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Thinking how to attack my first inlaying project


So far I’m happy with my chain and other exercises.

I’ve been reviewing the relatively recent Ganoksin dialog regarding
inlaying into silver.

This is what I get for not having a tutor… I have ask some
questions about which way I want to attack it:

A) I realize that pouring the silver into a wood engraving is
definitely out, due to the temperature of the silver burning the
wood. I’m also aware of lower temperature alloys like solder being
possible, but these are not silver. I’ve even heard of low melting
point non-toxic gallium-based metal alloys. Could I consider going
sci-fi and creating a sterling with gallium in it for an alloy with a
melting point less likely to harm wood? And how could I predict the
melting point of a.925 Ag/.075 Ga eutetic?

B) From what I understand, engraving the wood conventionally and then
hammering in the wire is the best way, but from what I understand
this is a master class technique that is daunting to learn.

C) I have thought of drilling a series of tiny holes in a line normal
to the surface of the wood, and then pounding the wires through the
holes. Simple, but how would the results really look?

D) I have also thought of faking it by riveting. I’d make a layer of
wood and a thin silver base. I’d take a jeweler’s saw and saw my
pattern through both. Then I’d hammer strips of silver through the
pattern, attaching the strips through the back side of the base.

Which is the least difficult way to start silver inlaying into wood?

Andrew, Wouldn’t it be easier to inlay the wood into the silver than
the other way around? A well fitting piece of hardwood can be glued
into a recess in sterling with epoxy with great success.

Jay Whaley

I’ve not done this myself but had a friend years ago who did some
very nice silver inlay into coconut shell. Cut curved lines (an
intitial) into the coconut at right angle to surface then shaped and
inserted a narrow strip (strips) on edge into the cut lines,
pressing or tapping in with small hammer. Then he sanded and polished
the curved surface of the coconut shell, bringing the silver down to
the same level as the surface. The contrast was lovely.

You might be able to scribe or mark your pattern on the wood, choose
a drill sized a little smaller than the thickness of your strip and
drill holes close together along the lines. The depth need not be
very deep but certainly a little less than the width of the strip of
silver to be inserted. Then use a sharp narrow blade to “connect” the
drilled holes along the line if the wood can be cut easily that way.

Alternately, use a set-up like a router to cut the channel in the
wood to the proper depth.

Using only round drilled holes for the design and inserting wire
vertically can also be very interesting visually - kind of like

Hope these suggestions help you work out something for your

My best,
In still Spring-like Mesa, AZ!

Wouldn't it be easier to inlay the wood into the silver than the
other way around? A well fitting piece of hardwood can be glued
into a recess in sterling with epoxy with great success. 

Master Whaley, wouldn’t the use of epoxy be considered cheating?

Andrew Jonathan Fine

Master Whaley, wouldn't the use of epoxy be considered cheating? 

Jay can post his own opionion, but here’s mine too…

Jewelry making is not a game with rules that get you disqualified if
you break them. Craftsmanship is best judged by results. While in
some cases, the use of glues gives an end result with less durable
long term durability, or a less precise or attractive appearance, or
in other ways might compromise the quality of a piece, simply the use
of glue in the proper contexts, and properly done, is merely a
different method, not cheating. If it works well, and solves the
problem with the desired results, then use it. Glue is nothing new,
but in old style traditional jewelry, often it was discouraged in
part because the old time glues may not have had adequate performance
levels over time. Modern glues are better than what they had a
century ago, and the rules thus are different. In some situations,
glues are actually a better way to do certain things. Obvious
examples abound in industry (think of adhesives holding aircraft
wing skins together thus avoiding the stress cracking of rivet holes,
for example), but are also found in jewelry work as well.

If it’s merely a shortcut because you don’t have the skill or don’t
want to take the time to do it a better way, then yes, some would
call it cheating or at least a less than optimum method, but
cheating is a poor term. Better would be simply to acknowledge that
it’s not the best way. But the use of glue by itself does not
automatically mean that it falls into that catagory. Glue in some
situations may well be the best method of doing a thing as well as
the easiest, and if the end result in appearance, strength, and
durability, meets all expectations, then don’t feel guilty about it.
Some techniques may avoid the use of glue and are then more difficult
to do, and some people will get all impressed by the higher skills
needed to do a thing without glue, but this is false praise. Unless
the jewelry itself is better for the lack of glue, then the praise
should be reserved only for the higher skill levels shown, not for
the resulting work if that work itself is no better off for it.

Peter Rowe


I started making jewelry in the early 70’s, in Arizona, immersed in
the Indian jewelry scene. My early work could easily be confused
with real Southwest Native-American silverwork. As my silverwork
became more sophisticated, I began inlaying woods and semi-precious
stones in my work, and this work became much more modern in
appearance than the work I had done before. This inlay work, while
still very Southwestern in appearance, was uniquely my own style, and
enabled me to break away from the work I was doing before.

Epoxy glue was what all inlay artists used to attach the inlay
materials into the metalwork. Inlay work, when done carefully,
shouldn’t show any evidence of glue, and I made certain my inlays
were pristine. All the inlay was mounted into rigid metalwork, with
no chance to flex and pop out the inlay. I am now re-polishing an
inlayed sterling bracelet I made for my sister that is about 35
years old, and it still looks brand new, everything still tight and
secure. The making of jewelry these days encompasses just about every
material and technique you could imagine, and epoxy glue is
definitely part of the many tools we use here in my studio.
Sometimes, we will use a “cushion” of epoxy to put under a large cab
we are bezel setting. While we are not depending on the glue to
secure the stone, it serves as a way to keep the stone at a perfect
height for the bezel, and helps keep the stone steady during the
setting process. The epoxy is not seen, and the metal bezel is what
holds the stone in place.

Now if you are talking about “Fine Jewelry”, with traditionally cut
and set there isn’t really any need for epoxy, or any
other kind of glue. The metalwork is designed to hold all gemstones
securely. So although many classically trained jewelers would turn up
their noses at inlayed silverwork with glued-in materials, I
personally hold the Southwestern tradition of glued-in inlay in very
high regard. Check out the prices those authentic old Native-American
inlay pieces get at auction!

So no, I don’t consider using epoxy “cheating”. It’s like any other
tool, it has its uses, if used correctly.

Jay Whaley