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Guest katfen

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Hi Kathleen,


Thanks for the scan. It is more helpful.


I recently received an email from an inlay artist:

Landon Wiedenman



Hmmm..... tutorial. Good idea. I would imagine you would appreicate more than "make the hole and inlay material fit with a little more room for the adhesive, then glue it in" information. There are other considerations to be sure, such as:


-What adhesives work better or are not advisable.


-Questions about putting elements together that have different responses to heat and moisture, causing stresses and adhesive failures.


-Tricks to make the process easier?


-Does the inlay pocket mirror the angle of the sides of the inlay material?


I have some answers from my limited inlay experience, but it is only that, limited.


Anyone with more experience and willing to share?

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I haven't worked with inlay in tagua, especially semi-precious stones. I would suspect that the inlay pocket needs to be quite deep. With such a dense, smooth and hard stone the risk of glue failure seems high, especially when combined with tagua.

I think there's a sort of jeweler's putty or wax out there that may be useful?


Perhaps there is a way you could involve some jewerly stone-setting methods- utilize a metal bezel or claws/clasps to hold the stone in a setting.


Inlaying is a very broad topic- I think a lot of it may also be 'protected knowledge' if you catch my drift. It's up there with trick netsuke (seeds which rattle but don't come out of carvings, heads whose necks extend, free balls inside of larger balls, etc.


If you've got any other specific questions, I'll see if I'm able to help. It's been pretty much trial and error with me and my development in inlaying.



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Hi Kathleen,


I just realized the inlay you seem to be asking about is eye inlay, and not the off-round, odd shape fitted (and difficult) inlay I assumed you were asking about. Here’s how I make simple eyes:


I lathe turn small tapered pegs (less than 10 degrees of taper) for eye inlays of horn, colored hardwood, antler/bone/ivory and/or amber depending on the color and effect I want. (See the image about the tapered pegs) The taper is important because you will get nice, close fits. Light colored pegs for the whites and dark colored ones for the pupil.


Using a small round ball burr, carve-drill a pilot hole for the eye. (See the eye steps image, starting with step three) For small holes, I don’t use a drill bit! I find small, thin drill bits will tend to wander badly, following the grain and ending up out of center, and out of round. Using successively ever larger ball burrs, drill out the hole until you reach the size of your chosen and measured burr. As I approach the desired hole size, I keep test fitting the turned peg. Remember that each burr you use will drill the hole out to a slightly larger size than its measured diameter, and if you aren’t very steady at hand, the hole won’t necessarily be perfectly round. This continual test fitting will allow you to make slight corrections if needed. Once the hole and peg fit correctly, I’ll glue the peg in, with a fair amount still left above the surface. If I’m in a hurry (and I often seem to be!), I’ll use instant cyanoacrylate (“superâ€) glue, but realize I should be using epoxy, or white or carpenter’s glue (as long as the carving won’t be exposed to moisture or extreme temperature changes). Then I’ll carve the peg and the eye down almost to where it needs to be. With the white of the eye cut down flush with the surface, I’ll repeat the above tricks for each successive inlay of iris and/or pupil.


If you want a slightly protruding eye with clear cornea, see the next image. Create the eye pegs as before, fit them into the hole (but don’t glue yet) and cut down the outer (light colored peg) to be slightly below the surface, inlay the pupil, then epoxy an amber cover on. When the epoxy is hardened, carve the amber cornea/cover and then install the eye in place. Polish.


These techniques also work well for any kind of inlay you want to use other than eyes (as long as it’s a round inlay).


Obviously, practice on disposable stuff rather than the netsuke you just spent two weeks on...


The last image is a quick and dirty method of turning a Foredoom flex shaft grinder into a simple lathe, should you not have one (a lathe, that is).


Tom Sterling





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Thanks for those illustrations Tom!

My methods are similar with only a slight variation.


I construct the eye 'pegs' by hand, using a file and just work my way around a small narrow cylider of whatever material is being used (after first whittling it roughly cylindrical with a knife). My pegs don't taper- I think that straight sides with inlay will hold better in pockets in the long run.


Not all eyes have to be circular- hand tools allow you to create ovals and elipses (for when you want the eyelids to be half-open revealing only a portion of the eye)


My one concession to power tools has been to use them to carve the pockets into which the inlay material will fit. I can get nice straight sides and flat bottoms to the pockets, for a secure fit.


For the amber eyes (like in the frog ojime), a peg of amber was generated. At the end of the peg, I carved a concave recess. This was painted with sumi ink. The end of the peg was then gold-leafed. This composite peg was then inserted into the pocket, cut off after the glue had dried with a fine jeweler's saw, and then polished and rounded off to eyeball shape. With transparent materials, always polish the end and sides first; then insert. With opaque, this step isn't needed.


A funny note- I worked for 1 1/2 years trying to shape tiny eyes about the size of a coriander seed in my fingers, until I read about the peg method :)


For irregularly shaped inlays, as Tom suggested, the methods can be quite different. One main difference for me is that with round inlays (eyes, spots, warts) I cut the pocket first and shape the inlay to fit. With irregular inlay, I shape the inlay first, and then the pocket to fit.



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  • 4 weeks later...

I haven't done eye inlays specifically, but it's really the same thing.


I've always cut the piece, then tack it down with a tiny bit of CA (super) glue.


Draw around it with a mechanical pencil, holding it dead vertical to the surface, make sure your line is solid.


I use a high speed hand piece with a dental bit. Although I learned to do it by hand with a graver and xacto blade, for tiny eyes this would be hard. anyway, cut the hole right up to the edge of your pencil line, if the pencil line is hard to see position a light to reflect off of it. If the pencil line isn't visible all the way around you've cut too far.


Test putting the piece in before you glue it. I always round off the bottom of edges of the piece. it makes it considerably easier to put it into a slightly imperfect hole. you can use a needle file for this, you don't need to take off much. Personally I use my hand piece, but i screwed up a lot of inlays before i learned the feather touch required. A lot of inlays have also been thrown across the room from this method.


Before you blue the inlay in remove every trace of pencil from both the inlay and the surface you're putting it into. I use mineral spirits on cotton for this. Make sure you use the odorless kind, as it's purest. It won't stain or discolor your workpiece. Of course do a color test first, but i've never had a problem.


I and every other inlay artist use almost exclusively Cyanoacrylate glue. I beleive it to be superior for this purpose to all others. I also use an accelerator spray. the goal is not speed, but it adds strength to the bond. Beware, these accelerator sprays are highly carcinogenic, use it sparingly. epoxy shrinks over time, i don't recommend it. I suppose hide glue would be ok but i haven't tried it.


I've never worried about leaving space for glue. The studies I've read show that the strongest bond is acheived when the mating surfaces are dead smooth with no gaps. So that's what I strive for. More of a worry, is breaking my inlay when i push it in. When you're inlaying some thing hard against something soft, such as shell against wood. this is not much of a concern. The wood will move slightly to accept the harder material. However if you are putting a piece of metal into a piece of shell, this can be a serious problem, if you force it at all the shell will crack.



That is all of the brain dump I can handle for the moment. At some point i wil be putting together inlay tutorials. If any of you would like to receive a link to that when it's ready send me an email.



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Hi, just a little about how I add gold to jet, etc. I generally hollow out a spot the rough shape of the nugget and glue it in with superglue or goop (which holds really well if you have a roughed up surface or drill little holes for it to grab.) If you have silversmithing skills, solder a peg to it. I also melt scrap gold and pour it into a bucket of water while molten from about 6 - 8 in above. It will form small beads which I then hammer out into thin discs. I then dome them with a round bit and hammer. I will then carve a shallow hole that shape and size and glue them in. for eyes etc. Looks like more gold than there is. If you undercut the hole, put domed shape in and tap it lightly with a hammer it will spread into undercut and pressure fit itself , not a good idea with jet, as it is delicate. (I back it up with glue just in case) Use your imagination and use the method that suits the material. Just because I do things this way doesn`t make it the best way. cooch

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