A woodworking inlay is a type of woodworking technique in which pieces of wood, usually of contrasting tone or color, are placed within a relief cut into another piece of wood. The woodworking inlay can be fairly elaborate or quite simple, but in either instance, the inlay will create some sort of pattern, shape, or image. This technique is commonly used on pieces of furniture with at least one flat surface, though many other applications are possible. Woodworkers must be exceptionally skilled to create an attractive and well-made inlay, and specialty tools are usually necessary for this technique.
A simpler way to create a woodworking inlay is to carve a piece and then trace a pattern onto the base piece of wood. This allows for fewer base cuts and a simpler process of fitting the inlay into the base. More intricate woodworking inlay designs will require several cuts into the base piece of wood, and the smaller pieces of inlay wood will need to be carefully fitted into the base. A woodworking inlay can take a significant amount of time to complete in this manner, though if done correctly, the finished product will be quite attractive and eye-catching.
The process of creating a woodworking inlay is similar to a process known as marquetry, but the differences are quite distinct. Instead of inlaying the pieces into a base, the process of marquetry involves laying veneers, or thin pieces of wood, onto the base wood without cutting into it. The veneers are then sanded and finished, and usually coated with some sort of varnish, waxes, or polishes to create a smooth surface over the design. No cutting is done to the base piece, as is done during an inlay, but the finished product of both techniques often appears similar.
In order to make the inlay pieces, a woodworker is likely to use a scroll saw or a jig saw. These two tools are fairly similar, but a scroll saw is capable of creating more intricate cuts with tighter curves. Unlike a jig saw, a scroll saw is a stationary tool that features a platform known as a bench; this bench is where the woodworker will place the piece to be cut. The woodworker will move the wood rather than the tool, which is converse to the process of using a jig saw. Each tool features a thin, pliable blade that is ideal for small cuts.