Scribing Inlays

Once the mother of pearl or abalone inlays have be securely glued to the wood surface, you should scribe the outline of the inlay into the wood.

It is extremely important that you clean all traces of glue from the inlay and inspect the inlay very carefully prior to scribing.

Tools and Materials:

Carbide Scribing Tool
Duco Cement
Rubber Gloves
N95 Rated Respirator

Start Scribing:

Take the scribe as indicated above and cut into the wood as closely to the edge of the inlay as possible. Try to cut perfectly vertically and do not attempt to undercut the inlay (even by mistake). You risk dislodging the piece or if the inlay is quite fragile you could even easily fracture it.

While ebony exhibits less grain than that of rosewood, be careful when scribing across grain lines as the scribe can tent to wander and follow the harder grain lines.

In Ebony, I usually start with a lighter pass and trace around the entire inlay pattern. Then I proceed around the inlay a second time to scribe a bit deeper as the first cut is usually very shallow in this extremely hard wood.

Once you feel you have scribed the wood deeply and consistently, check your work and make any touch-ups that you feel may be necessary.

Dislodging The Inlays:

Now it is time to remove the inlay from the wood surface, and of course this needs to be done carefully and safely.

First some precautions about using Acetone, which is the solvent that is used for dissolving the Duco Cement.

  • Wear rubber gloves when working with this material, as it soaks into your skin.
  • I prefer to wear a respirator as well, as the fumes are dangerous to inhale.
  • This is extremely explosive material. Do not come close to sparks or flames.
  • Do not spill on plastic or any finish material of the guitar as it will immediately melt it.

Take a glass eyedropper and place a few drops of Acetone next to the inlay so it will wick it up underneath the inlay. Do not try to do the entire set of inlays at once, but only one or possibly two of them. Work the eyedropper along the perimeter of the inlay to be sure you get even dispersal along the entire inlay.

Allow the Acetone to work for a few minutes or up to 5 or 10 and gently try to move it, by pushing it sideways. If you have some movement you will probably be able to remove it. For very delicate inlays, I prefer to let the Acetone work for a bit longer, say between 15 and 20 minutes. Again check the status, by trying to nudge it from the side, and if need be, add a bit more and wait a second time.

Take the time to clean the glue from the bottom of the inlay and check your directional marks to make sure they are still clearly shown on each inlay.

As you take each piece of inlay from the wood, place it in order in a safe place to be ready to install after the routing is complete.

If there is more glue than can be cleaned safely without cracking the inlay, try soaking the entire inlay in Acetone solution for a few minutes and the cement will be dissolved.

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