Guitar Making Tip No. 805

Guitar Making Tip No. 805 is about drilling for round inlays. Round inlays are some of the easiest in all of guitar making. If you can drill a hole, you can produce round inlays. There is one thing that you need to watch out for however, and here it is.

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My First Mistake With Round Inlays

guitar making tip number 805When I started doing inlay work, I was amazed at the detail and precision that some of the best builders used in their masterpieces.

Not knowing how to do anything like that myself, I decided to start with round inlays because they were too easy to mess up.

I was wrong.

Having underestimated my ability to screw up something simple, I ruined a fretboard in spectacular fashion.

I was drilling on the press, and not only did I not set the depth stop correctly, I neglected to realize that the table top was not locked in place either. As I was running the fretboard through the small chute I made, I was drilling the holes all too deep.

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On top of that, the table was moving slightly with each hole, so my row of holes was veering off center. Here is what I learned about drilling inlays from this now-laughable experience…

Check Your Depth Stop Before Drilling

When you drill for round inlays, the only real thing you need to get right other than placement is the depth. Use a scrap piece that is the same thickness as your fretboard, and do a couple test runs.

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Make sure that you use a piece of the same thickness, otherwise your depth stop setting will mean nothing. Test drill a few cavities, and test fit your inlay dots.

The big thing is to make the hole deep enough to take in most of the inlay piece, but not so deep that the inlay ends up below the surface.

Check your depth setting carefully, and when you are satisfied, move on to the real thing. You should also make sure that your table top is not loose like mine was either.

Making Your Own Fret Dots to Help With Drilling

If you are using pre-made fret dots from abalone or mother of pearl, then you know they do not give you a ton of margin for error. They are thin, and require a fairly accurate depth setting to get right. There is a way to make the job easier though.

Don’t use shell or pearl inlays. You can Make Exotic Hardwood Fret Dots following my instructions, and they are easier to install. You can also make then a little thicker than normal inlays. This will give you more meat to work with, and require less precision on the drilling end of things.

I really love hardwood for my inlay work. Shell is nice, and there are people that make gorgeous things from it. I however really like to see wood on wood when I make a guitar. The look is better for me, and the instrument is still make from mostly wood in the end.

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What I Learned Drilling for Inlays

The big thing that I learned from this experience is to make sure that your setup is good before going forward. Sometimes we get into a rush and want to complete the step before we are actually ready. This is a recipe for mistakes, and I have made a ton of them.

It is actually kind of funny now looking back at the fretboard I messed up. I kept thinking that the line of fret dots were coming off center but I also kept telling myself that it was an optical illusion and my jig was perfectly centered.

I forced myself to drill all the way to the last dot on the upper frets, and from that vantage point I could see that I was well off center. From there I investigated and found that the table top was loose. I ruined a fretboard because I failed to check my setup before I carried out the process.

Remember, don’t drill your inlays too deep, and make sure that your setup is good before doing anything in the shop that cannot be undone.

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