How to Make a Wire-Inlaid Wooden Necklace

I know in my last post I said I'd do some epoxy inlay stuff, but I just finished a run of epoxy inlay and have been doing some wire inlays recently instead. So, wire inlay it is today, epoxy inlays another time.

A simple wire inlay on a carefully chosen piece of wood can create a beautiful piece of jewellery which will last for years. This tutorial will cover a very simple, single wire inlay, but the principles for doing more complex things are the same.

First up, choose some wood. Lets assume we've gone through the standard rough-cut, shaping, sanding montage and go straight to selecting from some wooden pendant blanks.

Left to right I have Purpleheart, Padouk, Douglas Fir, more Purpleheart and the one I've chosen, a piece of American Black Walnut. It doesn't look too jazzy now, but when we're done it'll be really nice. Walnut is quite an understated wood, but it's definitely got class.

So, first things first - mark where you want your inlay to go in pencil, then score it with a sharp knife. I'm using a scalpel but a stanley blade or craft knife will do. A few gentle strokes are better than one heavy one. If you want it to be straight, which is easier to inlay, then definitely use a ruler or straight-edge here.

Next, take a small file. This one is triangular, but a square or flat file is fine too. Run it along the score you made with the knife to open out the gap to the width of your wire. Again, repeated gentle strokes are better than powerful ones.

Check you've made it wide enough. This is half-round - also called "D" wire because of it's shape in profile - sterling silver wire, and it's 0.6mm diameter. The curve of the D is going to sit in the groove we've made, so the flat side is flush with the wood.  Once you've got it the right size, cut your wire to length - slightly longer than the groove you've made.

OK, so here comes the fiddly part. To make it easier, I've shaped the wire to roughly the profile of the groove in advance.  If you're doing a curved inlay, doing this is much more important. Time spent here will be repaid later on when your piece is covered in glue.

Cyanoacrylate (superglue) is a great glue for this - it's strong, it sets fast and any spills are easy to remove. Just be careful that you don't glue your fingers together!

Fill your groove with glue. Don't worry about overspill, that's going to happen and you'll deal with it later on. Because superglue is so enthusiastic about sticking to skin, I like to use a pokey tool (technical term) to push the inlay in.  Start at one end and work your way to the other, adding more glue as required.  There aren't many photos mid-inlay as I didn't want glue on my camera!

Here you can see I'm using the tip of a file to just hold the wire in place while the glue goes off. It only takes a few seconds, especially if it's a warm day.

Once you've got everything glued into place, it's time to sand off the excess glue and get the ends of the inlay flush.  Be very careful here, you don't want to catch an edge and pull the inlay out. A gentle touch is the order of the day, but it doesn't take long to get everything nice and smooth and tidy and flush.

Above: before and after, on the left sanded, cleaned and ready to be finished.

In my experience walnut is quite good at soaking up varnish, so it might well take a few coats of before you get a nice finish on there.

Something like Padouk will be lovely and glossy with only one or two coats, but this piece took five - albeit very light - coats of polyurethane and then one acrylic topcoat.

A few more details, a nice silver chain and we're done. This walnut inlay pendant and other modern wooden jewellery is available to buy on my Etsy store.

This is just one very simple inlay, but the principles are the same for more complicated stuff. Why not try some nice smooth curves, other patterns or mixtures of different metals, like in the photo below.


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