For centuries, decorative string and banded inlays have been highly valued embellishments that were applied to the finest furniture. Among the many techniques and styles of inlay, string inlay is perhaps the most common and useful method. Even today, some designers and craftspeople use simple string inlays to define, highlight, or bring focus to elements of an object — be it furniture or other decorative art.
In this comprehensive video tutorial Jeff Williams, inlay specialist for the Irion Company, demonstrates his period correct method of cutting the recessed groove, making traditional holly string, and applying this string into your workpiece. Mr. Williams is a master artisan and as an Irion Company employee, Jeff has crafted some of the finest antique reproductions of Federal Style furniture being built today. In filming Jeff, I had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him. His modest, easy-going nature makes him the perfect guide as he patiently shows us the ropes. Making and applying string inlay never seemed so accessible. You can do this too. — Keith (9 Minute Woodworking Video)
The Irion Company specializes in the restoration, conservation, and hand-made reproduction of American antique furniture from the 18th and 19th century. Jeff Williams specializes in period correct Federal style furniture with an emphasis on veneering, inlaying, and marquetry.
Great info on the jigs for making the stringers. Very useful indeed. Thanks Keith. And I love Jeff’s quiet but obvious delight in the end product.
Fascinating. I can’t wait to try this!
Do one on creating curves too! Bob
I’ve done enough straight line inlay and banded inlays to say I’m comfortable with it. I’ve developed a few tricks to make it all go smoothly too, since I do it often enough.
I’m still not very adept at the curved inlay though. I’d love to see what he does to help keep a very straight and consistent line. Perhaps its the changing wood grain that causes me trouble – I’m not sure…
I think I might make a simple scraper tool like he has for simplifying the inlay creation. I like making my own inlay.
Thanks for the great video!
Excellent video Keith, Would love to see how he does curved inlays, future video maybe?
In the video Jeffery Williams says he uses a marking gauge with a surgeon’s scalpel blade in it. Is there a particular size/type of blade that works best for slicing out very thin stringing from veneer?
Keith’s Note: Max, let’s put that question out there. I don’t know the answer, but knowing Jeffrey, I’d say he probably uses whatever he can get his hands on.
How do you stain the piece after completing the inlay without staining the inlay?
Jeff’s Answer: Most of the pieces we do are Mahogany so we hit the mahogany with Potassium Dicromate (which basically makes Mahogany or cherry dark and “richens” the natural color of the wood like the sun would). We use holly or boxwood for the inlays because potassium dicromate doesn’t change the color of those inlayed woods. So then we mix this solution, it’s a powder substance that we mix with water. Remember, this doesn’t affect the inlayed color. Then we shellac the whole piece to seal it. Then we apply a glazing stain (it could be a mahogany stain – a Mohawk or Behlin). This glazing stain won’t penetrate the inlays or muddy them up. Then we can add top coats. We use shellac. We might use a lacquer for a final top coat to protect the finish on some table tops. But mostly we use shellac only for topcoats. We use an amber or clear shellac. But usually amber first. We also use brown shellac to control color in some cases. (transcribed via phone)
Great video, but would enjoy information on curved work.
Max – I just ran across your question re: type of surgical blade. If it has been answered to your satisfaction, my apologies for this late comment.
Anyway, my experiences have led me to use a “post mortem” carbon steel #11 scalpel, rather than stainless steel. Carbon steel blades are sharper than stainless steel; although they may not stay sharp as long — sharpening the blades is a snap and can usually be sharpened 5-10 times. Hope this has been useful for you.
Thanks for a great website. I used what I had learned from this video to make stringing and bandings for a tea caddy I’m making. Thanks again
Nice one, I will have to try this.
Great website by the way.
Thanks Keith. Jeff has the right ‘temperament’ for that work. I run a woodworking school in Johannesburg South Africa and inlay is very popular amongst the students. We watch your videos frequently.
Thanks. Heinrich Sachse
Thanks so much for these amazing videos! I was wondering, where do you purchase the wood to make these inlays? I want to try this, but do not have the materials. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!
Keith’s Note: Irion sources most of their wood from Irion Lumber.
Excellent video. I am a woodturner and rose engine operator. I want to use stringing in a three dimensional application. What comments and assistance do you have. I have several forms in mind that would really be stunning with good stringing included.
Keith’s Note: Jim, you’ve got me stumped on that one. I would seem you could do some simple multi-dimensional inlays using the techniques that Jeff mentions. Beyond that, I don’t know how it would best be approached. Oh, BTW, I hadn’t heard of a rose engine, but after looking it up, I’ve learned something new again. Thanks.
Excellent step-by-step instructions. This technique will help framed art enthusiasts as well.
Very interesting to see the process of string inlay. Definitely an art for sure.
Very well put together video. I learned more about performing this technique than reading a whole chapter in a training manual. Also would be interested in learning about doing the curved lines in the video. Thanks much.
It was very nice to watch this video of luthier Jeff Williams. Great jig and technique. Thank you!
WOW! It’s too bad more folks haven’t heard about this site, this article covered just the thing I needed to know :D
Keith’s Note: Well I’d invite you and any visitor to spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thanks!
Nice work, I love wood inlay, and have started a blog in the hope of sharing ideas. I anyone is interested I’d be happy to talk to them.
I loved this video. I have trying to learn inlay. I would love your to do a video for curve inlay. Do you make your own motif like the one on in the video already inlaid.
Keith’s Note: Thanks for feedback. I wish we could have gotten Jeff to demonstrate his technique for curved inlay at the time of filming at Irion. But, alas, we didn’t have time. As a side note – Irion is now out of business. I great loss to our craft.