Cutting Guitar Inlays – Part B

Lets start this article out by giving you some great tips for saving a lot of frustration with cutting intricate inlays. I will tell you from experience that working on a very detailed inlay for 20 to 30 minutes only to have it crack on you during the last few strokes is almost heart-breaking.

GLS Tip #1: This is a tip I used on my very first inlay cutting job. I had always worked with a lot of wooden models when I was I was a kid and with this experience I was wondering what there was to reinforce an inlay when cutting it.

My first attempt was to glue the inlay to a piece of maple veneer. It worked okay, but it certainly wasn’t the answer. Then it came to me. I could use some of that model-makers plywood that it used to make airplanes when I as a kid!

I hurried and ordered some 1/16″ Craft Plywood: stock and glued the inlay blank to the plywood with some hide glue. I put the inlay through its paces and the plywood added a lot of strength to the piece. You still have to be rather careful though, as any bending of the plywood will crack the inlay but not the plywood. Another great material to use is Tempered Phenolic Paper. Here is a link where you can purchase these boards. Tempered phenolic paper.

When you are done and ready to insert the inlay on the guitar, just soak the piece in some hot water and the hide glue will release in just a couple of minutes. Clean it up a bit, dry it off and you are in business.

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 in 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.

Using a Cutting Blade Lubricant:

Ultimate Guitar Building Tip #2: Want to have your blade glide through the mother of pearl, extend the life of your blades and reduce heat and friction while you are cutting? Use a good quality Blade Wax Lubricant:. You will wonder how you got along without it.

Use a Magnifying Visor:

GLS Tip #3: No matter how good your eyes are, guiding the saw blade exactly down the center of your inlay patters takes not only takes a lot of skill, it takes extremely good eyesight. When I was younger and my eyes were really good, I tried to cut the inlays without the use of the visor. After making a few mistakes, I was resigned to the fact that maybe I could use one, and it make a world of difference. Here is the one that I use now: Magnifying Visor:

Use a Very Sturdy Jewelers Saw:

Having excellent quality tools is always the hallmark of a good luthier. Therefore I looked for a good quality jewelers saw that would hold the blade tightly and have a good grip. The saw that I liked the best is sold by Stewmac. It has a rigid aluminum frame and a rubberized handle for your comfort.

GLS Tip #4: It is a natural tendency to cut your inlays with the blade centered on the pattern line. What I have found is that the cut is much easier to follow if you cut with the left or right side of the blade cutting on one edge of the line. This way you keep the entire width of the pattern in tact and you can follow along much easier.

GLS Tip #5: Get the tension as high as you can on the Jewelers Saw Blades. Also when sawing make sure that the teeth point downwards so you make the cut on the down stroke. It also helps if you lean forward slightly on the blade and then pull back ever so slightly on the up-stroke.

Go to Cutting Guitar Inlays – Part C now.
Here we will discuss how to put the finishing touches on your inlays and more cutting tips.

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