Tools and Materials:
3/4″ Plywood Scrap:
Copper or Aluminum Tubing 1/4″:
Aquarium Air Pump:
Flexible Air Pump Hose:
Phenolic Knurled Clamping Knob, Zinc Stud: 1/4-20″ Thread x 1-1/4″ Length
1/4″ x 20 Brass Threaded Inserts:
Inlay Cutting Jig:
When cutting pearl or abalone shell, it is essential that you have the best equipment and a convenient work atmosphere because one little slip and you start back at the beginning of your piece.
While cutting shell is time consuming and very tedious work, it is also very rewarding. To see the fruits of your labor of the red, blue, green, silver and gold glistening on the guitar is a great feeling to know that you did actually completed that.
I have developed this jig after years of working with a kind of cobbled up mess of a system. I once and for all wanted to develop a system to make this job as easy as I could. Some of my objectives were to:
First: Have the dust blown away automatically so I didn’t have to do this with an air compressor, which blew it all over the shop. And you certainly don’t want to remove your dust mask and expose yourself to the health hazards of the shell dust.
Second: I wanted a sturdy platform that was set up with the proper cutting groove, overhung the table without the need for clamping, and allowed easy access from 180 degrees around workpiece.
So I came up with this cutting jig. In my search for a little air pump, I found a fish aquarium air pump. That along with the plastic tubing you can get was just about right from the shell cutting purposes.
Use a Very Inexpensive Aquarium Pump:
You can conveniently mount the air pump on the back of the jig so you do not have to deal with so many parts and pieces. I just took some hot glue, put a few big dabs on the bottom of the little pump and pressed it into place. If you choose, you can just leave it loose as well. I just like to have it all put together for storage purposes.
I also fit the plastic tubing into a fixed tubing block on one end with an adjustable copper or aluminum tubing at the front end.
Now fit some threaded inserts into your workbench at the proper locations and with some knurled knobs you can easily and quickly screw this convenient little jig on and off the workbench in a hurry.
If you don’t want to go through the building process, Stewmac has a complete kit you can purchase. They have a cutting jig, air pump, tubing, jewelers saw, blades and a few extra accessories for about $64.00 plus shipping and handling.
If you are anything like me though, you want to make everything in that shop that you possibly can, and I chose to make my own so I could incorporate a few extras into the design (and save quite a few buck in the process).
If you have your wood scraps around the shop and some old copper tubing, you just have to purchase the air pump for about $6.50 and the flexible air tubing is only $1.60 and you are in business. I didn’t need the Jewelers Saw the Saw Blades or the Lube, so I saved myself about $60.00. Not bad for one little jig.
The Inlay Cutting Jig Plans:
The plans for the cutting jig are available at Georgia Luthier Supply.
The plans, as all my plans are very detailed and to full scale so you can choose to make templates from them, or you can follow the very complete dimensions in both decimal inches or mm.
The plans are on one sheet of paper and available as a PDF download.
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