A-Z of miniatures crafts: I for inlay


Learn how to make an elegant piece of miniature inlay wood to create a smart table top for your dolls house or miniature scene!

What is inlay?

Inlay is a technique commonly used to add decoration to furniture, combining materials (wood, metals, etc.) which 'slot' together to create an eye-catching design. This is often finished with varnish.

Martin Pearce shows us how to produce a smart piece of inlay using wood in a tree design while incorporating banding in the design. The best part? It's not as complicated as it might sound! When you've mastered the technique you can create a wide variety of decorative furniture for your dolls house and miniature scene.

Miniature table top tutorial

By Martin Pearce.

You will need

  • Steel rule
  • Small craft knife or scalpel
  • Spare blades
  • File or sanding files by Albion Alloys
  • MDF 1/8in (3mm) thick
  • Wood veneer
  • Banding
  • PVA wood glue
  • Masking tape
  • Paper
  • Abrasive paper
  • Sanding sealer
  • Wax polish

Download the tree inlay template.

How to make a miniature wood inlay table top 

Preparation

1. You'll need five pieces of veneer for the inlay. One for the background, one for the tree and one for the trunk plus pieces for the tub and star. American black walnut was used again for the background and light oak for the tree and tub, with plane being used for the trunk and star.

wood inlay pieces

One reason for selecting plane for these small pieces is that it doesn't have a pronounced grain making it easier to cut. An extra piece identical to the square used for the background is also needed and its use is explained below.

Cutting the veneer

2. Use a curved blade for cutting the branches of the tree due to their shape.

3. With a photocopied pattern in place, cut the curved outline of the tree. This has to be done freehand so keep fingers as far away from the scalpel as possible. Numerous light cuts are the best approach to cutting these curved shapes.

cutting the veneer

4. Glue the extra square of veneer to the back of the other square. This forms a backing onto which the inlay for the trunk and tub are glued. As well as forming a backing, this second square of veneer also thickens up the whole piece. This is necessary due to the banding we are going to use being thicker than a single layer of veneer. Patterns for the trunk and star are stuck to the veneer used for these pieces.

5. Once cut out (using a straight blade), lay them in place and with the aid of a scalpel blade, carefully mark out their shape and position.

Tree wood inlay

6. From the top layer of veneer forming the background, cut out the shape just marked and glue each piece in place. This method of marking and cutting out is the real process of inlay which, with a little practice, may be easier than you think.

Banding

7. Four pieces are needed and their ends are cut so as to form a mitre when glued to the MDF which forms the table top. Glue a piece of banding to each edge of the MDF in order to form a border. The inlay should be cut to fit the space inside the banding and glued in place.

banding miniature table top

8. In order to cover the edges of the MDF, cut strips of veneer (matching the background of the table top). These strips should be cut wide enough to cover both the edge of the MDF and banding and should also be long enough to overlap the ends.

9. Glue two strips on opposite edges of the tabletop and allow to set. The overlapping edges and ends are trimmed flush by means of a file or sanding file held at an angle.

table top banding

The table top is now finished and can be sanded smooth with abrasive papers. A coat of sanding sealer and polish will bring out the full effect.

Finished miniature wood inlay table top


Now you've mastered wood inlay, don't miss more techniques from our A-Z miniature crafts series! Go back to 'H for hemp' where you'll learn how to make a miniature thatched roof!