Newbie to inlaying

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Ron Daves
Posts: 182
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:39 pm
Location: Southern California Desert

Newbie to inlaying

Post by Ron Daves »

Hi, all
I've purchased a couple books on inlaying abalone and MOP, one is a "how to", the other is more of a picture show. I've sent away for a jeweler's saw and some 2/0 blades as a result of reading the "how to" book. I love building jiogs and fixtures, so this new effort will give me an opportunity in that regard. I also have a Dremel tool and a StewMac base for same, plus a number of small files and various scalpels. I've settled on a vine inlay on a concert uke I'm building. I've found MOP and Abalone at a couple luthier supply houses and also on EBay. Since I know nothing, I'm in need of some advice as to where I can find this stuff. The EBay stuff, albeit pricey, looks okay to my eyes. Any advice offered would be appreciated. thanks.
Frustrated luthier wanna-be

Michael Lewis
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Re: Newbie to inlaying

Post by Michael Lewis »

Traditional inlay has been done with any number of materials through the ages, not just shell. The book "Pearl Inlay" by James Patterson is a great resource and not very expensive. It covers more areas than you will likely be interested in, like processing whole abalone shells into the flat 'blanks' from which you cut your designs, and engraving. It is a thorough and thoughtful treatment of the whole inlay process.

Rio Grande Jewelery Supply is a great source of saws, blades, burrs, files, etc. I buy their low grade blades as they are better than those offered by some other suppliers. They are inexpensive, so buy several dozen at least, because you will break lots of them as you learn to handle the saw and pearl.

For the actual inlay materials I go to Rescue Pearl. There are other sources but they have just about anything you could want all in one place, reasonably priced, and good quality.

Randy Roberts
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Location: Omaha, NE (a suburb of Iowa)

Re: Newbie to inlaying

Post by Randy Roberts »

I'll second Michael's recommendation of Rescue Pearl, and Rio Grande. Rescue Pearl has always had fair pricing, nice pearl, and outstanding customer service.

I'd recommend several sizes of blades, and lots of each. Starting out you'll be good to get an inch of cutting out of a blade if you're anything like me, and if you are doing a vine, even for a Uke, you've got a bunch of cutting to do. Rio Grande has been good to work with, just don't let them send you their catalog. It's a gazillion pages of really cool stuff that you could use for inlaying like gold bead, wire, etc., and will leave your head swirling with ideas.<g>

One trick that I found helped alot is to take your pattern, blow it up in size (using a light grey color), draw the cut lines with a fine point permanent marker, and then copy this and shrink it down to the size you want. The resulting really thin lines are easier and much more accurate to cut to than a thick line is.

You want good lighting, and wear a mask or have a fan on low blowing across your work area. The dust can make for a wretched cough. An aquarium air pump with tubing aimed at the workpiece really helps to keep your cut line clean and easy to see. If you are going to use any kind of dust collection at the workpiece, cover the opening with a nylon stocking (I'm sure you've got at least one pair with a run in them<g>) or sooner or later you will be looking for tiny bits of inlay in a pile of sawdust.

Ron Daves
Posts: 182
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:39 pm
Location: Southern California Desert

Re: Newbie to inlaying

Post by Ron Daves »

Thank you Michael and Randy. I have already purchased the James E. Patterson book on" Pearl Inlay" and also purchased Larry Robinson's book the "The Art of Inlay", so it looks like I've made a good start. I purchased a jewelers saw and a dozen 2/0 blades, but it looks like I should've gone for a gross. I took a look at Rescue Pearl and I love it. I'm thinking of a vine for the fretboard and was thinking I'd use some white MOP and green abalone. Any comments?

Randy: How many blades of what sizes do you recommend?
Frustrated luthier wanna-be

Ron Daves
Posts: 182
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:39 pm
Location: Southern California Desert

Re: Newbie to inlaying

Post by Ron Daves »

Another question: Rescue Pearl offers MOP thicknesses of .040, .050, and .060 and Abalone of .050 and .060 What thickness and how many ounces should I order?
Frustrated luthier wanna-be

Michael Lewis
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Re: Newbie to inlaying

Post by Michael Lewis »

Thinner pearl is quicker to cut but thicker pearl will resist breaking a little better when cutting intricate shapes. .040" pearl is just fine for flat surfaces, but if you have a radiused fingerboard you may prefer thicker pearl to avoid sanding through the edges of a piece. For block inlays in a radiused board I generally use at least .060".

The O size blade is my largest size, though there are much larger sizes available. The 0 size will cut through pearl fairly quickly but the kerf is a bit wide for fine designs. The thinner the pearl the smaller size blade so you have at least two teeth engaged at all times, and more is better for a smoother and cleaner cut. I have down to 6O but mostly use O and 3O. Like I said, the finer blades are for finer work. And yes, you should probably buy saw blades by the gross, check Rio Grande.

Make sure you have magnification to work with. I have an old OptiVisor with a #5 lens plate, I think that is 2X power lenses. Use the magnification for all your cutting and when you take the visor off your work will look better then you thought it would.

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