Butterflies are (free) firmly imprisoned

I got the table top panels all glued up. By the way, for those of you who were wondering how much a 4 foot by 3 foot panel of 1″ thick white oak weighs (it certainly did me as I’m moving these around): its approximately 100 pounds. That’s for each panel; which means that the top, with extension, will be, by itself, about 250 pounds! I’m glad I made the base sturdy enough.

Next came the decorative ebony butterfly (or bowtie) inlays. I thought the top needed some type of ebony accents to tie in with the ebony plugs of the base. I made up the butterflies at the bandsaw, with minimal cleaning up with a shoulder plane and chisel. It helps to have a good, wide blade that yields fairly clean cuts. I made 6 inlays, 3 per side.

To start each inly, I scribed some double sided tape to the butterfly and placed into position. Its a lot easier to scribe around it if you are not trying to hold it in place with one hand. I used a basic X-Acto knife to scribe around it. Start out with a light, careful cut, angled in to be as tight as possible. The goal is accuracy, not depth. Multiple passes will get the lines deep enough. Cross grain is not a problem, but you have to be extra careful going with the grain, so that your knife follows the outline, and not the grain.


Next, I carefully follow the scribed lines with my chisel. Not going too deep, which might wedge them open with the chisel’s bevel, just enough to create a stop for the next step; which is chiseling out a small wedge to the line. This provides a visual boundary when routing out the waste, and, more importantly, provides a guides for the final chiseling.


I set the depth of my laminate trimmer with a spiral cut bit to be a little less than the depth of the butterflies. Then carefully start it up and plunge it in, routing as close as you dare to the edges. Don’t worry about getting ultra close; that’s what the chisel is for. After routing, use the ledge to guide the chisel in chopping all the down to the line, being careful to go straight down, or even slightly undercut. Again, start with the cross grain edges first, and finish up with the edge going with the grain. The hard part is over.


Unless the chisel or (horror of horrors) router got too wayward, the fit should be nearly perfect. I use liquid hide glue for the inlaying. It has good gap filling properties, if necessary, and it doesn’t affect any stains or finishes, which is critical. As a precaution, I save some of the dust from the routing process, and rub it around the inlay. This fills in any slight gaps so that they all but disappear.

gluedThe next day (make sure to wait a full day when using the hide glue) they are ready to be planed flush with a block plane. The ebony dust, while it makes beautiful black curls, will stain the oak, but that comes out in the final surface planing and/or sanding.


And, finally, the entire table top (although, with the extension leaf on the side, rather than its final central position), still to be cut to finished dimensions.


2 Responses to “Butterflies are (free) firmly imprisoned”

  1. LnddMiles Says:

    Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

  2. […] table series. So for your listening pleasure I present to you Chris Kenney reading his chimera post “Butterflies are free (firmly) imprisoned – Dining […]

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