by Danny Bingham
A co-worker saw the toolbox I made for myself and asked me if I would build one for her husband as a Christmas present. She wanted a panel like the one in my toolbox, with the four 16-point stars and a diamond with her husband's initials and the year in the center.
However, I could do anything else I wanted with the rest of the box. Her husband is an active member in our local chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Federation, so I decided to inlay pictures of elk in various places in the box. The star panel folds down to show a picture of a bugling elk under the top.
The bottoms of the four drawers were inlayed with an elk track, a cow and calf, a walking bull, and two fighting bulls.
The bottom of the box consists of an Elk rack of walnut inlayed into mahogany (insert boxbottom.jpg). The pattern was drawn and enlarged to the size needed.
I try to keep the grain running lengthwise of each main antler beam and tine, so I put arrows onto the pattern to assist me in arranging the walnut veneer. A stack of the mahogany veneer, walnut veneer, and the pattern was assembled. A deep-throated fret saw with a 2/0 blade was used to cut along the pattern. The fret saw was tilted to about 13 degrees, which allows the walnut to fit into the mahogany with little or no gaps. Holding the fret saw perpendicular will leave a gap the thickness of the fret saw blade around the inlay. Keep the bevel orientation consistent.
Cutting the bevel the wrong way will result in a large gap around the part of the inlay that was cut incorrectly. A birds mouth support was made from ¾" plywood, which has a slot cut into the support. One side of the slot is cut at 13 degrees, which guides the fret saw when cutting the bevel. Refer to the diagram below (insert sawangle.jpg). I used paper-backed veneer, which reduced tear out and helped support the smaller pieces of veneer. This same technique was used for the elk inlays shown above, and inlaying the initials and date in the diamond. The inlays were glued to the substrate with contact cement, and pressed overnight to ensure a good bond. These inlays were finished with either shellac or wiping polyurethane, with a final coat of wax to fill gaps.
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.