Installing Inlays into a Floor Without Jigs (Part Three)

Continuing from my last blog – this time we will plunge into the floor. If you’re doing inlays, you want to have the quality tools necessary to perform the task without frustrations along the way. Do not use cheap tools for specialty work. You will get more consistent results with better quality tools.

First, I used a ¼” spiral bit to do the heavier work of removing material fast. We are using carbide inlay bits. The bits can be spiral, a single, or double flute (it means that they either have one or two cutters on them). Second, I used the smaller bits to get a hair from the line. You don’t want to cut right on the line for two reasons:

 1. It’s very hard to control the router to that precision.

 2. More importantly, the bit leaves micro fuzz on the face. As the router spins so fast it pushes the wood fibers away from it. That’s not a nice finished edge.

Your hand motions with the router should be gliding against the wood. Very gentle and small strokes. You want to remove a hair at a time. These small router bits cannot be pushed. Listen to the router motor as you work it. If it changes sound, you are pushing it. These bits are super fragile and will snap in half if you push them too hard. Did I mention you should buy several bits of each size?

Next, vacuum the cavity and start working the line with your hands. A variety of tools can work: chisels, carving tools, knives, dental tools, you name it. The idea is to clean up the cut to your pencil line. A lot of those inlays have very acute sharp points. Getting in there with even a small chisel may not be an option.

That’s why you need the dental tools. A pick-scraper or hook-probe will do the job. One is for slicing through the wood fiber and the other is for crushing and removing the waste. You can go online and buy a set of six for five bucks, but this goes back to what I said earlier about not saving money on tools. My dentist was kind enough to provide me with the tools I needed. I asked him for the tools instead of going online because he was able to provide me with quality tools. (I could not tell by looking which hook was going to last for more than ten minutes and why one cost more than the other.) As he said, we both did the same kind of work on a different scale. He has all the saws and hand tools as well, they are just smaller and run at a higher rpm.  

This last part of detail work is the tricky part and is where understanding the wood comes into play. You need to know what the wood will do as you cut through it. If you push down with a gouge (curved shaped carving tool) at the wrong direction, you could have the grain collapse farther than you wanted. You need to be able to look at the wood and analyze it to predict what hand motion will produce which result. You can get to that level of knowledge by experience, and through studying wood anatomy. Periodically place the leaf on the floor to check the fit. Do that a few times until the fit is perfect. Remember that you sand shaded the leaves so they are super fragile. If you try to tap them in place and there is just a tiny mini micro edge that’s not right, the leaves will break. Use traditional yellow glue to secure the inlay. I use a medical syringe because it has a curved tip which makes it really easy to apply glue to the walls of the cavity. It also has a small tip which applies just the right amount of glue. You don’t need a huge amount of glue; the glue is just to secure the leaf, it is not for holding your floors together. A bit of glue on the cavity walls and along the bottom is enough. Tap the leaf in place with a flat block of wood that is larger than the inlay itself. The inlay should stand proud (higher) of the floor. You are done!

To wrap up– let’s say that five different people look at a finished floor. They will analyze the floor according to their level of skill and knowledge. One may understand the full scale of what it took to make the floor. For others, it might just fly over their heads. The next time you see a floor, try to appreciate the skill behind it, even if it is a traditional floor you’ve seen many times before. There’s always someone behind it with a passion. A passion beyond their skill, a passion to leave something behind. I respect that. 

avi hadad

Avi Hadad

CR, CSF, CI, CWFI, VGD

Avi’s Hardwood Floors Inc.

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