Scroll Saw Inlay Techniques: The Ultimate Guide

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scroll saw inlay techniques

There are so many cool items you can make with wood using inlay techniques: custom refrigerator magnets, charming porch ornaments, and flashy award plaques, just to name a few.

But what if these crafts seem intricate beyond your level of expertise as a woodworker?

What is some effective scroll saw inlay techniques? There are a number of different inlay techniques that woodworkers can employ using the scroll saw, with some of the most common including:

  • Double bevel inlay
  • Intarsia
  • Marquetry

Some of these techniques may be mixed and matched in a number of ways to create a style that best suits each unique woodworker.

The techniques used for double bevel inlay are widely adopted by woodworkers making items using the scroll saw, so a thorough understanding of how it is performed will help woodworkers execute a number of scroll saw techniques.

Materials & Tools

scroll saw inlay materials and tools

Before double bevel inlay can be performed, the woodworker needs to make sure that he or she has the proper materials and tools to complete the project.

Each individual woodworker may tweak this list to fit his or her individual needs or preferences.

Scroll saw

If you’re reading this article, there’s a chance you are already experienced with the scroll saw.

For those beginners in woodworking, the scroll saw is a form of the small electric table saw with an extremely fine blade used for making intricate, artistic cuts and patterns, generally powered on and off with a foot pedal to allow the artist to use both of his or her hands

Contrasting woods

Double bevel inlay is generally most effective when using light and dark wood.

A compound inlay may be performed using three or more contrasting woods.

Make sure to have some extra scrap wood of the same style and thickness to use for testing prior to starting the project

Pattern

This is what the woodworker wants to make with the scroll saw.

Some popular patterns made with the scroll saw include logos, animal outlines, and florals

Adhesives

Wood glue, double-sided carpet tape, and clear packaging tape. Some inlay artists may also prefer to use small nails.

These will be important for fastening the contrasting woods during cutting and securing the inlay to the base once the pattern has been cut

Drill and small bit

To make an entry hole for the scroll saw blade

Scissors and knives

Important for adding and removing scraps and adhesives

Artist’s paintbrush

Needed to apply glue evenly to cut-out inlay

Wood hammer

May be necessary to drive snug-fitting inlays home

Sander, sandpaper, and files

These will be essential during the finishing process and will help make sure the inlay fits flush with the base

Finish of choice

Lacquer is the most common finish for inlay work

The Scroll Saw Technique of Double Bevel Inlay

Double bevel inlay is the technique of combining multiple contrasting veneers, or thin wood surfaces, to cut patterns at slight angles, allowing the upper layers of wood to fit into the lower layers like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The intricate artistry of double bevel inlay has been made much easier and less time consuming with the use of a scroll saw.

Step One: Choose Contrasting Woods

choosing contrast wood

The type of wood is generally the preference of the woodworker, but any form of inlay is ineffective if the onlooker cannot distinguish the inlay from the base.

An example of two kinds of wood that contrast wonderfully is maple (light) and walnut (dark).

Once contrasting woods are chosen, the woodworker will need to determine the thickness of wood he or she wants to work with. For items such as coasters and ornaments, ⅛ or ¼-inch pieces of wood are typically satisfactory.

  • Using double-sided carpet tape (or small wood nails), fasten the two contrasting kinds of wood together.
  • Make sure the tape or nails will prevent the veneers from sliding during cutting and are not in the way of the cut pattern. Thus, taping or nailing at the corners in the scrap region is best.
  • If using nails, make sure they do not pierce through the bottom layer of wood.

If there is not sufficient practice area in the scrap region of the work artifact, make sure to create a practice copy using the same process, ensuring that thickness and wood type are the same as the work artifact.

This will be important to help find the proper scroll saw angle.

Step Two: Angle the Scroll Saw

The correct angle of the saw will depend on the thickness of the wood and the size blade being used.

Scroll saw blades start at size 0 for the finest blade and move up 1, 2, 3, etc. as blade size gradually increases (even the biggest scroll saw blades are only about .06 inches in width).

Generally, the correct scroll saw angle will be between 2° and 8°. To pinpoint the ideal measure, the woodworker should make a series of cuts, usually in the shape of a teardrop, at different angles on the practice copy.   

The ideal angle will be at where the cut-out piece from the top veneer fits snugly into the opening of the base piece of wood.

The cut-out piece should have a very gradual funnel shape, with the top being widest and slightly v-ing toward the bottom, creating a tight fit in the opening of the base.

When choosing an angle, it is better for the angle to be slightly too steep as opposed to too shallow.

Too shallow an angle will cause the cut-out piece to fall completely through the base and create a gap at the surface of the artifact.

Step Three: Apply the Pattern

After the contrasting woods are fastened together, and the correct scroll saw angle has been determined using the practice specimen, the woodworker needs to apply the pattern to the top veneer of the working copy.

For patterns that are being taken from a three-dimensional object

The woodworker may choose to secure the object to the veneer and trace the pattern onto the wood.

However, the majority of patterns will be flat, often taken from a computer print.

For flat patterns

The woodworker needs to apply a layer of spray glue to the back of the pattern and even attach it to the top veneer.

Once the pattern is traced or glued, it is best that the pattern is further secured by adding a layer of transparent packaging tape over the top.

This will help ensure that the pattern doesn’t curl during the cutting process.

The woodworker may even choose to wrap the entire project in packaging tape for added security.

Step Four: Drill Entry Hole

The entry hole is where the scroll saw blade will be introduced to the attached pieces of wood.

This hole should be made as small as possible while still allowing blade access. The entry hole does not need to be drilled at an angle.

After the blade is threaded through the hole, it needs to be attached to the scroll saw. The inlay is now ready to be cut.

Step Five: Cut the Inlay

Following the lines of the pattern, gently guide the wood around the scroll saw blade.

Do not get in a hurry during this process, and remember a couple of important points:

Make sure the blade is cutting toward the angle

If the blade is cutting away from the angle, this will not give the cut-out piece the desired funnel-like finish and will create difficulty in securing a snug fit into the base

Do not apply pressure to the blade

Let the blade do the work while you gently guide the project around the pattern lines as the blade opens the way.

Pushing too hard and pressuring the blade may compromise the angle of the bevel and give the inlay an unsatisfactory fit

Step Six: Secure the Inlay in the Base

Remove the transparent packaging tape and the pattern from the top layer of wood.

Using a knife, detach the two pieces of wood from one another.

Do not be concerned with any residue.

A cut-out from each piece of wood should fall out during this process.

  • Discard the cut-out from the base.
  • Take the inlay from the top piece and check to see if it fits satisfactorily into the base.
  • Gently sand or file if it seems too snug initially.
  • After the correct fit has been confirmed, the woodworker needs to use an artist’s paintbrush and evenly apply yellow wood glue around all edges of the inlay.
  • Once the wood glue has been applied, re-insert the inlay into the base.
  • If the inlay is protruding slightly from the base, lay a piece of wax paper over the top of the project and, using a wooden hammer, gently tap the inlay until it fits snug.
  • Remove the wax paper and wait for the glue to dry.

Step Seven: Sand

Evenly sand both sides of the inlaid artifact, removing any residue from the tape and glue and ensuring that both sides are completely flush.

Step Eight: Cover the Entry Hole

Mix a small amount of glue with sawdust from the project. This will create a putty that is the color of the artifact.

Using a finger or paintbrush, fill the entry hole with this putty and allow it to dry.

Once dry, re-sand the project to remove any putty that dried outside of the hole.

Step Nine: Apply Finish

The finish will make the artifact pop and give it a professional appearance.

Lacquer is the choice of most woodworkers when performing inlay techniques because it gives the project a glossy, shiny finish and emphasizes the contrast between the inlay and the base.

Depending on the nature of the project, the backing may need to be added.

A third solid piece of wood may be added if the artifact is intended to be one-sided, or additional adhesive may be applied if a magnet needs to be attached.

Most inlays used for ornamentation are double-sided and no further action is needed after the finish is applied.

Related Article: Cutting EVA foam with a scroll saw, would it really work?

The Intarsia Technique for Scroll Saw

Any inlay technique in which one layer of wood is designed to fit inside another layer of wood like a jigsaw puzzle is considered intarsia.

The double bevel inlay described in the preceding sections is considered a form of intarsia, but intarsia is not limited to the double bevel technique.

Double bevel inlay becomes increasingly difficult with compound inlays.

When more than four colors of wood are being used, attaching so many pieces of wood becomes a chore, and the cuts may become too intricate for moderately experienced scroll sawers.

Alternate techniques can be performed using a scroll saw in which multiple colors of wood need to be used.

  • The woodworker will use the scroll saw to cut out an outline shape from a base.
  • From there, he or she will cut out pieces of inlay individually from the various colors of wood, making a careful note to measure and label the pieces correctly for insertion to the base outline.
  • After the pieces are cut, glue is applied to the periphery of each piece, and the “puzzle” is put together. Once the glue is dried, the finishing process is the same as that used for double bevel inlay.

This is a much more labor-intensive and time-consuming method of intarsia than double bevel inlay, but it is useful for making intricate patterns like the background shown in this link.

It can also be useful for constructing wooden game boards.

Using a Scroll Saw for Marquetry Inlay

Marquetry often gets lumped together with inlay, although the techniques are slightly different.

While some may consider intricate designs inlaid into a cut-out, a form of marquetry, marquetry, in its strictest sense, is applying an intricate cut-out veneer to the surface of a coarser piece of wood.

  • Similar to the process used in double bevel inlay, the woodworker would attach a design to a piece of wood.
  • Using the scroll saw, he or she would cut along the outline of the pattern, creating a cut-out. However, he or she would not be cutting through two pieces of attached contrasting wood, and the cut-out is not inserted in an opening created in a base.
  • Once the design is cut out, it is attached, using wood glue, to a base piece of contrasting wood.

When viewed from a distance, artifacts created using inlay and marquetry may appear to be the same.

However, when viewed more closely, the subtle differences in technique are more easily distinguished.

Both inlay and marquetry are popular techniques using the scroll saw, and both techniques are used in the design and creation of furniture.

**Wondering what other things your scroll saw can do? Check our detailed guide about cutting MDF using a scroll saw here!**

Scroll Saw Inlay Techniques: How to Get Started

getting started with scroll saw inlay techniques

Like any craft, creating inlay using the scroll saw will become easier with practice.

At first, it is best to find contrasting pieces of wood and experiment with the scroll saw.

Here are some clever ideas for how to get a feel for inlay:

Start with simple shapes

Get the hang of using the scroll saw by making simple circles, squares, and triangles.

Remember that you want to gently guide the wood using both hands, careful not to apply too much pressure to the blade

Make cuts at various angles on the scroll saw

Most scroll saws will bevel from 0 to 45°.

Notice how cuts made at different angles affect the shape of your scrap cut-outs, remembering that ideal cut-outs for inlay are very slightly funnel-like

Practice attaching the contrasting woods

As the top slides along the scroll saw’s blade, so should the bottom.

Any slippage between the two kinds of wood during the cutting process spells doom for the inlay, so figure out your preferred method of attachment on scrap wood.

Some woodworkers prefer double-sided carpet tape, while others would rather use small nails

Get a feel for the insertion of your inlay

The ideal inlay will fit snug into the base, with some minor force needed to get the inlay and base completely flush.

Make note of whether your practice inlays are too loose, as any visible gaps between the inlay and base will need to be filled using putty

Familiarize yourself with sanding and finishers

Good inlay looks like one solid piece of wood that just so happens to have neat multi-color designs.

Therefore, the aspiring inlay artist should have plenty of practice making artifacts even and flush.

Also, decide which kind of finishing agent gives the kind of look you prefer

The great thing about scroll saws is they are one of the safer power tools on the market and offer a simple and effective means of getting started in woodworking.

Like with all machinery, proper safety precautions should be taken when using the scroll saw (goggles, no loose-hanging clothing, etc.), but the scroll saw is a wonderful tool for hobbyists of all ages.

After the preliminary steps and precautions have been mastered, there is no limit to the number of creative inlay designs that can be made using the scroll saw.

There are plenty of websites, message boards, and videos out there that can help the experienced scroller take his or her inlay game to the next level.    

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