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I am preparing myself to do my first inlay. However, I'm not sure as to when to radius the fingerboard...It seems logical that I would want to route the cavity for the inlay (and slot for the frets) while the board is still flat, but should I radius the board after gluing shell into the cavity or before (and then adjust the height of the shell in a separate sanding process)?

I guess I'm not sure how resiliant shell is to sanding with a coarser grit sandpaper, especially during the early stages of radiusing.

Thanks,

Brent

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You should do the inlays first and then the radiusing. That's the common way of doing it and it worked for me perfectly as I inlayed a set of sharkfins. The shell once it is glued to the wood is not fragile anymore and the more coarse grits are no problem as long as you follow them up with finer grits.

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I asked this same question about 2 weeks ago and was told that you should install the inlay in an already radiused fret board and leave a little of the shell sticking up and then sand the shell down. But it seems to me that installing inlay on a flat fret board and sand it all down together would be simpler. Brian (Webmaster) agreed with the radiused fret board approach and sand the shell down. He should know.

Edited by idrum4food

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In my humble experience it's best to inlay when the board is about 50% radius'd as this means there's less chance of either breaking or sanding through the inlay too much.

Jem

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Only having done one, I'm certainly no expert but here's what I learnt....

.....DO NOT CUT THE FRET SLOTS BEFORE DOING THE INLAY. As I was cutting the holes for the inlays I sliped with the chisil and snapped off the wood between my inlay hole and the fret slot.

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Either way works.

Radiusing first makes it harder to route the cavities, but you can always tape flat scrap on either side of the fretboard to run your router base on. On the flip side, you can remove the bulk of the inlays with a file, which makes the post-inlay levelling a little quicker.

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I bet no-one of the people here that recommends doing that radius first actually tried that. If they did they would knew about the problems. It works for simple inlays like dots but for nothing which is more complex or bigger in size. If you radius first you can't even lay your inlay on the fingerboard to draw a precise outline of the inlay on the board. Even if you would manage do get the outline on problems will follow:

1. You can't precisely guide the router base on a radiused surface.

2. The cavities bottom's will have the radius too, but your shell piece is flat

3. If you use scrapwood under the routerbase like setch told it solves the radius problem, but this setup will be very shakey and probably not produce clean results.

I can only state again: Every book on guitar building I read recommends to first do the inlays. Every luthier I heard of does it that way. Doing tight and perfect inlay cavities is difficult enough on a flat surface. There is no disadvantage in doing it that way. So why would anyone want to radius the board first is beyond me....

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Marcell - you attach the scrap to your work surface on either side of the board, not to the router base.

Routing a radiused board without scrap supports can allow you to route a curved cavity, which is helpful for vine type inlays, where the pieces are all reltively small and separate. It means the pearl isn't significantly thinner at the edges of the fretboard. Obviously this is a hinderance if you're using block inlays or sharkfins which span the full width of the board, and you'll want to use supports or an unradiused board in this case.

Just FYI, I inlaid my Les Paul board with the scrap supports and the pre-radiused board, so I'm not purely blowing hot air :D

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I only inlay on radiused, pre-slotted fretboards.

Every single inlay I have ever done, and will do. It really doesn't matter though.

Although it does seem easier to do it all on a flat- non slotted board first (for the reasons GuitarMaestro mentioned), I like to know in advance where my color may shift due to sanding, and plan accordingly. It's much harder to know that doing it the other way.

Craig Lavin

www.handcraftinlay.com

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Ok....I stand corrected to some extent. I really depends on the inlay shape and size. I was always thinking about shark fins, block inlays or anything else that nearly spans the width of the fret board. In these cases I still think it works way better to radius after inlaying. But I did not think about the more complex inlays constisting of hundreds of small pieces where each piece is small but the whole inlay is big. In this case it makes no difference as clavin pointed out. Or even gives advantages.

Just FYI, I inlaid my Les Paul board with the scrap supports and the pre-radiused board, so I'm not purely blowing hot airĀ 

Sry....if it came across as an attack.... :D

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No attack. B)

And I'm not saying my way is right either. For basic inlays I do see many advantages to the flatboard method. But, if your goal is complex inlays, it may be better to train yourself for them from the beginning. I have always done it this way so I know no difference. I learned the harder way, but I became proficient at it. That's the important part

:D

Craig

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Sry....if it came across as an attack.... :D

No apology at all required - I was just giving you a little jab in the ribs, hence the smiley B)

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I've always inlayed on a radius'd board as well, with my fret slots precut. If I have a very large inlay going across it is typically always multiple pieces, you can glue up your inlay in a slight radius as well if needed (glue the pieces together on the fretboard radius) but you will need to file your edges to fit the contour, this really isn't something that's necessary I don't think, even with a thickness of .040" the shell will still be in deep enough in most cases. Mind you, I don't use very tight radii boards, typically always 16". With large inlays like sharkfins it's easy if you're using plastics, they will bend, or they're thick enough you just inlay deeper, no problem, with shell, a flat bottom is nice, but if you really need that you can always route just the outline deeper than needed on the radius, then set up a couple pieces to make it flat and route it flat across the bottom.

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I learned the harder way, but I became proficient at it.

Craig

Proficient? is that all they're calling wizards these days?

You don't give yourself enough credit Craig B)

Proficient, geez, I can't wait until I'm as proficient as you are :D

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Thanks LGM but trust me I have my share of mistakes.

For example , I just did a really complicated all shell Celtic cross, with 5 knots in it. I got as far as gluing and sanding, but during the sanding process one of the red abalone pieces in an otherwise completely color-constant area sanded down to a rust colored area. It's enough to make me want to scrap it. It's too thin now for an easy repair.

I wish I could poof it away :D

Since I can't I obviously haven't achieved wizard status yet :D

Your well on your way though. If you didn't spend so much time building those beautiful guitars of yours you would be speeding down the complicated inlay road.

Your nearly there already B)

Craig

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You guys are all way more knowledgeable about this than I am. But I wanted to throw in that I have also read that one concern about doing inlay on a pre-radiused fret board is that when sanding the inlay you have a slight risk of changing the radius of the fretboard if you are not careful.

Anyway, I will now go back to reading all of you guys great advice !

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Guitarmaestro raised the issue of marking out a large piece, such as a block inlay, on a pre-radiused fretboard. For those of you who are used to working on pre-radiused boards, how do you go about accurately marking out a relatively simple but large shape on a radiused fretboard?

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51_inlaysmarked.jpg

Pretty self explanatory. The shell is glued the tape with a dot of CA glue. The radiused board wasn't a problem provided I kept the scalpel blade straight whilst tracing the outline.

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I'm no inlay guru by any means. I mean I've done a lot of blocks and some different shapes like Ibanez style sharkteeth and some custom shapes, but I'll never get into the ornate "scenes" like fish, dragon, vine, etc. But I've always flushed my inlays with a long, flat file. Then you know you aren't going into the wood. I think it's better than a sanding block because the particles and sanding grits can get under there and roll around, inadvertently touching the wood. A file tends to be self sweeping. It pushes any particles out of the way with each stroke. (And it clogs easily, too) But you don't ever have to worry about ruining your board. Besides, I'd say I usually get the radius 98% done, then inlay, and do the final board preparation with the inlays (and binding if there is any) installed and filed flush.

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Setch, thanks. I recall that photo from your LP tutorial. I wondered at the time why the tape versus other methods of marking out inlay. I guess I didn't realize, or forgot from your tut, that the board was radiused.

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I really like using a file like Frank as well, files are really interesting in that they will take down shell with ease, but they don't seem to cut wood worth a damn, very handy when taking down an inlay. The only thing to be very careful of is to not use to coarse of a file or it will catch on the shell edges and chip them.

Then, like Craig, when there is only a tiny bit of glue left, I go to the same radius block I used to make my fretboard (I make all my own boards) and use some 320 to take the final amount down. One thing I find with Shell is it is very hard to remove scratches from if you go to deep, if you go right to the wood with 180 or so you have to remove more wood just to get the scratches out of the shell.

Jeremy

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I have been using strictly sandpapers all the way, but would like to try the files until about maybe 220 grit level.

What type do you guys use? I often have a lot of material sticking out of the board, and use 80 grit to get through that. It takes forever.

Also I finish all grits with a flat block, not radiused. Many necks I work on change radius through the length.

LGM is correct about stopping short at about 120 grit before heading onwards. Too deep a scratch and youll have to go lower than the board to get it out. I always make sure there is enough glue left to need to spend a little time at 220 before going onwards.

Craig L

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The Stew Mac fret leveling file is my favorite (0862) because you can use long strokes and the single cut teeth just seem to ignore the fretboard like Jeremy said. I mean, if you're rocking back and forth then you'll probably get some marks on either side of the inlay, where the file comes down. But it seems to do a good job of only concentrating on material above the plane. Plus Stew Mac rounds the front and back of the cutting surface so the tip of the file has a nice transition. It's nothing you can't make out of any single cut milling file. It's not that different from a nib file they use to remove dust in auto finishes. I can run my little nib file over a nitro finish and not leave a mark.

Stew Mac says you can use the double cut fretboard leveler for inlays, but I don't like double cut teeth on an inlay. It leaves a bad surface and it's too easy to come down on the board and gouge a little groove in it. I've used the double cut to remove bulk material, but if you're using 80 and 120 grit, you might as well stick with that. You don't seem to be having any trouble from what I can see!

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