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Difficulty: Experienced

Making Custom Dot Markers

Have you wondered how to make round dot markers that you can't find off the shelf? Using simple tools and materials, almost any look is achievable!

This technique has been around for decades now, and I'm sure it pre-dates where I picked the idea up from. Remember Fender's good old clay dots? This is essentially that same idea but taken a step further....

You will need

  • drill bits corresponding to the size of inlays you want to make
  • small drill bit (about 2mm or 1/16", see below)
  • masking tape
  • ultra-high density polyethylene kitchen cutting board
  • material of your choice for inlays (epoxy, clay, recon. stone and cyanoacrylate, etc.)

The basis of how this works is the ability of high molecular weight plastics like UHMWPE, etc. to resist adhesion to pretty much most things. The cheap plastic wipe-clean chopping boards you get for a couple of dollars are usually this material or similar. The objective is to take a drill bit (lip and spur, brad point) and drill a series of holes halfway into the plastic, or as deeply as you want the inlay to be thick. A pillar drill with a depth stop is perfect for this. If you're using a hand-drill, a depth stop on the drill bit does the trick also.

After you're drilled these, take the small diameter drill bit and drill through the entire board in the centre of each shallow hole. These are used later on to ease removal of the inlays. Side dot markers are simpler; just drill through the entire board with the correctly-sized drill bit.

Once you have your mould complete, the process is relatively simple. Using your masking tape, cover the holes on the underside of the board. It's useful to rub the tape down firmly to prevent any leakage between the tape and the board. Once these are blocked off, simply pour your inlay making material into the moulds, scrape the surface flush of any excess and allow it to cure, dry, etc. Once complete, your new inlays can be pushed through from the rear, trimmed, filed and installed!


What sort of inlay materials is it possible to use?

Any material that doesn't adhere to high-density plastics! Epoxy presents a number of opportunities to make something a little different:

  • Mix up a batch, add colour pigment and pour into the inlay moulds.
  • Mix a batch, split it into two or more cups. Add a compatible pigment to one or more cups, then simply pour these all back into one cup with minimal mixing and stirring. This can be poured into the inlay moulds resulting in swirly-3D faux tortoiseshell look.
  • Mix a batch and add glow-in-the-dark powders (Strontium or Europium based, such as from United Nuclear).
  • Mix epoxy and crushed stone powders, craft glitter, powdered metal, wood dust, etc.

Alternatively, water thin cyanoacrylate (superglue, krazy glue) works well as a binding adhesive, but not for adding pigments. Instead of pre-mixing, each mould needs to be packed with the powder or material and the cyanoacrylate dripped onto the top to "wick" its way in. Ideally this should be done a little at a time (pack in a little material, add glue, pack more material, add glue, etc.) to ensure that no dry pockets or voids exist.


Creative Commons Licence

Making Custom Dot Markers by Carl Maltby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

You are free to:

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material

Under the following terms:

  • AttributionYou must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

  • NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

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