Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dovetail Butterfly Inlays

Each panel is supposed to have two butterfly / bow tie inlays positioned along the glue line, creating the impression that they're holding the panel together.

I was pretty nervous about this detail.  To get to this stage of the project after so many hours working on and screwing up and fixing those panels, only to pick up a router and with one slip destroy them.  I said as much to my wife and told her I wanted her to compare the bench with and without the inlays and decide which she prefers and to really think about it because I was nervous about this operation.
Without Butterfly Inlays

With Butterfly Inlays
I used double-sided tape to stick them on so we could do a quick with/without comparison.

End result: she wants the butterflies.  Her reasoning was as follows:
  1. They look amazing.  It's an awesome detail that really brings the piece to a new level.
  2. They might help distract the eye from the fact that the front-center panel doesn't match the side ones.


So how am I going to go about this?  I didn't really want to buy a mini/trim router with collars and the inlay template kit that would do this for me.  It's still a router.  I really hate routers.   My brother owns several routers.  I could try to make my own template but my lack of confidence is sure to lead to something going wrong.

Initially, I wasn't even sure how I was going to make the butterflies.  They're too small to do safely on the bandsaw or table saw.  I hate routers.  Handsawing?  Eventually I remembered something I saw Tommy MacDonald do when he was working on his BombĂ© Secretary.

I prepped a few butterfly blocks (loaves?) at 3/4" x 1-1/2" x whatever, making sure the grain was running straight across the face of the butterfly.  Then I made a guide block with a 14 degree angle on it for my chisel to follow.  With this setup, it's a simple matter of cutting a saw kerf right down the middle until it just touches the top of the butterfly and then flipping the loaf around and chiseling each angle until they meet.

14 degree guide block

Chisel the loaf into shape.

Slice the loaves on the bandsaw.

Well that wasn't too difficult.  With that done I decided to just inlay them by hand.  I figure the slow pace will lead to fewer mistakes and less to worry about.

Mark on the butterfly which way is up.  Trace around it with a marking knife.  Then use a chisel to create a knife-wall all the way around the inside of those lines.  Scoop the center out as best you can with a chisel.  Keep checking for fit as you go.

Be careful of the sides of the butterfly where it meets the long grain of the panel.  This is the area I had the most trouble with.  The chisel wants to walk outward and the panel's grain is weakest in this direction.  A few of my inlays are 1/16" wider or so.  I'm going to try to fill them with slivers and dust and glue or something.  Or maybe I won't.  It's handmade and I'm not a professional.  Little imperfections might be interesting.

Then take a mini or small router plane and even out the bottom of the recess.

Put a little glue in the recess and on the back of the butterfly and smush it in.

Set them aside to dry and then plane and sand them flush.

I decided to do all 8 panels even though you won't see the back ones for the sole reason that it would give me 3 panels to practice on before attempting the inlay on a show surface, and then if they turn out better than the front-center panel, I'll have 3 options for replacing it.  

I think this took about 5 hours total.  It was very relaxing and satisfying.  I just put in my audio book and chipped away at it.

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