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Thread: New at inlay, with questions...

  1. #1
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    Default New at inlay, with questions...

    I'm working on my first inlay project (mother of pearl), practicing on East Indian Rosewood and planning to do the actual peghead veneer in W. African Ebony. Didn't choose to try the shell cutting so I simply planned to do the easier task -routing the pockets. HAH!

    I got my logo back from DePaule Supply, and found the letters to be of varying thicknesses (14 thousands of an inch on the extreme) sometimes varying 8 thousandths in the same letter. I could carefully cut the channels for each letter to match as best I can the thickness of each one. Or I wonder if a better plan would be to double-stick tape them to a board and gang sand them to a more uniform thickness? My thinking is to split any remaining differences from that sanding by routing the channels deep enough so that as little shell-surface sanding would have to be done. (Mind you, I may be overthinking something I know nothing about --that's never happened before...!)

    I also found that the letters I received weren't an accurate match to the original drawing. I had hoped to cut the channels using a CNC router. After cutting the pockets for the letters, I experimented with tailoring them with a Dremel. I wasn't finding this workable and finally checked the inlay against the drawing and saw that there is some difference; to the extent that using the CNC process off of the original drawings isn't saving much time and effort at all. So I may simply work on cutting the pockets in without the CNC.

    Another question: I read about the possibility of cutting shell out with a CNC router. If that is do-able, I would give it a try. Do any of you do that? Where do you buy your mother of pearl blanks?

    Thanks!!
    "Why is it that you never have time to do it right the first time, but you always have time to do it right the second time??"

  2. #2
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    You didn't say what the average over-all thickness of the shell is. It is common to have varying thicknesses with shell as this is a natural substance. You should have plenty of extra "meat" so that thickness variance isn't an issue. What I do is cut the inlay pocket just deep enough so that the thinnest part will be just proud or ideally, just flush with the surface and the thicker parts will be proud. Then I can sand everything flush and I'm done.

    I know nothing of using a CNC cutter and just do it by hand with a dremel tool with a downcut bit (1/16 and 1/32) on a SMD router base. Here is the thing Chuck, when you use ebony you can really mess up the cut (with a little practice you can get amazingly accurate) and nobody will know because you use the ebony dust - in glue trick and any gnarly margins totally disappear into the blackness. Ebony is very forgiving in this way.

    I'm no inlay expert and I get acceptable results so don't overthink the thing and just do it. Maybe one of the experts will weigh in with advice.

  3. #3
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    It seems like it shouldn't be any harder to program a CNC to cut shell than to rout the pockets. I know nothing about either, but I watched the shell layout process at Huss & Dalton many times. Each pattern was routed very lightly into a board of synthetic stuff (can't remember the name), so as long as the shell blank covered the rout it would be big enough for the piece. Superglue was used to hold the blank in place. The board had to be precisely set on the CNC table each time. The completed board was placed in a tray of solvent overnight, shell patterns down. A lid covered the tray. The pieces seldom fell off after soaking but popped off with minimal breakage. Their cost per logo fell from $25 apiece for hand cut to less than $3. They purchased shell by the pound. I don't know who supplied them.

  4. #4
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    Chuck

    This is something I know a lot about. First, DePaul is a great supplier but because everything is done literally by hand, do not expect consistency.

    As far as doing inlay work on the CNC this is what I do:

    Prepare a drawing in your software package - this represents the 'pocket' you will inlay into. Since I use two cutter for inlay work, 0.635mm or 25 thou for 'hogging' out the centre portion of the inlay and a 0.395mm or 16 thou for fine tuning the perimeter. All internal and external points are radiused to 0.2mm.
    Offset the drawing and transpose onto a separate drawing layer and reduce this by 0.075mm or 3 thou- this gives you clearance for setting your pearl. Cutters obtained from Precise Bits USA. They have a speeds and feeds chart. Get pearl from Australia... laminate from China (quarter of the price of Ablam and just as good).

    And that is it. If you have a CNC you will know what to do next - cut the pearl then cut the pockets. Here are some examples of my work. You can pm me if you need further help.

    1.jpg

    3.1.jpg

    FSHT7.jpg
    Last edited by Pete Howlett; 06-28-2020 at 03:57 AM.

  5. #5
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    Hey Chuck, In a world where hand craftsmanship is slowly being lost by machine work, I suggest you do this by hand. CNC machines are great for production work but overkill for individual inlays. Routing the pockets can be done in the same amount of time it takes to read this thread. Sequoia offers some great advice. I’ll add the I temporarily glue the pieces in place using Just a dab of Duco Cement and tracing the outline with a fine mechanical drawing pencil. Pop off the piece And rout up to the line. I usually dye my CA black but ebony dust works well too. Fast and easy.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Chuck Moore
    Moore Bettah Ukuleles
    http://www.moorebettahukes.com

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Moore Bettah Ukuleles View Post
    tracing the outline with a fine mechanical drawing pencil. Pop off the piece And rout up to the line. I usually dye my CA black but ebony dust works well too. Fast and easy.
    What I do is pin the piece down and outline it with a sharp #11 scalpel blade and then put white chalk dust in the indentations. Makes seeing the line soooooo much easier and seeing the line is key. I also use an aquarium pump to blow away the dust. Ease up to your line slowly with a 1/32 inch bit and you can get it amazingly accurate. The key is being able to see your line and things can get obscured with wood dust in the heat of the moment and you can go over your line. It really isn't that hard and I agree CNC is primarily for production work.

    Picture of one of my first inlays years ago. Shell from DePaul.

    20200628_115332.jpg
    Last edited by sequoia; 06-28-2020 at 08:57 AM.

  7. #7
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    One little tip if you rout the pockets manually with a dremel type router, is to use the "flag" trick. I used to use an aquarium pump to blow away the dust, like Sequoia , until I discovered that attaching a small "flag" of masking tape to the Dremel bit around the flat part of the shank, does a great job of blowing away the dust. No need for pumps.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeyb2 View Post
    One little tip if you rout the pockets manually with a dremel type router, is to use the "flag" trick. I used to use an aquarium pump to blow away the dust, like Sequoia , until I discovered that attaching a small "flag" of masking tape to the Dremel bit around the flat part of the shank, does a great job of blowing away the dust. No need for pumps.
    That is an excellent idea! I was doing a lot of blowing of sawdust as I practiced today. I will try that!
    "Why is it that you never have time to do it right the first time, but you always have time to do it right the second time??"

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by sequoia View Post
    What I do is pin the piece down and outline it with a sharp #11 scalpel blade and then put white chalk dust in the indentations. Makes seeing the line soooooo much easier and seeing the line is key. I also use an aquarium pump to blow away the dust. Ease up to your line slowly with a 1/32 inch bit and you can get it amazingly accurate. The key is being able to see your line and things can get obscured with wood dust in the heat of the moment and you can go over your line. It really isn't that hard and I agree CNC is primarily for production work.

    Picture of one of my first inlays years ago. Shell from DePaul.

    20200628_115332.jpg
    IMG_20200627_200815__01.jpg

    I like the idea! Where do you find these scalpels?

    In this practice run, I used a thin strip of double stick tape to try and get the letters lined up accurately and then tried my best with an exacto knife with little success. So I tried pencil with not much better results.
    "Why is it that you never have time to do it right the first time, but you always have time to do it right the second time??"

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Moore Bettah Ukuleles View Post
    "Routing the pockets can be done in the same amount of time it takes to read this thread."

    Easy for you to say, Chuck! ;-) I'm a slow reader, but not that slow!

    I have been practicing getting these letters cut in using a Dremel first with a 1/16th inch bit, then switched to a 1/32 inch bit, finally experimented with a .020" bit, to see if I could break it. (No success there.)

    I have probably sat hunched over that router for 5 hours today and I'm afraid the results are quite disappointing. (Photo)
    IMG_20200628_165454__01.jpg


    "I temporarily glue the pieces in place using Just a dab of Duco Cement and tracing the outline with a fine mechanical drawing pencil. Pop off the piece And rout up to the line. I usually dye my CA black but ebony dust works well too. Fast and easy."
    I see where some people use a dab of CA glue to put the inlay in place to mark out around it. I also read that that's risky because you can break inlays into pieces trying to get them off the wood. I would rather not try that.

    But you are using a different type of cement with good results so I will try that. This inlay spans just 2 inches in height. The T looking piece is 1/2 inch tall, tip of foot to top of crossbar. Probably smaller stuff than a rookie should mess with. But that's never slowed me down yet.
    "Why is it that you never have time to do it right the first time, but you always have time to do it right the second time??"

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