Inlay - what's your finishing techniques?

I make a lot of personalized inlay charcuterie boards, and the inlay carving I am very satisfied with and have the numbers tailored to what I like.

However, I am curious for those who also do inlays, what is your technique for removing the top waste area of the inlay.

My bandsaw does not have a very tall clearance, so standing these boards on their side and cutting the waste off does not work. I have for narrower pieces, but not for these.

I am now using the onefinity as a planner, and shaving off the top. I have used 3/4 in bits, and I have used both up and down cutting 1/4 in bits. However, you have to be extremely careful not to go against the grain or too fast, as it’s easy to get tear out that on the tips of letters can go down below the level of the board surface. Had this happen once the other day, even with a quality glue. I was able to glue it back in, and worked fine, but made me curious how other inlayers are removing their waste.


I do the CNC method as well. The only other option I can think of that would be unlikely to do tearout is to use a thickness/drum sander. They’re not real cheap though.

Agree… that would be a great tool for this, but I don’t have one in my shop.

Me neither. That got me looking at them but then I decided I didn’t really need one nor have the room. I guess the poor man version would be a portable belt sander and some care.

If you have an oscillating multi-tool like this:

You can use a fine saw blade and slice the inlay excess off the top. Use a thin sheet of something like HDPE (I use a thin cheap cutting board from the Dollar Store) and that will keep the blade up off the base material and leave you with just a 1/16 or so of the letters. Then it’s quick work with a sander to bring them down to the surface of the rest of the material.

You can try the same method with a Japanese pull-saw if you don’t have the oscillating version.

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Great idea. I do have an oscillating tool… will try that on the next inlay!

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I’m lucky and have a full shop of woodworking tools and can confirm a drum sander is a nice tool to have. But if I didn’t I might try a long blade flush cut pull saw. As long as there’s a little gap between the two board so you are only cutting the inlay it shouldn’t be too hard. I think the blade on an oscillating saw may be too short.

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I use CNC with 1/4” downcut bit at surfacing speeds n feeds.

To minimize tear out of the inlay, I minimize the amount abouve and laterally offset from the inlay.

I cut inlay to a depth that minimizes backing. This keeps lever arm of material above to a minimum. A picture is worth a thousand words. But I’m on the road writing with my phone so you get the word picture instead of a picture :smiley:

If inlay is 0.200” thick and kerf/height above surface to be inlaid is 0.0625”, I will surface inlay to 0.2925” before cutting inlay. This gives .0925”, or about 3/32”, that needs to be shaved off.

Additionally, I’ll cut an outline 0.125” with an 1/8” downcut bit (my flat clearance bit for inlays) around inlay that goes all the way thru (blue tape and CA ftw!) so the overhand lever arm is also minimized.

This can make handling and clamping the inlay a challenge. A 1/2” plywood roughly the size of the inlay goes between the board and cauls to help distribute pressure from clamps to glue surface.

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Those are all great tips Mitch… sounds like you have had similar experience!

I’ve never thought of shaving down the inlay material before the inlay, always after. Duh. Also, the outline is a great idea.

Thanks! Bill

I don’t want to sound like an ass, but we have CNCs. Is there a reason you’re not just making the inlay material near-exact thickness of the pocket? That’s how I’ve always done it and finishing with a RORB sander has always been fine. Maybe I’m missing something, if so, I apologize.

You are exactly right. I just initially used thicker stock so it clamps better. As Mitch pointed out that by milling down the stock first via CNC, then executing in inlay carve, and even profiling the edge will work very well.

You know how you start down one path and can’t see the forest between the trees… that was my issue. It’s why I asked.


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Ah, I didn’t see the other response! Yes, I think many of us are self-taught on this stuff and some of the lessons took me a lot longer than they logically should. Still do, actually! I’ve got a couple of my own efficiency issues that I’ve been trying to find time to improve on!


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Mine was not so much about efficiency although that is an issue as well. But I experienced a chip out of an inlay while on the cnc where the edge of a letter actually broke below the surface level and I had to glue it back in.

So I am more concerned about process and quality, and if I can get more efficient all the better. Certainly more efficient than re-gluing broken pieces! LOL