Inlay is the decorative technique of embedding contrasting materials into an object, usually flush with the surface.
A pattern of depressions or spaces is cut into the base object for the inlay material to fit into.
Polished, coloured stones can be inlaid into marble, and precious metals are often used to inlay a metal base object. Bookbinders sometimes use leather inlay to intricately decorate leather bindings.
Marble inlay has been practiced for centuries and can be see on historic buildings such as the Taj Mahal, while the craft of inlaying precious stones was perfected in Florence in the sixteenth century.
Wooden bases, often furniture and musical instruments, can be inlaid with contrasting wood, mother of pearl, ivory, metal, bone, string, wire and shell. With wooden inlay most of the base object remains visible, unlike marquetry where a pattern of wood veneers covers the whole surface of the object.
The process of inlay involves carving or gouging out a design on the base object and then carving, snipping or sawing an identical pattern from one or more pieces of contrasting material.
This material is then fitted or glued into place, a filler material can be rubbed or dribbled into any small gaps, and the piece is sanded or polished flush.
The traditional art of inlay is still practiced widely. Scottish furniture maker, Gavin Robertson, uses exotic wood inlay to emphasise elements of his Arts and Crafts-inspired pieces.
Some makers make use of modern materials, tools and techniques to produce contemporary results, for example using laser cutting tools instead of cutting by hand.
Scottish jewellery designer, Emma Chalmers, inlays gold, silver and coloured wire into compressed steel.
Watch this video to see how crushed semi precious stone can be inlaid into wooden vessels using a lathe and hand tools:
Please note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of Craft Scotland, but of the comment writer.
If a comment made does not comply with our Terms and Conditions, please use the ‘report’ button to let us know.