by fred matlack p

H-4 or ccnturics craftsmen have n 1 decorated panels, tablctops, ■ drawer fronts and the like by -A. carefully carving delicate grooves and patterns with a scratch stock or knives, chisels and router planes, and filling the recesses with inlays of contrasting wood. Inlaid lines, especially curved lines, are traditionally called "string inlay" or stringing. Today, you can create very impressive designs easily by cutting the grooves and shapes with a router guided by a template, and then tapping contrasting strips into the recesses. In this article I'll explain how to design the inlay to simplify cutting and fitting the pieces, how to make reusable templates out of plywood or hardboard, how to cut the inlay pieces and how to fit them into the grooves.

Designing Inlays

Design your inlay from the start, so you can cut the grooves with a router, and so the inlay wood doesn't have to bend too much during installation. Narrow inlays have a delicate appearance and look difficult to do. But, since the narrowest router bit you'll find is a Vi6-in. dia. single flute high-speed steel bit (Bosch #85091, for example). I suggest that you design your inlay for '/i*-in. wide lines.

A template guides the router for smooth, flowing curves and truly straight lines. Since it lakes time to make the template, try to include repeated or mirror-image curves in your design. That way, you can use the template several times, or at least flip it over to produce a mirror image. The example in the photo and in Fig. 2 has a mirror-image pattern on the front of a drawer.

Bear in mind that vou have to fit wood into the grooves that you rout. You can miter the inlay pieces at sharp corners and bend the wood into reasonable curves, but it's difficult to bend most '/i*-in. thick strips any tighter than a '/:-in. radius. Avoid the frustration of broken inlay pieces by designing the curves no tighter than you can bend the inlay wood. Also, try to limit solid areas, such as inlaid leaves, to easily reproduced shapes that you can "mass produce." as explained below.

I'd suggest that you try the whole process on some scrap wood following the pattern in Fig. 2 before designing your own inlay. That way, you'll have a better feel for what the wood can do.


A router fitted with a template guide is the best tool for cutting grooves for slender lines. A template guide is a router attachment that fits onto the router base. The business end of it is a collar that projects below the router base, right around the router bit. as shown in Fig. 1. To use a template, clamp it to the workpiece and rest the router on the template with the template guide hanging over the edge. Guide the router so the template guide follows the edge of the template while the bit cuts a groove in the workpiece.

The bit cuts the groove a fraction of an inch away from the edge of the template, as shown in Fig. 1. This offset is not a problem on a straight line as long as the template is correctly positioned, but when the template curves, the offset changes the radius of the curve. Fig. I shows how the radius of the groove will be

You wID need to prebend the May strips to fit around tight curves. Dry beat from a soldering iron enough to bend.

You wID need to prebend the May strips to fit around tight curves. Dry beat from a soldering iron enough to bend.

Inlay Garden Bench
Glue the inlay strip Into the groove beginning at one end and working toward the other end. Cut away extra length just before the last end goes into the groove.

smaller than the radius of the template on an inside curve, while on an outside curve the radius of the groove will be larger than the radius of the template. You must cut the template to a shape that compensates for this difference.

The distance from the centerline of the groove to the edge of the template will always be half the diameter of the template guide. You'll simplify making the template if you design your inlay by drawing a line for the centerline of the groove instead of drawing two lines for the two edges of the groove.

To make the template, first trace the inlay design onto the template stock. Hardwood plywood and hardboard make good templates. Choose a thickness


slightly greater than the length of the collar on your template guide. Trace the pattern in Fig. 2 if you don't want to design your own inlay just yet. Set a compass to half the diameter of your template guide and strike a series of arcs on the template side of the line (not the waste side), as shown in Fig.l. Draw a smooth curve connecting the high points of the arcs and saw out the template. Sand the edge to assure smooth, even curves.

To try out the template, clamp it in place on a scrap piece of wood, adjust the router to cut about '/* in. deep in the scrap and cut the groove. Keep the template guide light against the template as you cut. Clean out the grooves and sand them lightly to get rid

Set compass to half the template-guide diameter.

Connect arcs with a smooth curve.

Set compass to half the template-guide diameter.

Connect arcs with a smooth curve.

Leaf Stencils For Benches

STEP 1: Cut the template to a One offset from the Kne of the design.

STEP 2: Rout the groove with J tcmoJate cwde following the

STEP 1: Cut the template to a One offset from the Kne of the design.

STEP 2: Rout the groove with J tcmoJate cwde following the

groove template

Incise the outline of leaves or sfenlar shapes by tracing around a plastic laminate pattern with an X-acto knife. Rout out the bulk of the the corners with the X-acto knife.

Incise the outline of leaves or sfenlar shapes by tracing around a plastic laminate pattern with an X-acto knife. Rout out the bulk of the the corners with the X-acto knife.

of anv whiskers raised by the cutter. Now check that m a*

the groove matches the pattern.

Cutting and Fitting Inlay Strips

The next step is to cut inlay strips for the grooves. Choose an inlay wood with tight, straight grain (I used maple for the drawer shown on page 26 and cut several '/16-in.x Vie-in. strips several inches longer than the groove. If your saw leaves deep saw marks, cut the strips a bit thicker than Via in. so you can sand out the saw marks and still produce a good fit in the grooves.

If you've designed an inlay with very easy curves, you may be able to fit the strips in the grooves without prebending, but with most designs, including the one in Fig. 2, you must prebend the strips to the shape of the design. The easiest way to bend the strips is with heat. You can bend them over the round body of an electric soldering iron, as shown in the photo on page 27. Lay a strip of wood across the hot iron and press lightly to bend the strip around it. When the wood is hot enough it will bend easily. If not hot enough,the wood will crack and if too hot it will scorch. You may waste a few strips until you get the hang of it. Start at one end of the design, bending the strip to match, and work your way fiom curve to curve, checking the bent strip against the design as you go. Try to be accurate with the bends. You'll be able to spring the strip a little, but the closer it is to the proper shape,the easier it will be to install. Leave the strip a bit longer than the groove.

When the strip matches the groove fairly closely place a small amount of glue in the groove and press the strip in, starting at one end. as shown in the photo on page 27. Trim the strip to length before pressing the last end into place, then set a block of wood over the strip and tap it with a hammer to seat the strip

Saw off a gtued-in leaf with a veneer saw or other fine-toothed flush-cutting saw, then gkie the remainder of the plug in the next recess.

firmly into the groove.

Let the glue dry, and then sand the strip down flush with the surrounding surface. Be careful not to split the strip while you arc sanding it down. A split could easily run down below the surface and show in the finished job. That's it. You've inlaid delicate curved lines.

Inlaying Larger Shapes

Most inlay patterns include broad areas like leaves or shells, in addition to slender lines. I've found it easiest to inlay these shapes by incising the outline in the background stock with an X-acto knife and freehand routing the recess. I make a pattern of the actual shape and size of the design element and use it for both outlining the recess and cutting the inlay wood. Because I trace around the pattern with a knife, I make the pattern out of plastic laminate; it's hard enough to resist knife cuts, thin enough to easily trace around, and just workable enough that I can cut out the shape with a jigsaw and smooth it with needle files.

If you're practicing with the design in Fig. 2, make a pattern of the leaf, place it on the stock where the design calls for a leaf, and outline the leaf with a sharp X-acto knife, as shown in the photo above, left. Incise the outline of all of the leaves in this manner, and then rout the recesses freehand. '/« in. deep and just shy of the outline. Hand-trim the edges to the incised line with the X-acto knife to finish the recesses.

With the same pattern, mark the leaf shape on a piece of Va-in. to Va-in. thick inlay wood. Saw out the leaf with a jigsaw or bandsaw to produce a plug that will fit closely in the leaf recess. (You'll slice this plug into many inlay pieces.) You can adjust the shape a little with sandpaper or files, but if you miss the shape by too much, cut another plug to get one that fits well.

When you've got a plug that fits the recesses nicely, put a small amount of glue in a recess and tap the plug firmly into it. Let the glue set, then cut the plug off just above the surface with a veneer saw or Japanese saw with a flexible blade, as shown in the photo above, right. Repeal for each recess. If you use up the plug, cut another one and continue until vou've filled all of the recesses. Sand the leaves flush, and you're ready for your choice of finish. A

Fred Matlack heads the Radale Design Group where he practices woodworking, metal working and almost cilery other craft you can name. His passion is restoring and using antique, jyedal-powvred woodworking machines.

Flower Inlay Patterns Woodworking


Tables fike this one were commonly found in Early American inns. Today, It looks right at home in a dining room

Tavern Table

In the 1750s, tables like this g were common in the taverns | of the American colonies. | These tables were made in a many different sizes and variations, but they had | some distinctive features in common— turned legs, " stretcher base and a removable pinned top with "breadboard" ends.

I designed and built the table for a customer who wanted a dining table to match her other Early American furniture. My reference books give many different names for this type of table. But by any name, it has a character that will make it at home in a dining room, a library, a work room ... or even a tavern.

The different-size drawers in the table aren't an ac-


Light Bracket Tenon Square

Round over top of stretchers.

Pin tenons with octagonal pins.

Cut tenon Vu in. x

Counterbore Vi-in. die. 23 -


Counterbore Vi-in. die. 23 -




Cut threads V«

Cut threads V«



Use the dove-tailed ends of the top drawer rafl to lay out the dovetail mortise on the top of the legs. Then saw to the Rne and chop out the waste with a chisel to make the dovetal sockets.

An old Stanley #45 plane works great to put a bead on the bottom edge of the aprons cident. (See Fig. 1.) They were a standard feature on these tables. A good innkeeper provided many amenities for his guests including pipes, tobacco, playing cards, candles, eating utensils and reading material, so the drawers were handy for storing these items.

According to one theory, these tables had removable tops because early tavern patrons were so rowdy the tops frequently needed repair or replacement. Aside from historical authenticity, the removable top makes moving the table much easier. The turned pins that hold the top add an interesting visual detail. The breadboard ends helped to prevent the cupping that was almost certain to occur when wide boards were used to make the top. Cupping was common because early cabinetmakers rarely finished the undersides of tabletops, causing the boards to dry out unevenly.

I prize historical accuracy in the furniture I build, and I like to use hand tools to get an authentic handmade appearance. The subtle markings from hand-planed surfaces and edges contribute to the authenticity of the table. While I took care to design the table to be historically accurate, my customer specified dimensions I had to meet. The top was to be 72 in. x 42 in. (a bit larger than usual). The table had to have a center stretcher to allow chairs to slide under, and the side overhang had to be generous enough to accommodate guests at the table's ends. It can seat up to eight.

I made most of the table from pine, but decided on poplar for the legs to support the weight of the top and

Glue the breadboard ends to the top at their center only. Peg the ends 6 in. on either side of the centerline for reinforcement

Inside Automatic Soap Dispenser

Glue the breadboard ends to the top at their center only. Peg the ends 6 in. on either side of the centerline for reinforcement



to help withstand any sideways racking. Also, I could turn the shape of the legs more crisply with poplar than with pine. I used maple lor the drawer knobs and the turned pins that hold the top to the base.

Building the Table

Begin with the base. Prepare the 2'/4-in. leg stock, making sure it is perfectly square. 1 leave an extra inch of material at the top of the leg to eliminate break out when I'm cutting the mortises. This is sawn off after mortising. Turn the legs to the dimensions given in Fig. 3, and then arrange the legs so the grain patterns match up closely when viewed from any side.

Once the arrangement is determined, I mark the tops of the legs so they won't get mixed up during layout of the mortises for the aprons and stretchers. Lay out the mortises with a knife and a mortise marking gauge. (See Fig. 2.) These scribe lines won't rub off. and if they extend beyond the mortise they'll show slightly on the finished table. Such marks are almost always found on period pieces, so I let them remain. Just don't overdo it. I cut the mortises on my drill press with a hollow chisel mortising attachment.

The next step is to prepare stock for the aprons, drawer fronts, stretchers and drawer rails. I begin by ripping the material to rough width on the tablesaw and then bring it to finished width with a hand jointer plane. I cross cut to length (including tenons) on the tablesaw. The white pine I use runs about l'/i© in. to 1 Vi2 in. thick, which is a bit heavy for this piece. I set a marking gauge to 1 in. and mark the stock to remove the extra material from the face side. I use a jack plane with the iron ground very slightly convex so that it has about a '/*: in. crown in the center. I plane down to the line in a pattern parallel to the edges of the stock. This leaves the surface with a nice hand-planed look when observed in a raking light. Again, the key is to not overdo it. Early cabinetmakers didn't make their face surfaces look like washboards, and neither should you.

At this point, I put a '/.»-in. bead on the bottom edge of the apron and lower drawer rail with a Stanley #45 plane, as shown in the photo on page 31. The bead serves two purposes. First, it adds visual interest to an otherwise plain surface, and second, it's not as prone to damage as a sharp edge. Lay out the mortises and tenons on the aprons, rails, drawer guides and stretcher stock. (See Fig. 1 and 2.) I cut the tenons on my tablesaw using a tenoning jig. The lower drawer rail has double tenons, which I cut by hand. The upper drawer rail is dovetailed into the tops of the front legs. Cut the dovetail on the rail first, then use it to mark the legs. The waste can be removed from the dovetail socket on the legs by sawing to the lines and then chopping out with a chisel. (See photo page 31.)

Before cutting the tenons on the stretcher stock, I round over the top edges of the stretcher. I use a homemade scratch stock (see page 62), but a router would work well here. Note that the long center stretcher is not quite as wide as the end stretchers.

I recommend a dry-assembly run before gluing up the parts of the base to avoid any unpleasant surprises. First, assemble the sides (complete with the side drawer guides). The rear apron, lower drawer rail, center drawer runner, and center stretcher go in next. The center drawer divider and top drawer rail go in last. I use liquid hide glue for complex assemblies because its slow set gives me plenty of time for alignment and squaring up. Even so, it wouldn't hurt to have a helper during glueup.

To reinforce the mortise-and-tcnon joints. I make




MAROVAffcl 1W1 A 33

small octagonal pegs with a simple jig and a modified block plane. (See sidebar.) Once the glue has cured, remove the clamps and lay out the peg locations on the legs and drawer rails with an awl. Use a '/j-in. brad-point bit to drill the peg holes. Drill about in. deeper than the far tenon cheek. I use octagonal pegs that 1 make by hand with the jig described in the sidebar. I chose walnut for the pegs because the contrast is attractive and walnut is nice to work with. Tap the pegs in without glue until they're slightly proud of the surface. Thev can be sanded or trimmed flush, or left to protrude slightly, which adds an authentic period look.

Now cut the side drawer runner strips and the cen ter drawer guide, plane to dimension, and attach with hide glue and cut nails.

Prepare the drawer fronts in the same fashion as the aprons. The drawer sides, backs and bottoms are made from V2-in. pine. Cut the dovetails and bottom grooves (see Fig. 4) and glue up the drawers, checking for square. Glue up the stock for the drawer bottoms and cut to size so the grain runs sideways in the drawers.

Bevel the underside of the drawer bottoms on the front and sides with a block plane. The bevel is about 1in. wide and tapers to slightly less than '/a in. thick at the edge. Test the fit of the edge in the groove. When it's snug, but not tight, secure the bottom to the drawer



(Far left)

The author's jig for making octagonal pins is as simple as It gets— and it works great

A little manual pencil sharpener chamfers the end of the pins in a jiffy.

'hen I started restoring antique furniture 1 discovered that almost all quality period furniture had tapered pegs, roughly octagonal in cross section. I started making these pegs for my reproductions in the traditional fashion—riving them from solid stock and whittling each one to shape—which makes them very strong. This took a lot of time, and I decided there had to be an easier wav.

So I developed this low-tech block-plane jig to make octagonal pegs. (See drawing.) I use a cheap Stanley "Handyman" block plane, which I bought at a yard sale for 50 cents. Make the jig from scrap stock, as shown. The dimensions


(Far left)

The author's jig for making octagonal pins is as simple as It gets— and it works great

A little manual pencil sharpener chamfers the end of the pins in a jiffy.

aren't critical. My jig is about 15 in. long. On a tablesaw. rip a V-groove Vie in. deep down the center, and add a "fence" on either side. A small brass flat head wood screw centered in one end of the V-groove acts as a stop for the peg stock. Size the thickness of the runners bv trial and m error. The plane's depth-of-cut can be adjusted somewhat to make up for discrepancies.

To make a batch of pegs. I rip out '/.»-in. x '/¿-in. stock on the tablesaw using a fine-toothed blade. I lay the strips in the V-groove of the jig to plane off the comers to make the octagonal shape. Next, I chamfer one end of the pegs for easy starting with a small hand-held pencil sharpener.—CB




How Make Square Peg Fine Woodworking
Plane comer of V«-in. square stock, turn stock and plane again. Repeat

back with three cut nails. Don't glue the bottom in place. These drawers are quite long from front to back, so the bottoms must be free to expand and contract. If the humiditv is low when vou build the draw-

er, it's a good idea to allow some space between the front edge of the drawer bottom and the bottom of the groove in the drawer front.

Now check the drawers for smooth operation in the base, and install the '/.»-in. thick drawer stops on the underside of the upper drawer rail. I turned the drawer knobs on a screw chuck and fastened them to the drawer fronts with flat head wood screws. (See Fig. 4.) A more authentic method would be to turn tenons on the ends of the knobs and fasten them with wedges from inside the drawers.

Original tavern tables were usually a bit smaller than this one, with the tops often made of a single board, and rarely more than two boards. On this table, I glued up the bottom from five boards and alternated the growth rings. Not too authentic, but it's practical. Carefully lay out your stock for the top. selecting the best grain patterns and being sure to alternate the growth rings. Joint the edges of the top boards, glue them up, and cut the top to length.

Next, make the breadboard ends. I cut the tongues for the breadboard ends in the top with an old Stanley No. 289 skew rabbet plane, but a router works well, also. (See Fig. 1.) After the tongues are cut, I hand plane the long edges of the top to the final width. This removes any chipping or breakout that occurred during the tonguing operation. I cut the grooves in the breadboard ends with a dado blade on the tablesaw and then cut the breadboard ends to length.

At this time, it's a good idea to put some stain on the ends of the tongues and inside the ends of the grooves. The top will move with changes in humidity and nothing looks worse than "white" wood peeking out at you from the edge of a breadboard. The breadboards should be glued to the top at their center only to allow for this movement. I put glue on the tongue about 6 in. on either side of the centerline. For added reinforcement I also install a peg at 6 in. on either side of the centerline, from the bottom. The pegs aren't visible from the top. The top can now be cleaned up and planed. Use a light touch and finish off with a sharp hand scraper.

The top is attached to the base with two cleats that fit parallel to the side aprons. On most period pieces, the cleats were housed in sliding dovetail joints in the top. To save time and to avoid the open dovetail cavities on the edges of the top, I attached the cleats with wood screws. I used five screws on each cleat, installing the screws in counterbored pilot holes from the cleat bottom. (See Fig. 1.) I elongated the outer holes with a small rasp so the screws can move with the movement of the top. After cutting the curved profile on the ends of the cleats, drill the '/.»-in. holes lor the top attachment pins. Screw.but don't glue.the cleats in place. Fill the counterbored holes with wood plugs.

On period tables, the pins that hold the top to the base are a slip fit. which means the top might rattle a bit because it won't be tightly attached to the base. It's also very easy for the pins to fall out. I remedied this problem by threading the ends of the pins and the holes in the aprons, as shown in Fig. 1. I don't recommend threading pine, but these pins aren't removed very often and the screw-in pins have proven to be far superior to loose pins. If you don't have a screwbox and tap to cut threads, make the pins a loose friction fit.

Before drilling the pin holes in the apron, set the top on the base and check the overhang. When everything is aligned, mark the center of the holes. Drill the holes, and then tap the threads. I put a couple of coats of thin shellac in the tapped holes to help stiffen up the soft pine threads. This completes the construction, and the table should be ready for finishing.

Finishing the Table

If all of your tools were sharp and you were careful during glucup. sanding should be easy. I hand sand lightly with 220-grit paper without a planing block so I don't obliterate the marks from hand planing. You can "distress" the table to give it an aged appearance. Again. I think the key is to go easy.

On this piece, I lightly rounded sharp edges and mildly distressed the top. aprons, and stretchers by striking them with a handful of keys on a ring. Next, I gave it a very light once-over with 220-grit paper.

I made my own stain by mixing japan colors (3 Tbls. burnt umber, 2 Tbls. burnt sienna, 1 Tbl. raw sienna) into about one quart of Sherwin Williams oil stain #113-9039 Clear Base and Sealer (available at Sherwin Williams stores). This handles like a regular oil stain. Be sure to wipe off the excess once the stain begins to set up. You can increase the intensity by increasing the amounts of japan color or by applying a second coat after 24 hours. The end result was a mellow, aged appearance that doesn't look like it came "out of a can."

Once the stain coat dried, I brushed on a coat of Stulb's Old Village #1232 Graining Liquid (available from the Stulb Co.. P.O. Box 597, Allentown, PA 18105, 215-433-4273 for nearest dealer). This is a thick, translucent oil stain. I wiped most of this off. allowing it to remain only in crevices, dents, and areas where dirt might naturally build up. The effect is to enhance the "aged" appearance.

After this dried, I sealed the surface of the piece with a wash coat of 1 -lb. cut of shellac. I used but-tonlac,which is a grade of shellac that imparts a slightly darker tint to the wood. The wash coat was rubbed down with a fine 3M "Scotch-Brite" pad and cleaned off with a tack cloth. Don't forget to finish the underside of the top. I used the Sherwin Williams Clear Base and Sealer (as mentioned above) without pigment on the bare wood of the drawers to seal them and to give the bare pine some color.

To give some character to the top, I created several water rings, like those caused bv flower pots or glasses, by applying burnt umber acrylic artist color (available in art supply stores) to the rim of various-size round plastic containers and setting them on the top at random locations. I softened the hard edges of the rings with a dry bristle brush and a soft cloth. If you try this, use moderation —three or four strategically placed rings can be very effective.

Finally, I applied two thin coats of Pratt & Lambert #38 Clear Satin Finish alkyd varnish (available in paint stores and hardware stores), sanding lightly between coats. Steel wool the final coat and apply a coat of paste wax. A

Craig Bcfitzley practices antique-furniture consen ation and restoration and also builds jh'riud reproductions.

Spice up your IHe with a turned pepper mill. As author Dale Nish's mills demonstrate so gracefully, the shape can suit your fancy.

Heart Pepper Mill

The heart of the pepper mil is a grinding mechanism (bottom) avaflabie in three sizes for 5-in., 7-in. and 10-in. mils. The top and body of the mM are turned from a single piece of wood.

Rough out a cylinder for the pepper-mill body, then lay out the top and body of the mil. Alow an extra inch on the top for a spigot


The heart of the pepper mil is a grinding mechanism (bottom) avaflabie in three sizes for 5-in., 7-in. and 10-in. mils. The top and body of the mM are turned from a single piece of wood.

Rough out a cylinder for the pepper-mill body, then lay out the top and body of the mil. Alow an extra inch on the top for a spigot

STEP 2. Lay out the body and top of the pepper mill on the cylinder. For a 7-in. mill, a good proportion is a 5-in. long base and a 2-in. long top piece. Lay out the top an inch longer than its finished height to allow for a "spigot" (a short, round tenon) you'll need to turn later on one end of the top. (See Fig. 1.) Draw a pencil line to separate the body from the top.

ml ml ant to add a little spice to W V your life? Try turning a pep-W W per mill. Pepper mills are I f iu 11 to turn and they make great gifts for friends or family. Who can resist the aroma and taste of fresh-ground pepper?

The heart of the pepper mill is a grinding mechanism (available from Craft Supplies USA, 1287 E. 1120 S., Provo, UT 84601, (801) 373-0917). These mechanisms comc in three different sizes to make pepper mills of three heights—5 in.. 7 in., or 10 in. high.

First decide what size pepper mill you want to make and order the appropriate-size grinding mech-anisim. Once you have the mechanism, select a block of wood approximately 27j in. sq., and at least 1 in. longer than the length of the grinding mechanism you've purchased. For example, a 7-in. mechanism requires a block about 27a in. x 27j in. x 8 in. long. Most any hardwood will work well, but highly figured wood or spalted wood will look more dramatic.

Turning the Mill

STEP 1. Mount the block between centers on a lathe and rough-turn to a cylinder about 27» in. in diameter. Try to make the surface straight and even. Square the ends of the cylinder with a parting tool by making a clean cut on each end of the cylinder as deep as you can go before hitting the drive center or cone center.

Spice up your IHe with a turned pepper mill. As author Dale Nish's mills demonstrate so gracefully, the shape can suit your fancy.

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