Cutting Guitar Inlays – Part A

Now that we have our pattern all laid out, it is time to get to cutting our shell blanks.

First you should sort through you MOP or abalone pearl blanks and lay them out on your pattern. Make sure to include some overlap on each blank. Sort through patterns and colors to achieve the best looking results.

Now, make a mark on your pattern where each blank starts and stops. Try to make these natural connection points. For instance if you are inlaying a vine, nest the step into a stem/leave intersection or use a branch intersection to transition.

Tools and Materials:

Dremel Moto Tool 4000:
Jewelers Saw:
Jewelers Blades #3:
Jewelers Blades #1/0:
Jewelers Blades #2/0:
Jewelers Blades #3/0
Spray Adhesive:
N95 Rated Respirator:
Work Light:
Inlay Cutting Jig:
Magnifying Visor:

Glue Pattern To Slabs:

Now you should take the Spray Adhesive: and coat the back of your pattern. Cut each piece of the pattern and stick it to the front of the shell blank. You will probably need several copies of the pattern because of the overlaps you will be dealing with.

Drill Stops In Blanks:

A handy tip that most inlay people use are start and top drill stop holes in the blanks. This can be done with a Dremel Moto Tool, equipped with a diamond or solid carbide bit.

Carefully nest these stop holes in all areas of sharp corners or turns. (refer to diagram at the top of this article).

GLS Tip #1: You can purchase bits made for your Dremel from several different sources. You can do what I have done for years. Visit you local Dentist and ask if you can have their discarded diamond or carbide bits. They will discard a bit after a short usage and you will find that it has plenty of life left in it for cutting these holes and also for cutting in hardwood.

The nice thing about this is that you can get an assortment of shapes and sizes and in just one or two visits you will have enough bits for a lifetime of guitar building for the small shop.

Shell Cutting Jig Plans:

Now set up your Inlay Cutting Jig. This is a very handy little jig that you can easily make with some scraps of wood, a fish aquarium pump, some plastic tubing and copper tubing. I have a detailed article on the Inlay Cutting Jig. Also detailed plans are available for this jig at Georgia Luthier Supply, located in the Guitar Tools Section.

Proper Setup: You should be sure to don your N95 Rated Respirator: to ensure you do not breath in any shell dust. As I have mentioned many times before, if you breath in shell dust, it stays in your lungs and will not come out, so alway exercise extreme caution.

Note: Refer to the diagram at the beginning of this article. Notice the cutting direction arrows. This is the path that I would normally take to make my cuts. You start from a cutting hole, by disconnecting the blade and inserting it through the hole and re-attaching the blade.

You could also choose to start a cut from the edge and into the piece. While this is possible, it will reduce the strength of the blank and you could risk breaking the piece.

Always use a sharp blade. Always make sure the tension is on the blade is adequate to prevent blade bending and of coarse breaking. I like to start out using a medium blade, which would be a #1/0. This will give you a very smooth cut with a minimum risk of cracking the blank. If you are cutting intricate inlays you may wish to change to a fine cut blade.

Also, beginners should have at least a couple of dozen blades on hand as you really go through a lot of these fragile blades until you get the feel for it. Even then, I sill go through a fair amount of blades through both breakage and you want to make sure you keep a very sharp blade at all times.

In our next article I will give you additional pearl cutting tips to make your job easier, minimize breakage and output professional looking inlays.

Go to Cutting Guitar Inlays – Part B now.
Here we will give you inlay cutting tips to make your inlay cutting experience much more successful and enjoyable.

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2015 Georgia Luthier Supply