When I was an industrial arts teacher, I often found my students rushing to finish their projects. While I could understand the desire to have a project done, I know through experience that those who rush are often left unsatisfied with their projects. To slow their youthful exuberance, I had my students try their hand at inlaying stone. The students would use small wood scraps to create stone chip inlayed keychains. Most would grab the carving tools and dive right in. They would just as quickly realize that they were not getting very much accomplished. Through example and patient encouragement my students learned that with a light touch and a steady hand they could accomplish more than with hurried expectations. Soon my students, who
moments before were impatiently rushing, found themselves quietly carving wood and inlaying stones. The proudest moment was when i taught my mentor this art form and watched him happily sing to himself as he made a gift for his wife.
Tools and Equipment
For any inlay you will need a few tools
– dremel or other rotary tool
– rotary carving bits
– rotary router bit
– exacto knife
– thin super glue (found at craft stores in model car aisle)
– largest steel pipe cap you can find
– steel pipe nipple to fit large pipe cap
– two pipe ends and nipple one size smaller than your large pipe cap
– large and small hole size sieve
– random orbital sander
Step 1: Finding the Inlay Material
To start you will need some inlay material. You can buy pre-crushed stone for inlaying but it is expensive and you usually only get one or two ounces. I suggest you buy larger stones and crush them yourself. It is far cheaper, you get larger quantities, and you can control the size of the stone chips. Look for stones with a hardness of 3 – 6. Good choices for colored stones are azurite, mica, alabaster, chrysocolla, dolomite, fluorite, howligte, malachite, turquoise and slate. If you see terms like chalk, imitation, howlite, stabilized or reconstituted you should know those stone are either fake or very poor quality. These stones can be used, but each batch will have a different appearance. For example, dyed howlite turquoise when smashed starts out dyed green near the edge but turns white towards the center. This can create a nice soft green/white stone inlay but will not look like true turquoise.
When buying stones, I shop three online sources: mineral sites, bead sites and ebay. Mineral sites sell stones with a solid coloring. Bead sites sell stone with color or hardness flaws. You can find great deals on ebay but without knowing exactly where the stones are coming from you are always taking a risk. I prefer to buy from beading companies because I can get affordable stones that are soft enough for inlaying and the variation in color adds visual interest. I usually get my stones from Fire Mountain Gems or Great South Gems and Minerals. Here are some turquoise beads that will soon be crushed for inlay. Since I have bought them from a bead company they are not gem quality coloring
Step 2: Making a Mortar and Pestle
To crush the stones you will need a strong mortar and pestle. An inexpensive mortar can be made from large pipe nipple and a pipe cap. A second pipe nipple, one size smaller, with two caps will be your pestle. A set of fine and medium sieves will help with sorting stone sizes.
Step 3: Crushing Your Stone
Place a few stones in the large pipe, insert your pestle and hit it with a hammer. This will leave you with large, medium and small stones to be sorted with your two sieves. After smashing only a few stones, you should have enough material to begin an inlay.
*Warning* Like sawdust, stone leaves behind a fine dust that can be harmful to your lungs. Use a dust collection system and wear a well fitting dust mask when crushing stone.
Step 4: Preparing to Inlaying
Here is a walnut pencil holder that will be a nice addition to any desk. This pencil holder could be made better with a little extra flair. I have drawn a bird on my cup. If you have trouble drawing, you can use graphite paper and trace an image onto your wood.
Step 5: Stock Removal
Using a rotary tool with a router bit or barrel carving bits, carve a 1/8” depression where
you plan to add inlay. Small areas or sharp points can be carved away with your Exacto knife.
Step 6: Three-Stage Stone Gluing
Once finished carving away your drawing, fill the space with your largest stone chips using thin super glue. After your glue has hardened, use your random orbital sander or a belt sander to grind your stones flat. *Warning* the fumes from super glue can irritate the eyes, nose and lungs so keep the work area well ventilated.
Step 7: Finish the Project
Now you have spent hours focusing on few inches of your project. When you step back, you will realize that the rest of the project needs to be finished. The best way to put a clear coat on your project is by spraying. Spray finishes get an even, clear surface. I like a shellac-based finish for its dry time and how each layer blends together evenly. If you aren’t set up for spray gun finishes, use a can of spray finish from any box store or a wipe-on finish. My preferred wipe-on finish consists of equal parts shellac, denatured alcohol and boiled linseed oil. Mix these together in small quantities because your alcohol will eventually evaporate leaving your shellac too thick.
Stone chip inlay demands time and patience. After my students finished their inlays, they began to realize how much patience and focus it takes to finish a task. After doing an inlay, they found themselves slowing down with each project and ultimately, feeling more proud of the work they had done.
I want to thank Stephen Hatcher, a turner of some considerable skill. Mister Hatcher has sent inlaying supplies to my classroom and took time out of his busy life to give me advice. His kindness is much appreciated and his turning talents have left me wanting. Hopefully after years of turning I can match his skills. Mister Hatcher’s web site supplies not only photos of his work but it also teaches the fundamentals of stone inlaying techniques.