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Block Inlays In Ebony


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I've been trying to figure out how to approach my block inlays. They're just rectangles... nothing fancy. Here's what I've tried so far, keeping in mind that my practice materials are soft pine and MDF, neither of which remotely resemble what it'll be like to work on ebony. I do have some 'scrap' ebony for practice later, but I haven't wanted to try until I at least get into the ballpark:

1. "steady hand" -- yeah, right

2. making a router base for my SpinSaw flex shaft. Isn't working out very well.

3. using a true Dremel and one of these:


Now, the theory is that the mini router bit is equidistant from the edge, so I just use a straight piece of wood, clamped further away from the actual border of the inlay rectangle. So, let's say the radius of the attachment is 1.5" including the width of the attachment itself, I put the straight edge 1.5" away from the target edge and clamp down.

This worked "so-so", but I don't trust it completely. The attachment is 'just' flexible enough or wobbly enough that it can deviate by a half millimetre or so. Also, you have to be very careful not to tilt at all.

What I'm thinking is: use method #3 just for hogging out wood, but don't go right to the edge. What I need to do, then, is find a way to 'manually' define an edge. I'm not entirely sure what tools I should use, though. A chisel comes to mind, but I don't have one and I'd be worried just as much about 'slipping' it past its target and leaving a nasty gouge across my fretboard.

Ideally, I'd like a tool that works as close to "pen-like" as possible.

Any ideas or different approaches for me to consider?


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3 tools:

-A sharp craft knife/exacto-knife/scalpel.

-A small router cutter (under 1/4", I used 1/8")

-A sharp chisel.

Glue you inlays to the board. Scribe round them with the scalpel. Several passes round, until you've got a good deep line around them. Once they're all marked, pop the inlays off the board. I taped the board first, and glued to the tape - this made it much easier to remove the inlays after scribing:


Then, chuck the tiny cutter in your router, and carefully route the cavities to the required depth. You can keep a hair away from the lines whilst you hog out the cavity, then work up to them once you've cleared out the bulk. If you scribed well, you'll find the last little bit 'jumps' away as you approach it, leaving a crisp edge without you having to cut right up to it, so there's relatively little risk of 'colouring outside the lines!'

Once you've notched up an hour of holding your breath, trying to keep your weak, feeble, wobbling apendages steady by pure force of will, you can put down the router, breath again, and clean up with the chisel. Here, once again, your scribes are your friend. Sit the edge of the chisel in the scribed line, with the bevel facing the inside of the hole, and push down firmly. Keep the chisel upright, with the pointy end down at all times, - so it can only slip 'past it's target' if you push it right through the finger board.

Kind like this, but without the Mallet (or the moustache!).


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Cheers for that advice, Setch. Looks like it's off to buy more tools again. It's hard to grumble about that when I'm too busy chuckling.

How deep does your 'scribe' line go? I know you said "good and deep", but just as an estimate-- a full mm? More? I DO have an 1/8" mini router bit that fits the dremel tool or my flex shaft. Are you using a full-on plunge router?

erik: deliberate... paranoid... not sure which it is, but it's sure making this first project take a very long time. I've said it in other threads and I'll say it again: next project will have to be very simple so that I can regain my sanity. Flat-top LP with no binding is what it's looking like so far. :D


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Gregp, much as i hate to recommend them if you're going to be inlaying more than just one fingerboard i'd invest in one of Stewmacs router bases, avoid the Dremel one it's crap ! Oh, and as for the score line i suppose i go down around about .75 mm, it's your guide line so it's best not to lose it half way through :D


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I don't really want to do that-- the Dremel tool is on loan. My rotary tool is a SpinSaw. I don't want to buy an accessory for a tool I don't actually own. Thanks for the recommendation, though. :D


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  • 2 weeks later...

With the tape method is this correct .

Stick masking tape onto fretboard

Glue inlys to tape ( Whats the best glue to use Super glue ? )

Scribe round inlays with the scalpel several times ( What stops the inlay from comeing off the tape after you scribe around it the first time ) Should i hold the inlay ? or follow the first scribe after the inlay comes away or will it stay put and i can keep going around it .

Sorry for the stupid questions just that im not 100% clear on this method

Thanx for your input

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Some news... actually, it's about a week old, but I didn't want to post to the topic until it was 'complete'; however, it's not like it's an actual build, so no big deal after all:

- Tested a block inlay. It was exceedingly easy compared to the "T" logo, and I'm pretty confident that I could pull it off already if I needed to.

- Did a third attempt with the T logo, and despite there still being some trouble spots, it came out a lot better. Not a super-tight fit yet, but with a bit of tweaking and filling, it'd be usable.

Regarding the tape, for Criss:

- I just used white glue so that I could easily scrape it off after cutting the mortises. However, you need to give it time to dry, and it can still 'slip' if you push too aggressively, so hold it in place and be careful while scribing

- I used and Xacto and I also tried a scalpel. The Xacto worked better for me, but your mileage may vary. I scored twice, then removed the inlay (and the tape stuck to its underside) and continued scoring a few times using the lines that were already in place. Your blade will want to follow the existing lines, so you don't need the inlay in place as a guide any more.

- Instead of keeping the remaining tape in place, I removed it and then filled in the scribed lines with white chalk. (just used a hunk of chalk and scribbled over the area and then wiped off the excess). I found this worked nicer than straining your eyes for the line OR looking at the edge of the masking tape. HOWEVER, the extra buffer zone of protection that the tape provides is then negated.


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