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wire inlay

Doug Sanders

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Has anyone had success inlaying silver wire into wood? I'd like to try this but thought I'd consult others first. Do I just cut/rout a groove the same width of the wire and then with a jeweler's hammer and maybe a small round punch force the wire into this groove? How about then polishing down the surface so it is flush?


I've seen another technique where it appears a tiny hole (the size of the wire gauge) is drilled at the start and finish of the design. The wire is then inserted in one hole, laid across the surface and then inserted into the other hole. Kind of like an elongated staple. This would be easier, but perhaps not as durable and not as nice looking.


Thanks for the help,


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Disclaimer - I have never done it,

but from my understanding, you trace the shape on the wood, and then with a very sharp knife follow the pencil marks. I believe you do not want a groove as wide as the wire, so that when you hammer it, it gets wedged in. You anneal the silver and you start to bend it to follow the pattern. You then hammer it into the groove, and the wedgeing action of the wood locks it into place.

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Well it's not silver, but should work somewhat the same. This is 24k gold so it's very soft which I find to be an advantage. Work hardened Sterling or karat gold can be very springy which makes for problems.


The basic idea is to cut a groove with a knife, the major variable being the hardness of the wood.

Obviously the harder the wood the less it's going to give and the more precise the width of the cut has to be in order to accept the wire. I glue the wire in with super glue. Doesn't take much.


I lay the lines out with a pencil and carefully scribe them with a sharp scribe. This can actually be the beginning of your cut and makes a good guide for the knife. I just used an X-acto blade that I shaped so it was just the width of the wire (30G B&S or .o1" or .25mm). It takes some practice to get the blade and wire and wood working just the way you want. I wouldn't feel safe relying just on friction to hold the wire in.


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Here are two shots of the inside of the box. The wood is Wenge which has been sand-blasted to enhance the grain so there are high spots. I made the wire ride a little higher on the lower areas of the wood. The main thing is to check your fit all the way before you start gluing :) .



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Silver wire inlay is a common knife handle treatment. Here is a description I gleaned on line.


"Wire Inlay is a type of decoration with what appears to be a thin wire, usually silver wire inlayed

into the solid materials. It is actually a small ribbon of silver that is inlet edgewise and only the

very edge of the ribbon is exposed, appearing like wire. This is done with small hand made

chisels. I made my set from an old hacksaw blade. Broken into 2-inch lengths and shaped and

sharpened on the end these tools make the recess or cut for the wire ribbon. Sharpened with a

double bevel, some are straight and others have a curved filed into their cutting edge. They are

small chisels that form a slot in the wood to receive the wire inlay. After carefully laying out and

marking the surface the chisels are driven straight into the wood to a uniform depth of less than

1/8th inch. I have small shoulders ground on both sides of the chisels that are the same as the

required depth and provide a visual depth stop. The slot is made by repeatedly pounding the

small chisel squarely into the wood, using a straight chisel for straight work and curved chisels

for curves. Smaller tighter curves are done with curved, narrow chisels always held

perpendicular to the surface being inlayed. Once all of the cuts are made, the silver ribbon is

formed to shape and cut to length. The ribbon should be a uniform width and its thickness will

be how wide the inlay will be. The width should correspond to the depth of cut that the chisel

will make. The wide sides of the ribbon are roughened with a file or sandpaper and the surface

etched with a clove of garlic. The garlic allows the metal to be glued with hide glue. Hide glue

is placed on the metal and it is carefully driven into the slots created by the chisels. Don’t put

glue in the slot as it is just compressed wood, no wood was removed, and will swell shut if too

much glue gets to the wood fibers. I carefully pound the ribbon into the wood until it just is just

proud of the surface and allow the glue to dry. The moisture in the hide glue swells the wood

fibers tight around the roughened wire ribbon to securely hold in place. I wipe it down with a

wet rag to clean off the excess glue and the moisture also swells the wood making the inlay tight.

Once it is completely dry, the wire can be sanded or scraped smooth. Yes you can use a cabinet

scraper to smooth off the soft metal. You can also file, I recommend that you draw file to roduce

the smoothest surface on the wire inlay. The wire will show scratches from sanding, so you will

have to sand the metal with much finer sandpaper. Also remember the metal is harder than the

wood and it is sometimes difficult to get both materials to the same level and degree of finish.

Horsetails or scouring rushes (Equisetum spp.) can also be used to smooth and polish the

wire flush to the surface. I also burnish the wire with a hard metal burnisher to a mirror finish

after it is smoothed level to the surrounding wood.



www.stevescutlery.com (http://www.stevescutlery.com)"

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I've got a whole stack of used blades, so I'll fashion a couple of widths this weekend. The chisel approach seems useful for some applications, but for a small carving in the round, it would be difficult to support the work while applying enough pressure directly into the wood I'd imagine.

The portion about pitting the surface of the wire for better adhesion seemed good advice.

On old gunstocks, and also wire inlay you see coming out of India and the MiddleEast it almost looks like they skipped the cutting part and just drove sharpened brass ribbon into the wood surface with a hammer. Not a very professional result :)



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Kathryn, my knife was pointed, but I think I made the point angle not so narrow as the usual x-acto blade. Remember in this case the wire was really tiny.


I've seen the method Don posted talked about. I wanted to maintain the roundness of the wire as more suggestive of spider web, so in that case the round wire worked well. If you were doing inlay to be flush with the finished surface, I would think the inlayed ribbon would work well. You could also taper the ends nicely. I've seen some fantastic gun-stock work done like that, I think.

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  • 4 weeks later...

All of the techniques have been pretty much covered here, save one:


glue is not necessarily needed if you're using dead soft silver or gold, or brass for that matter. After you cut the groove for the wire, go back with an xacto blade, holding it at an angle to cut a slot into the walls of your cavity. what you are doing is undercutting the inlay. when you go back and pound the soft metal in, the round wire will expand and fill the undercut, which will hold the inlay in, forever. Make sure that the slot is shallower than the wire so that it will press against the bottom and expand when you push it in. For bigger slots you can use a knife graver, or a dovetail shaped bit on your hand piece to make the bottom of the slot wider than the top. My fear is that glue won't stick well enough to the metal, and the wire will eventually come out if I don't do this.


I have never tried the garlic method. I think I would be more comfortable doing both.

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