Inlaying wood is a great way of adding a special detail to a wood project. In the past, and to a certain extent even today, inlay work is done by hand by cutting shapes and strips of wood along with the pockets they will be fit into and eventually glued into, but there are are other ways of allowing machinery to help us with some of these tasks.

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Of course, one way of making inlays is through CNC cutters or even through laser etching, but for this episode, we are using the good old wood router that has been around for decades and never seems to run out of things it can do ... 

 For this exercise, I am going to be using the Freud Inlay set in conjunction with their bushing holder plate. Inlay kits are available from a number of companies making similar router accessories.

An inlay kit consists of 3 basic parts, the router bit that needs to be used by this set, and the reason for that it is because the width of the router bit is the same as the thickness of the outer collar of the inlay bushing. The inlay bushing part will consist of 2 parts, and outer housing part that will also include the small inside bushing and an outer bushing or collar. Some inlay kits also come with a centering pin to ensure the bushings are centered in the router base plate. 

wood inlays

          Dry fitting the insert may require a string or thread to help lift the insert from the pocket, dental floss works nicely too.
Setting an inlay set up is pretty easy, once you have installed the router bit, the next step is to install the main base plate adapter which will be holding the router bushing and the outer collar. After the bushings are installed, now is the time to set the router bit height by adjusting the router's turret to the appropriate setting.

You will also need a template of some shape you want to route. The template material should be the same or slightly thicker than the thickness of the inlay router bushings. If the template is too thin, the bushings will rub on the wood that is being routed which makes it hard to move the router over the surface of the wood. It's best not to have something that will parts that are very fine, such as the outline of a horse. It is conceivable that the legs of the horse may be too thin and will easily break during the routing process, a shape with less delicate parts is better to start off with. In my case, I used what is commonly called Bow-tie or a Butterfly shape.

The template needs to be firmly attached to the wood you are routing. Good quality double sided take works but be careful that it doesn't elevate the template too high of you loose part of the depth of cut from the router bit. 

A finished Butterfly that has bee lightly inserted for easy removal and a final gluing for permanent insertion

           A finished Butterfly that has bee lightly inserted for easy removal and a final gluing for permanent insertion

The choice to cut the pocket or the inlay part is yours to make, the pocket will require the outer collar to be in place, the insert part will require to have the collar removed. The choices and colors of woods will be important. For some effects highly contrasting woods are might work fine, for others a more subtle contrasting of wood might be a better choice.

If you are inlaying butterflies, less contrasting woods may work better. For these inlays, wood grain direction and structure are important because the strength of the butterfly often plays into the process as the butterfly may be hiding either nasty knot, or it may be securing a crack in the wood.

Router Inlay kit

Parts of the Inlay Kit and a butterfly template

Using a wood router to inlay is a quick easy way of adding detail and in some cases strength to a project and can be used for many, many applications.

Copyright Colin Knecht

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