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The rest of the blue shark inlay tutorial


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Hi again.

We left off at positioning the piece in the proper place, we scribed around that with a #11 exacto knife (or some people like to use scribes, but to me they don't cut as deep). Then we removed the inlay, cleaned everyting off with acetone, and rubbed white chalk over the lines to highlight them as a routing pattern. We then got our depth and routed to as perfect a fit as possible.

Check your depth with a small piece of the shell that is the thinnest in your inlay, to make sure the depth is where you want it to be. Remember it's easier to rout deeper, raising an inlay takes a little practice as the glues in most cases shrink, so you have far less control over that.

After the rout is done, and everything fits nice, fill the hole with your glue. If its epoxy make sure you mixed correctly, and add some to the hole, then add the inlay, then add more over the top. Make sure every seam and open area is filled with glue. If your using CA, use the thinnest you can find, fill some in the hole, place in the inlay, and if in ebony, take some ebony dust and fill the edges between the rout and the inlay with the dust. It will seep in making the edge look almost flawless after leveling, and it keeps the extremely thin glue under control from runing all over as you add glue.

The thin glues are about the same viscosity as water, so be carefull with them. It's easy to get it all over, AND it's superglue. Wear a mask as well for any of the woodworking steps.

Superglue can cause a reaction almost like getting the flue. Trust me it is extremely lame :D

I work the glue with a mask AND a fan going.

The ebony dust trick works nice in ebony, however it does not for almost any other woods.

Train yourself to be patient and rout tight and clean. That is the real key to good inlay- good design, interesting use of materials, tight cuts, and clean routs.

At this point your inlay should look like crap :D


If using epoxy clamp the inlay down. Epoxy doesn't shrink, and the inlay needs to sit as flush with the rout as possible.


You'll notice the two different glues in this picture.

I use the green duco cement to hold inlay to the wood for scribing, and the red 3M glue for piecing out the pattern on my materials.

Many people use CA for patterning, but CA won't hold paper well to gold or black pearl, and it lifts off easily while cutting patterns. That is a sure fire way to screw up your pattern during cutting, and you will have to re-cut the piece. The 3M glue is one part, and dries fast. It's a little gelatinouse, so make sure your pattern sits FLAT on the material. Raised pattern means a mis-shaped piece. It sticks to every pearl and stone and metal I know. I really like it.

After 24 hours you can start to level the inlay down. I don't care how long the package says it takes the glue to cure, or how much of a hurry your in because yours so excited about the piece.

You want your work to be around for years, so why not take the proper time making it? Let the glue fully cure. Otherwise you may be sanding wet glue.

Then using a flat bottom solid wood block (any other will possibly have flex to it, sanding unevenly- a no-no on musical intruments- especially fretboards)

start at 80 grit, and work your way down to 120, then 220, then 400 grit papers.

I start using 120 about when there is still glue all around the inlay, but the inlay is becoming visible.

I go to 220 grit when the glue is almost gone, but there is still enough to see the glue clearly, then when the glue is almost whisp thin, but still there, I go to 400. I use them all dry except for when leveling plastics. If I have plastics in an inlay, like the shark here, I'll go to 220 dry, then finish off with 400 wet, (or with oil) and then even go to 600 to buff out the plastics. Some may need higher grits..


About this stage in the photo I would still be at 120, but not for long. Just until I see the glue going away enough to make the inlay seem flat. You can switch to higher grits sooner to be safe, it just means a little more sanding time. If you go too far down on a fretboard kiss the board goodbye, especially if you can't re-radius it out. THAT is why I never support sanding an inlay going fret by fret.

More on fingerboards in my very complex/advanced inlay tutorial- coming up next.. I'm not even done with that one yet....B)

After it's level you may need to go back and pick out any bubbles, etc.. the glue formed while it was drying. I like to use the #1 blade, and dig them out until the white dust is gone, and fill them with the CA. It fills clear and fully. If it's in ebony, and you can't get out the bubble or the white dust out all the way, I have a little trick- clean out the bubble as much as possible- take some black india ink and fill the bubble with that, then seal that with the CA. Of course it only works in ebony, but its fast, cleaner than filling with ebony dust.

Re-sand the new glue down again starting at 220.

If your happy with the inlay you can stop at this point, and you should be pretty proud.

I am almost never happy with it at this stage, so I break out my graver tool to add all those details you can't get with cuts.


Thr graver is the silver one, l my technical pencil up top. Most people use a handle on it as well, but recently I have been having a better time without the handle. I feel like I have more control without it.

Gravers are used for engraving, and I am FAR FAR from an expert on that. I am learning as I go on engraving, but I can tell you far less people hand engrave these days than do inlay. I whish I knew of a good tutorial on it, but I don't.

Gun engravers can teach you how to engrave, but they are few and far between as well.

What little I know basically is this.

Draw out your pattern on the material you want to engrave on with the pencil, or pen if your good enough to control the ink.

When using pearl try to choose the most pattern free/plain MOP you can find. High figure pearl with blur the lines with the pattern, and it fractures out easier.

After you draw out your pattern, gently (one wrong scratch means you just ruined all your previouse work- not fun on a 75 hour inlay... :D- No I'm NOT kidding- you can't fill an incorrect deep graver scratch. You can only SAND it out) and gently scratch away at your pattern going deep with the graver each time. You will make a little "track" for your graver to follow as you go, but the key I have found so far is relatively low pressure, and smooth tracking. Stop after each pass, and re-place the cut. Fill your cuts with either colored wax paste or inks.

And remember, the engraving will wear with play, so keep your highest engraved areas toward the more non-used regions of the fingerboard if that's where the inlay is going. Proper engraving takes hours. It's a seperate art than inlay, with rules and skills all it's own. take your time and don't rush it. Some engraving artists' engraved pieces took years.

Here is one last complete parting shot- without engraving, and then with engraving.

You can see the details make the piece.



I added the mouth lines, the whites of the eye, the white teeth, and some shading on the tail.

I also added the electrosensory Ampullea of Lorenzini pits on the face, but the photo didn't catch that.

The more realistic and detailed the image the more your work will express what you truly are trying to get across. That's why we make and play guitars anyway right?

Thanks for following along. I'll do another complex inlay one soon- here's a preview


My freind's wife as the lady of the lake raising excaliber- tons of engraving on this one, and lots of pieces on a radiused, dot-drilled-slotted fingerboard, on a neck already. No room for error here.

Craig Lavin


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Thanks Snork.. I hope others feel like it was good as well. I know it wasn't the most simply written one, or the most photo-rich, but I feel like I tried to expand on ideas and offers tips and "tricks" a bit.

Of course if anyone has questions please let me know.

Brian please feel free to edit and link all of the posts together to make a real tutorial out of it. I will expand in areas as well if you would like.


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