Inlay Material Preparation

Home Up


The first step is grading the .050 thick mother of pearl material slabs that are purchased in random shapes....any pearl that has off color, fisheye pattern or imperfections in thickness, worm holes, etc., I grade as seconds or culls.  First quality material that has rainbow colors and good reflection, I will make a pencil mark on the best side (face up).  Some raw material blanks are thick enough to get several slices out of the raw shell from a single section cut and you can have book matched patterns but since my fingerboard pattern features a single design piece of inlay, therefore there  is no need to find book matched raw material inlay blanks and the chance of you getting book matched raw inlay blanks at random is about nil unless you cut your own blanks from the raw oyster shell or specially order them which can be very expensive.   The above pix has only a few pieces of shell that is first quality.  The piece of material on the bottom right is a second for sure because of two different grains patterns and I do not want any inlay that has two different distinct grain patterns on it.  Depending on the size of the pattern you are cutting, you might be able to work around such grain pattern changes.


The graded mother of pearl blanks (side that has a pencil mark on it) is facing up and then placed on a piece of balsa wood 1/4 inch thick by 3 inches wide by 8 inches in length which matches the 3/16 inch thick aluminum plates I use to separate and compress 4 or 5 pieces stacked on top of one another.  The mother of pearl material is dry fitted to get the most usage out of the wood/inlay material.  The above pix is for demonstration purposes only since I already have the mother of pearl glued to the balsa wood for cutting designs out for custom turkey box calls and the above 4 inch length of material was scrap left over from that project.

After the mother of pearl is dry fitted to the balsa wood, each individual piece of inlay blank receives a thin coat of Titebond glue being sure to coat the entire bottom side of mother of pearl and place it back on the balsa wood.  When all pieces of the mother of pearl have glue applied and positioned onto the balsa wood, allow to set about 10 minutes before placing a piece of aluminum on the bottom of the balsa wood and a piece of aluminum on top of each layer of the mother of pearl and balsa wood.  Apply a clamp to each end being careful that the inlay blanks do not move overhanging the balsa wood;  the reason for allowing to sit 10 minutes is to alloy the glue to partially set.   Allow to dry overnight , preferably 24 hours giving the glue a chance to harden.

Above pix of mother of pearl glued to the balsa wood after allowed to dry.  Any glue that has leaked onto the top of the mother of pearl can easily be scraped off with a utility knife or scraper.