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Inlay question

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  • Inlay question

    I working on making a small keepsake box of which the lid has a border that is mitered at the corners and surrounds a contrasting wood in the center and I want to inlay a contrasting strip of wood 1/8" wide into this 'frame' of the lid.

    I am thinking I can use a 1/8" veining bit in the router to make the groove for the inlay, and I realize that I will have to square the corners by hand using a chisel, no problem there. My question is if it is better to cut the dado using a plunge base and edge guide on the router or do it in the router table? The lid of the box is flat but small (roughly 6 x 9 x 3/8" thick) so doesn't give much surface area to rest the router on. The dado circumscribes the lid about 3/4 of an inch from the edge.

    Any suggestions on how to best handle this operation?

  • #2
    My philosophy - When the workpiece is big take the tool to the workpiece. When the workpiece is small take the workpiece to the tool.

    If you have a good router table, I'd go that route. Make a gauge strip the width you want to have the inlay from the edge (make it long enough to cut at least 2 pieces. Set the fence with the gauge strip (strip between bit and fence). Then use the lid itself to set stop blocks fore and aft (lid between bit and stop). Then reduce the distance to your stops with the gauge strips (or reset them using the strips as an aid). Then you can precisely cut the groove and stop the proper distance from each corner. You will need to repeat the procedure for each lid dimension. Of course if the bit has a smaller body than the cutting radius, it should be rotated so the cutting edge is facing the direction you are trying to set.

    Another option would be a variation on the general process for making a template for use with a guide bushing. Instead of using gauge blocks to make a template slightly larger (for an inside cut) or smaller (for an outside cut) than the desired shape, you could frame your lid with 3/4" thick material rabbeted out the correct depth to form a template for the inlay. It would also provide a way to hold the workpiece down. The depth of the rabbet would depend on your choice of bushing and bit. Also, I'd go with a fixed base and tip the bit in (1/8" groove with minimal depth will be easy to control). Most plunge routers have as much as 1/32" of slop in the plunge. As you vary the side pressure while navigating the template, the bit can wander -sometimes even hitting the bushing if the clearance is small.

    An edge guide would be my last choice. Its too hard to start and stop in the right place. That's my 2 cents anyway.


    • #3
      Thanks, the router table solution you suggest sounds like it is probably the best for controlling the cut. I had thought about setting up something like this but was worried about working the piece blind so to speak and not being able to view the cut, guess you have to have faith in your setup.

      I did end up using the plunge base on my router with an edge guide but it was not easy. As the lid is only 3/8" thick there was not much for the edge guide to bear against. I took a piece of scrap and routed a recess in it to hold the lid firmly. I clamped this with the workpiece down to the table and was able to carefully work the piece to route the groove for the inlay. It worked but looking back the router table would have been easier once setup. Next time I do something like this that is the method I will use.