-before staining I will (very carefully) paint the part with thinned white shelaq. two light coats seems to provide a good barrier so the stain won’t penetrate the part that I want to contrast.
Hope this helps.

-- "certified sawdust maker"

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12324 posts in 4504 days

#5 posted 09-17-2011 04:47 PM

I cut everything first, insert the keys and bring them level. Then, remove the keys and stain the box, re insert the keys and glue.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3674 days

#6 posted 09-17-2011 05:08 PM

The keys should essentialy be end grain, so they will absorb more stain than the face grain on the sides of the boxes. So there should be a noticeable color difference even without masking. However, as stated above, I usually use a contrasting wood with just an oil finish.

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 4362 days

#7 posted 09-17-2011 06:29 PM

Unfortunately, taping for stain usually doesn’t work. The stain generally runs under the tape, and you end up with a mess. That is simply the nature of stain. If it didn’t soak in, it wouldn’t be stain.

As others mentioned, because the keys are end-grain, they will take the stain darker.
It would be difficult for the keys to be lighter though.


View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 4362 days

#8 posted 09-17-2011 06:36 PM

I just thought. (Wow, that’s a first!) If you want a lighter key, tape carefully around them. With a small artist brush, seal the keys with the finish you are using. Then tape the keys and stain, being careful not to use excessive stain close to the tabe. The sealer should help keep the stain from soaking in.

I would try this before possibly ruining a nice box.

Good luck


View Cato's profile


701 posts in 4388 days

#9 posted 09-18-2011 01:58 PM

thank you all for the responses on this.

Kent I was kind of thinking along the same lines as you have suggested, or maybe making a set of dummy keys to put in while I dye the box carcass and shellac it, then remove those and tape around the key slots and glue in the lighter keys.

View speakerscott's profile


47 posts in 4914 days

#10 posted 09-18-2011 03:01 PM


I’ve been working on a table design where I’d like to highlight the inlay. The method I see for Federal period pieces is to get a very fine tipped brush and put clear finish/light finish on the inlay. I’ve yet to actually attempt this…so we’ll see how it goes.


-- Scott, Austin-Texas...

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4788 days

#11 posted 09-18-2011 03:07 PM

Could you cut your mitre slots after you’d stained the box? Then slide in your keys and finish them as required.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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