by Danny Bingham
The various pictures of toolboxes in "The Toolbox Book" by Jim Tolpin inspired me to build a small toolbox to keep in my vehicle. There was one cabinetmaker's toolbox that I especially liked. It had a 32-point star inlayed into a panel under the top, along with other 5 point stars. I decided to try to make a star inlay for my toolbox. However, I thought a 32-point star would be too difficult to try as a first time project.
The edging was made by face gluing ¾" X 2" X 4' curly maple to 1/16" X 2" X 4' walnut. The horizontal and vertical bands were made from 3/8" X 2" X 4' curly maple sandwiched between 1/16" X 2" X 4' walnut. The diamond was cut from ¾" thick curly maple, then 1/16" X ¾" wide strips of walnut were glued onto the edge of the diamond. The veneer (1/16") was cut on the bandsaw. My initials were printed using the largest font available in my word processing program. Walnut veneer was used for the inlay material. The walnut was placed on top of the diamond veneer, and a copy of my initials was centered on the diamond/walnut veneer stack. I used a fret saw to cut along the outline of each letter, angling the fret saw at about 13 degrees. This bevel cut allows the inlay material to fit tightly into the background veneer, with little or no gaps. The description for this technique is explained below under "Inlaying Silhouettes".
Numerous tries at designing a pattern finally evolved into four 16-point stars, with a diamond centered on the panel with my initials . The edging was made from ¾" curly maple and 1/16" walnut. The diamond was connected to the edges with bands of 3/8" curly maple with 1/16" walnut edges.
The pattern for the 16-point stars was generated with a slide making program, and are about 3 ½" in diameter. The star segments are made from walnut and curly maple. The back of the panel has a 32-point star in a mahogany background, with the same edge veneer as the front panel.
Construction of the 32-point star begins by making a template of one of the star segments from scrap, using the computer generated star as the pattern. The template is centered on the glue line of the maple and walnut, the outline traced onto the veneer, and the segment cut using a Handi-Cut cutter (Sears-Craftsman). There are 32 of these segments that have to be made. The first four segments are edge glued, then taped together with clear tape to give a 4-point star. One segment of the next row was aligned onto the pattern, then the 4-point star placed on top of the segment. The segment was scribed with a utility knife, trimmed, and glued to the 4-point star.
This process was repeated with three more segments until the 8-point star was completed. Clear tape was used to reinforce the joints.
The other rows of segments were joined to the main star until the 32-point star was completed
The outline of the edge veneer was drawn onto a template or the substrate itself. I used a piece of PlexiglasTM as a panel template. The edge veneer was cut to length, mitered at the corners, then glued to the adjacent edge band.
The completed star was tacked into place on the center panel with a little hot glue, then the outline of the star scribed onto the veneer with a utility knife. The star was removed and the waste removed with a fret saw, keeping the saw perpendicular to the veneer. The star was fitted into the opening. Glue and tape was used to help keep the star in place The star/panel veneer assembly was allowed to dry overnight, placing a weight on the panel to keep it as flat as possible.
The joints were supported with clear tape. The dried assembly was placed onto the mahogany veneer, and the opening scribed onto the mahogany. The veneer was cut with a utility knife, with a straight edge used as a guide. The mahogany was fitted into the opening and taped into place.
The completed veneer panel was glued to the substrate using yellow glue. I used ¼" quarter sawn red oak as the substrate. Waxed paper was placed on top of the star panel, then the entire panel placed between two pieces of MDF and clamped to keep the panel flat. The panel was allowed to dry overnight. All tape was removed, and the panel was sanded with 180 grit paper, then scraped.
The finish was applied starting with a 1lb. cut of orange shellac, followed by a coat of boiled linseed oil then two coats of 2 lb. cut orange shellac. The panel was sanded with 320 grit paper between each step. A coat of dark wax was applied as the final finishing step. The dark wax made any gaps present essentially disappear.
There were two references I used to do inlays. The first was an article in the October 1999 Fine Woodworking (No. 138) by Steve Latta ("Federal-Style Oval Inlays", Taunton Press). The second was a book titled " The Art of Marquetry " (1997, Schiffer Publishing) by Craig Vandall Stevens. Both of these sources explain the bevel cutting technique, and give instructions on making a birds mouth support.