Picking the right inlay materials for your next woodworking project can be the choice between a beautiful piece of art and a tacky bit of junk. It doesn’t matter how good your skills are if the materials you use are standard.
When it comes to inlay, there isn’t much you need to know before you make your purchase, however, this knowledge will make all the difference. Today, we are going to explain what an inlay is, the 5 best inlay materials on the market, and what to look for in inlay so that you can make the right choices too.
What Is Inlay?
Wood inlays are created when a woodworker cuts a pocket or void into their wood and then fills that space with another material. This material could be another type of wood, it could be crushed stone, it could be anything that lays in that gap.
When the process is finished, the product looks impressive, but in reality, the technique is simple, especially if you are not using the wood option.
Glass, crystal, and flake materials have become more popular in recent years. In particular, the soft magic community and the nature enthusiast community have started to abandon traditional solid wood or plastic items for those with a touch of natural enchantment.
Quick 5 Best Inlay Materials
If you want a quick answer with a helpful link, then follow our list below:
- Dragon’s Eyes (Cultured Opal) from Easy Inlay
- Amethyst (Crushed) from World of Wood
- Gold Flake (Flakes) from Easy Inlay
- Turquoise (Powdered) From Bluejoy Turquoise
- Lightening (Strips) from Easy Inlay
Want to know why these inlay materials are in our top 5? Check out the full review below. But first, we want to explain the 3 factors you need to consider when buying your inlay.
OUR TOP PICK
Easy Inlay’s cultured opals are designed for jewelry. This means that they have delicate colors prepared for close viewing. The Dragon’s Eye is their most special inlay as it contains the fire-y depth that you usually only see in rare opals.
These stones are not natural, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Natural opals are physically beautiful and chemically unique, but Easy Inlay has managed to copy these rare traits into their stones. This means that they look, feel, and react the same way that natural opals would.
The reason why we loved them so much is because they create that natural stand-out design while managing to elongate their life span. Natural stones will fade over time, but Easy Inlay’s Dragon Eyes will keep their color, their luminosity, and their brightness for decades.
To create these cultured opals, Easy Inlay uses a process called “sedimentation of monodisperse silica particles under gravity.” It’s a mouthful, but it means that the synthetic silicon opals grow in water. They take about a year to mature, and in that time it produces exquisite structures that mirror the natural growth of opal. This is why they look so believable.
On the Mohs Hardness Scale, the Dragon’s Eye is rated at 4. This means that it is easy to sand down. Easy Inlay suggests using Silicon Carbine or Aluminum Oxide sandpaper with a hardness of 9 to polish or sharpen the surfaces.
- Vivid Colors
- Mohs Hardness Scale - 4
- Long Life
- Easy to Use
- Made from Silicon
World of Wood’s Amethyst stone is natural and not synthetic. If you hope to avoid plastics or other unnatural materials, then World of Wood is an excellent choice for you.
However, as with most natural materials, World of Wood cannot confirm that you will receive the same coloration that they are offering. The colors will vary, which means that they can be unusually light. We have noticed that in their Amethyst product,
We received a couple of batches, and not all were affected by this disappointing lightness, but those that were couldn’t be darkened in water.
The other batches we received were not discouraging at all. They held the color we were hoping for with chips of darker purple mixed in.
With every purchase, you receive a “how to guide,” which gives you step-by-step instructions for how to prepare the stones, how to inlay the stone, and what supplies you would need to achieve your goals. This little sheet will be super helpful to any new creator.
On the Mohs Hardness Scale, the Amethyst is rated 5, so you can crush up the stones even further if you want a more powdered effect.
- Real Stone
- Beautiful Color
- Mohs Hardness Scale - 5
- Comes with Handy Guide
- Some Batches Are Too Light/Lack Color
Gold flakes can add a touch of glamor to your woodwork. You often don’t need a lot to create the aesthetic you desire, as just a dash of gold can bring a sense of royalty to your product.
Some creators use gold flakes to line their wood’s pockets before filling them with the stone that embodies the main artwork.
Very few people use gold flake as a stand-alone feature, and Easy Inlay knows this. Their flakes are easy to handle and manipulate into the structure and position you desire. All you need are some tweezers and a relatively steady hand to place the flakes into their optimal location.
The flakes are rated 3 on Mohs Hardness Scale, which means they can hold their shape, but they will wear down over time. This is typical of any gold flake collection, but you will notice that Easy Inlay’s gold flakes can hold their colors for longer.
Surprisingly the pot the flakes come in is rather large for inlays, and it weighs 20g. This means you can use this collection again and again before needing to reorder.
- Easy to Use
- Strong Color
- Large Product Size
- Long Life for Gold Flake
- Mohs Hardness Scale - 3
Powdered stones cannot be manipulated any further than they already have. This could be great news to people who want to add a block color to their wooden tables or bad news for people who want to create a dynamic design.
As you can expect, the Moh Hardness Scale rates it as a 1.
We love Bluejoy’s Turquoise powder because the color was so vibrant against light woods and dark woods alike.
The turquoise itself is made from natural stone that has not been dyed or had color added to it. It is a true natural beauty. The stone itself was mined from the southwest of America. Only top class rough stone was chosen, as each segment went through a process that ensured the purity of the turquoise was perfect. Because of this, Bluejoy Turquoise gives you a quality guarantee.
Because the stone is natural, the product itself is super expensive.
- Amazing Vibrant Color
- Natural Product
- Already Powered
- Quality Guarantee
- Moh Hardness Scale - 1
If stones aren’t what you are after, then Easy Inlay’s strips might be the solution. These beautiful strips have a pre-made design of synthetic opals crushed and coated to make the process of inlaying even easier.
All you need to do is peel back the sticky backing and lay the strip into the groove. The strips were designed for rings, but in reality, you can add them to anything of the same width (0.15mm). You can cut up the strips and slot them into the crevices of an old desk, filling up the knotts as they arise.
Professionals and capable amateurs will likely prefer stone inlays that they can decorate themselves, but if you are just starting out then, a strip might be the best option for you. This is so you can learn the colors you would like to use against each wood type.
- Easiest Inlay To Use
- Amazing Vibrant Color
- Long Life
- Pre-Made - Less Creative Choice for Maker
Best Inlay Materials Buying Guide
The three things you need to be aware of before buying inlay for your wood are how it fits on the Moh Hardness Scale, the Color Choice, and the Size.
Moh Hardness Scale
Most woodworkers would tell a new enthusiast to avoid stones and minerals that are between 1 and 3 on the Moh Hardness Scale or between 8 and 10.
The scale represents how compact and hard the material is. It starts from talc (1) to diamond (10).
Low numbered materials, like soapstone, don’t have a long life, and they can be challenging to control as you try to place them into their predetermined sections. They are easier to handle than high numbered materials, though.
Anything above a 7 is difficult to manipulate. If you wanted to buy a whole stone to turn and sand yourself, then these high numbers will take a lot of time and frustration before you get the desired effect.
High numbered inlays are better for woodworks who want to use them as they are, with no adjustments needed.
Crushed stones like turquoise have a hardness rating of 5 or 6, making them easy to control, long lasting, and easy to shave down if you want a specific shape.
The choice of your colored inlays might seem obvious or even a moot point, however, the color of the wood you are embedding the inlay into will affect the overall color in the end product.
Light colored inlays may have their delicate shades stifled by dark borders. Consider the contrast you are creating and if you need to add a lightning resin to the design.
Dark colored inlays can morph into black if they don’t have lighter touches helping balance. This can also happen when inlays have been compacted together too tightly. Depending on your overall theme, you should practice the layout of your colored inlay before locking them into place.
Mixing colors is often a great way to alleviate shade tensions, however, they can take away from the powerful effect you might be trying to create. In this case, we suggest using a mother of pearl backdrop to keep the tone light without dampening the shade.
These are all suggestions of course. You should play around with the inlays to see how their appearance is enhanced or depleted with the wood you are using.
The size of your inlay should reflect the design you have thought out. Chucks of inlay may leave a gap in the void you have created, and soft inlay could result in a flat color.
The choice you make is completely derived from your design. If you want a color to act as if a bolt of lightning has hit your wood to create a single sheet of color, then powdered resin should be your go-to.
If you would rather the inlay suggested that your bowl was secretly laced in gemstones, then a crushed stone would give you an uncut effect, with just enough edges to seem natural while not leaving gaps of just resin.
If you are painting a scene that can benefit from areas of no color, then chunky inlays may be the perfect choice.
Most people pick between crushed stone and powered stone as they are the easiest to work with and create a magical atmosphere without leaving gaps.