The Completed Rose Inlay

Rose Inlay

Here is a vagary I devised: What if I inlaid the back of a violin? It’s been done before, to good effect. Maggini got a little carried away with purflings, for example. Others have used pearl inlay and so forth. I wanted ebony.

I brought the idea to Dave, who is an illustrator. We worked out some designs on the computer and Dave came up with a fine vector graphic of a rose, based on some photography he did of the local flora.

How does one execute a nice inlay? Well, I don’t know. But here is how I did it–

First, I obtained some materials. I bought 1/8″ thick ebony blanks from Matt Furjanic at Inlay Banding. It’s good stuff and not that expensive.

Here is a picture of the rose, which I printed on a laser printer; and the ebony strips, and a pencil thrown in to add a little extra class:

Materials for the rose inlay: Ebony blanks, and a design printed on regular paper.

Since I wanted to cut this inlay in one piece, I needed to glue up the blanks into a slab that would accommodate the entire design. I think a lot of inlay artists do this work piecemeal, mostly because they are working with small bits of shell. I couldn’t come up with a great way to divide this design up, and it was easiest for me to think of it as one piece.

Here I cut the ebony into smaller strips prior to gluing them up:

Cutting Ebony Blanks
I’m cutting lengths of ebony that will be joined into a chunk big enough to accommodate the entire rose design.

Next, I jointed, glued and clamped the pieces together:

Before joining the wood, it has to fit perfectly. That means the edges must be planed perfectly flat.
I checked the pieces against the design and glued them together with wood glue.
I clamped the pieces together in this bar clamp which I use for joining violin tops and backs. I ended up stacking four of these strips.

After I made a suitable piece of ebony for cutting my design, I needed to attach my template to it:

Here I’ve glued the pattern onto my ebony. I’ll cut all of the white bits out to get my rose pattern reproduced in the wood which will be inlaid into the violin back.

The inlay is ready to be cut. I always look for little shortcuts when I get to a tedious part like this, so I thought I might be able to use my Dremel with the routing base to cut it out. I failed at that attempt:

I devised a way to cut out the inlay with my routing setup. It worked once on a small piece of shell my daughter once inlaid on a guitar. It didn’t work for me and I ended up ruining a router bit.

I was forced to do it the right way:

Cutting the Inlay by Hand
I drilled holes in the corners of the design and used this fine jewelers saw to cut the inlay. I broke maybe 10 blades throughout this exercise. I kept dropping the inlay piece during my work, smashing it to bits on the floor. I had to re-glue it each time. Why didn’t I start out with smaller pieces in the first place?

Time to transfer the pattern onto the back of the violin for the inlay rout:

I’m using a fine-point mechanical pencil to trace the inlay onto the back of the violin.

Here is the result:

I’ve drawn and colored in the inlay rout with a pencil. I’ll rout the dark areas out of the back and fit the ebony into the cavity. I’ll need to break my flat ebony piece into several smaller bits in order to manage that arching.

At last, I can use my routing jig for its intended purpose. This is the fun bit:

I use a high-speed Dremel tool and a small router base to accomplish this work.

Here is the finished inlay rout:

The completed inlay rout. It’s not bad, but I’ll eventually be able to make these very accurately if I continue to do this sort of work.

I used hide glue to install the ebony in the routed inlay cavity. I had to break my piece into several smaller ones to fit the contour of the back, again reminding me that inlay ought to be done in small pieces for a reason.

After the inlay is glued, I needed to trim and level it:

The inlay rout was shallower than the ebony was thick. I need to plane off the part of the inlay that sticks up above the surface of the violin.

Finally, I put some wood filler into the gaps, let it dry, and scraped the whole thing smooth:

Before it can be varnished, the inlay needs to be very smooth and level with the rest of the wood surface. I use a thick scraper to do this fine work.

Here is what it looked like after I finished it, but before I did the varnish:

The inlay is done and the violin is ready for varnish.

And the final result:

The Completed Rose Inlay
Here is the completed fiddle!

2 thoughts on “Rose Inlay”

  1. Peter,

    You might consider gluing 1/16 thick ebony to a larger 1/16 plank of less expensive sacrificial wood, running the grain of the ebony perpendicular to the grain of the sacrificial piece. This would give you something to hold or clamp on the end of a workbench while sawing the pattern. Just a thought.



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