Now that we have the positive in mother of pearl, it’s time to cut the negative on the fret board.
While it can be done with hand tools, dental chisels, knives, etc., it’s much easier to do it with a Dremel or Foredom rotary tool equipped with the proper router style base. Bases are available from several companies or you can make your own. For much of my time inlaying I used a Dremel but have, in the last two years, switched to a Foredom. While either will work the Foredom is much more powerful and most important to me the motor is well away from my ears. I still wear hearing and eye protection but it’s much more quiet having the motor several feet away instead of having the Dremel right in your face. The downside is that it is considerably more expensive.
I start by setting the inlay on the board and using a lead holderI can keep the lead much sharper than I can a standard pencil giving me better results. Some people use a white tempera paint and a scribe and while this works fine with ebony, using open grain woods such as rosewood, the paint will be very hard to get out of the pores.
I use down cut spiral carbide bits to cut the channel for the MOP. I have three sizes 1/8″, 1/16″ and 1/32″. I use the biggest bit I can to get the job done, saving the 1/32″ for only the finest lines and details (they break if you look too hard). I also use very good light so that the pencil line is clear. I start at the center removing the bulk of the wood before I attempt the edges. Of course, ebony is much more forgiving than lighter woods because the fill is easier to match. One thing I’ve found comes in handy is a fish tank pump attached to the base so that it blows the dust away as you go.
I now carefully test fit the pieces. It is very easy to break them at this point. I often find the first time the piece will not always drop in. I mark the spot that needs enlarging and route out again.
I use two methods of gluing. On big pieces, I use epoxy and black coloring, fill the void and wait for the glue to cure, then sand back down. In this case because of the fragility and the closeness to the fret slot, I place the inlay in position and lightly glue them in place with a small amount of cyanoacrylate. Then once dry I can use colored epoxy to fill any gaps, making sure to avoid the fret slots. The final thing is to now cut for the open “a” and “o”. I do this with the Foredom with the 1/32″ bit.After cutting I simply fill the holes with black enamel and I’m done.
The trick to this is, of course, practice. Most of all have fun.