Once you have your turned platter sanded to 60 to 180 grit (depends how messy you are with inlay and gluing), and you have designed the piece and drawn the design with a pencil onto the wood, you can use a diamond parting tool or thinner parting tool to prepare the border for inlay, if there is going to be one. If there isn’t going to be a border, then you can go straight to carving. (If you are at all unhappy with the design once you see it on the platter, sand the outline away and start over. If you are unsure, try filling it in with pencil or colored pencils/markers to give you a better sense of how it will look in the end. In my experience, if the design is even a little bit off – crooked, too big or small – you won’t be any happier once you are done so just bite the bullet and start over.)
I use a Dremel 4000 and 4300 with a Flex shaft attachment. I’m on my third or fourth one and have had to replace the chord in the shaft attachment a few times but generally find them to be reliable. The cheaper knock-off versions aren’t worth the bother. Having two available so one doesn’t overheat is a good idea.
I use a variety of bits sourced online. Over the years, what has been available has changed so now I tend to order a lot of the ones I like. Most recently, those are Drillpro bits (0.8 – 3 mm, 10 piece set), Jiuwu 1.00 End Mill Engraving Bits, 10 piece set; HQ Master 10 pc 1/8th” 17mm carbide flat nose end mill router bits double flute upcut spiral; and Metalworking Tools, 1/8th inch carbide CNC 4 flute spiral bit end mill cutter – all available on Amazon.
I usually just sit in this chair, hold the piece of wood on my lap (often it is still in the chuck), and go at it, blowing the smoke and shavings away manually or with the Dremel. But sitting next to a fan is a better and healthier approach.
There are a variety of Dremel attachments to help you carve circles, control depth etc. but I generally just freehand it. The depth depends on how thick the wood is and also how you want the final piece to look. I’m not worried about having an exactly uniform depth when inlaying with metallic powder. For larger pieces, I usually carve a bit deeper. If you are inlaying stones or abalone shells, a more consistent depth of about 3/16 – 1/4 inch is good.
The inlay process can be messy! At least, it often is for me. But no need to worry. I find it better not to worry about being too neat for the initial inlay – which is why I usually don’t sand to such a high initial grit – that way I can quickly sand off any excess glue.
You can inlay with whatever you want. Here I am using various metallic powders to create a raku-like effect. For this, I use Super Thin CA glue from Starbond.
I have used malachite, turquoise, lapis and other minerals; abalone shells; little silver, gold or black flakes; pebbles and various other materials. For this type of inlay, I used to use different thickness CA glue but now would opt for epoxy.
In general, I prefer metallic powders because I like having more control over the colors. I also like the raku-effect and not having to use so much glue or deal with the little air bubbles. Plus, I like the depth and three dimensionality you get from the metallic powder rather than the flatter surface of other types of inlay.
Usually you need to add the metallic powder in layers, hitting it with the accelerator between layers and giving it a blast with your air-compressor to make sure all spots are covered. You can always go back and touch up as needed.
Woodturners often complain about sanding. I’m not sure why. To me, it’s just another part of the process. Put some headphones on, hit your favorite playlist, and off you go. That said, sanding is a lot more pleasant since I got this new KJR sanding system from Craft Supplies. Much sturdier than the ones I used previously.
For sanding sealer, I use shellac and denatured alcohol, which you should spray on your piece before doing the inlay gluing as it will prevent the glue from staining the wood. I sand up to 1200 grit, then use the Abranet pads 2000 and 4000 grit before finishing with lacquer. But often I will airbrush or woodburn some highlights/accents before finishing.
I use Dru Blair’s Createx airbrush paints. A few years ago Dru offered a weeklong airbrushing course specifically for woodturners. It was a lot of fun. He is truly a master- very much into realism – to the point where his paintings are often chosen as the real thing over photographs! Definitely worth checking out his workshops if you have the chance.
In some cases, I will use dyes for accent or highlight, applied either by brush, airbrush or with a paper towel. In that case, I use TransTint dyes. TransTint dyes and alcohol can also be used to add color to minerals such as dolomite.
Dyes will sink into the wood so cannot be sanded off as easily but specific areas can be adjusted/corrected easier. Paints can be sanded away easily but if you layer paints, as I usually do, and you try to correct a spot, you will usually end up having to sand the whole piece back and start over.
In either case, tread lightly. The final result always appears darker and it is easy to overdo it. Also, if you are working in a really bright area with lots of natural sunlight, like I usually am, you need to remember that the piece will appear darker when displayed in most homes unless there is an accent light directly on it. This piece, for example, was perhaps a bit on the darker side when I finished it in the bright morning light but appears a little darker than I would like when displayed in a dark wood cabinet without an accent light.
Once I’ve completed the airbrushing or the woodburning of highlights, I usually add my chops (stamps). I have a variety of stamps in different sizes and styles. The chops, which are typical in Chinese art, are very much part of the design.
At that point, I’m ready to finish the front of the piece. I usually use multiple layers of Deft transparent spray lacquer (satin, semi-gloss or gloss depending on the effect I want), rubbing the piece with the 4000 grit Abranet every 6 coats or so.
The front of the piece is now ready (unless I later decide to wax it). The next step – which will be the subject of the next blog – is to turn, sand, sign and finish the back of the platter. Since I haven’t done that yet for this round of platters, it may be a while so check back in from time to time to see if it’s posted.