122: Stone Inlay

For this post, I thought I was going to explore steam bending wood, but in doing my research, I totally got distracted by stone inlay in wood.  (Bending wood will happen sometime, I promise!)  I have seen where woodworking artists used crushed turquoise to fill in gaps in turned bowls, tables and jewelry to great effect, but it never occurred to me before that other stones could be used as well.

There are two main methods of inlaying stone – mixing the powder with epoxy, or laying the powder and topping with cyanoacrylate (super glue).  Thinking it would be easier, I went the super glue route and loosely followed this tutorial by Patricia Spero.

Disclaimer: photos aren’t great because I couldn’t use my photobooth, and totally used my phone camera.

I wasn’t sure if just engraving would be deep enough to hold the stones, so I took the design and produced it two different ways.  The first is a deep engrave in 1/8 inch bamboo.  The second is actually two layers of 1/16 inch bamboo with the design cut out of the top piece glued to a solid back, like these Hexagon pendants from Week 28.

For stones, I grabbed aventurine, amethyst, and these weird soft pink beads I was told were opals (the small squares.  Ignore the white diamonds.  I didn’t use them).  I smashed them up with a hammer on my steel pounding block.  I wouldn’t recommend that method in the future, at least not with tools you’d like to stay unmarred; the stones left imperfections in the surface.  They didn’t smash up as vibrantly as I had hoped – it wasn’t until later did I see that none of these are commonly used in inlay.  Probably because they don’t hold pigment as well in the powdery form, and are harder to sand.  To retain more color, I had lager chunks than would probably be recommended.

The colors seems more vibrant in the photo than they do in person!

Hard to see, but check out the mounded superglue gel. It also too forever to dry.

I carefully brushed the power into the design, one color at time, and then topped them with superglue.  Here’s where the “supposed to be easier” part of superglue comes in.  My preferred brand of superglue is Loctite, and I use the Ultra Gel pretty exclusively.  Gel is lovely, but it sat on top of the powdered stone.  So I went to the store to get a more liquid glue, and picked up the Loctite Precision Tip Pen, as I was working in a small area.  I didn’t read the small print – it turned out the precision pen glue is even MORE gelled.  Ugh.  So back to the store for a liquid superglue – one that said LIQUID in big bold letters.

Trying to photograph superglue drips coming out of the applicator while hitting the right area AND keeping focus on your camera phone is hard, guys. I will conscript a husband to photograph next time.

The liquid superglue did the trick, soaking right in, and making the purple and green much more vibrant.  It also ran over the sides and soaked into the wood a bit, making more of a mess to sand off later.  The tutorial recommends waxing your wood so the superglue doesn’t soak in, but I didn’t have wood wax on hand.  So I went without (such a rebel).  I can see that proper prep would be vital to more evolved pieces like hardwood turned bowls.  Perhaps one other advantage to using wax – I might have been able to leave the stones in the rugged state, rather than sanding them down and removing the excess glue on the wood.  I rather enjoyed the rough “druzy-like” look.

Though better, the liquid superglue still looked like a hot mess. The layered design is on the left, engraved design on the right. I swapped the colors in the design to make it easier to tell which is which.

After applying the superglue, I noticed a difference in how the powder behaved in the engraved vs layered pieces.  The engraving, by the nature of the burning laser, has a dark background.  This really seemed to muddy the colors.  They were much brighter on the layered pieces, with the non charred surface below the inlay.

Here we get to the point where I need better tools.  I have a terrible, hand me down, rattly, off brand dremel-like tool, that bits don’t fit in well and I have zero instructions for.  So, I winged it.  I sanded by feel – coarsest drums first, then finer, and then finishing with jewelry polishing heads I had on hand.  Both amethyst and aventurine are at about a 7 on the Mohs Scale (which determines a stones hardness) while turquoise is softer, coming in about a 5.  So, more sanding than usual.  And because my stones were not a consistent size, I felt like I had a lot more crevices in my finished pieces (that of course, picked up the debris from sanding.)

“Finished” pieces. I only half finished the one on the right, the engraved one, in the hopes you’d see a difference in the unfinished and the finished side. I prefer the one on the right – the colors are so much deeper.

My advice for the future:

  • LIQUID super glue
  • smash your stones on something you don’t mind taking a beating
  • use softer stones
  • make sure your background in your design is as light as possible – it shows off the stone colors better
  • Have good tools for finishing, and patience to get it done right!
  • Wear proper protections, kids. Breathing in sanded superglue is no good, and eye protection is always important around crappy, liable to fly off at high speeds equipment!


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