How to Inlay Wood with a Router

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You’ll be amazed how simple it is to add an inlay to a woodworking project using an easy-to-make template and an inexpensive router bit/guide bushing combo.

To learn how to inlay wood, you must use a plunge router. You’ll also need an inlay kit that includes a special guide bushing and 1/8″ solid carbide router bit.

Create your template with a durable material. I suggest multi-ply plywood, as it will last through many, many cuts.

Install the router bit and guide bushing in your router. The large ring that snaps onto the guide bushing should be in place for this step (hollowing for the inlay). Secure the template to the work with double-stick tape.

Set the router’s depth-of-cut so as to make a hollowing slightly shallower than the thickness of your inlay material.

Create the hollow by plunging, inside the pattern shape, into your work. Follow the edge of the pattern with the guide bushing. Pay attention to the orientation of the handles, just in case the router base and router bit aren’t perfectly concentric.

Before removing the pattern, clean all waste from the recess.

Remove the ring from the guide bushing. Using double-stick tape, fasten the plug blank to a sacrificial board. Clamp the pattern, the same one you used in the previous step, to the top of the blank.

Set the depth of cut to make sure you cut all the way through the inlay or plug blank.

When making this cut, keep the bushing tight against the pattern. If it strays toward the inside, you’ll ruin your inlay.

Check the fit between the inlay and recess, but don’t push it in all the way or you may not get it out. Spread glue onto the bottom of the routed recess. Start the plug in the recess and use a sacrificial board so you can drive the fragile plug in without using your mallet.

Here’s a fix for tiny gaps you may have between the inlay and routed recess: push a tiny amount of glue into the void and, while the glue is still wet, sand the project. The dust will mix with the wet glue and make perfect wood dough. Be sure to disable (temporarily) the dust collection on your sander.

Sand the entire inlay flush with the surface of the project.

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