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Thread: Metal Inlay in Wood

  1. #1
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    Metal Inlay in Wood

    I have a question for all you gurus out there. I have a customer who has asked me about doing a metal inlay (brass?) in a wood box. (high end jewelry box) 2 images per box, top and front. Im looking for ideas on where to go to get the inlays cut out. (laser? Water jet?) I would then laser a recess in the wood, glue in the metal and then sand flush. Lots of work. So my second question is this what other methods would you consider? My thoughts:

    Foil stamping, gold foil with a stamping press

    Would DyeSub work? Can you get a metallic look? If I had someone print the images could I get a press and put them on?

    An Inlace (Powdered metal) glued into a reces with epoxy or CA and then sanded flush.

    Any others ideas would be welcome. This could be a nice regular job of 200-500 items per year. BTW -- the image shown is just a Windows symbol but it is similar to the logo in style. I was asked not to post the logo itself.

    Thanks in advance,

    Jeff in northern Wisconsin
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  2. #2
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    For that quantity, no question in my mind... waterjet. You could cut out enough brass designs in 30-50mil brass in an hour or two, costing you a few hundred $s, not including material. Start with an engraver's brass sheet (clear coated), stack 'em, cut 'em, throw 'em in a box.
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  3. #3
    The only concern I would have is wood movement. As the wood would contract and expand at a different rate of the brass. My first inclination would to make the inlay cut just slightly larger. IE a .005 gap or so. This could keep the brass from buckling in the future. If the wood is a engineered wood like ply then its less of an issue. If not look at a wood that has the least wood movement.

  4. #4
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    One thing I forgot -- the size is just under 2" and if cut it would be 13 pretty small pieces. Might be a bear to glue up all the parts.

    The wood will be solid but should be pretty stable, it's very dense.

    Jeff in northern Wisconsin
    SawmillCreek.org

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  5. #5
    You may check on a local metal fab shop to get some ideas. I had some stainless steel water jet cut awhile back and the clean up
    and polishing took quite a bit of time. You may consider doing a die and have it punch pressed.

    I needed it done in a hurry and it was quite a bit expensive, for a 12x15x.5" piece of stainless which I had about 12 pieces cut out
    (I provided a DFX file so it saved some on set-up) cost me over $1000.
    There is quite a bit of set up on a water jet as compared to a laser.

    Another thing to consider is Rub n Buff as a fill, that tends to look nice. I believe Mike Null mention some metallic paints awhile back
    you may do a search here and see.

    Before I would do a foil stamp, I'd explore screen printing. Dye Sub doesn't have metallic ink set that I am aware of.

    There are other metal process out there such as CosmicChrome, but the aren't cheap.

    Let us know what you decide on.

    Marty
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  6. #6
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    Jeff,
    For the ease of use I would consider inlace or something like that. You can laser the pocket through a mask and then apply the inlace and remove the mask when it's dry. Cleanup should be minimal as you can control the height of the inlace above the wood with your mask. Any time you mix an inlay cut by someone else and a pocket that you have made, you will have to fiddle with the sizing, inlace takes out that variable. If I couldn't cut the inlay and pocket with my laser, or my router, then I would try to find alternatives.

    Gary
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  7. #7
    With that much volume I would consider having them die cut or cast. Castings in that volume can be surprisingly inexpensive. Try Catania.
    Mike Null

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  8. #8
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    If the brass is fairly thin, then etching the parts from the sheet ("chemical milling") is a cost-effective way to go.
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  9. If you are in need to do a sample, and the metal was thick enough, I would go for a jewelers saw to make the initial sample. It is CHEAP, easy to use, and not too labor intensive, minus changing out those little blades every time they break! You could even put a mask over the metal, laser the lines to be cut, then saw away by tracing those lines.

    From my understanding a laser cutter will not work on a reflective material like that. Waterjet is in my opinion your best bet for a production run. If you are going to a waterjet company, they will most likely charge you just as much to cut out one logo, as they are would to cut out 50. Minimums can be a bear in that industry, understandable, but not very practical for one-off jobs. The finishing will always be an issue when going for a polished metal, you can obviously purchase it polished, but it will scratch easily... and there is no "easy" way to fix scratches in polished metal.

    Gluing it in and sanding it flush does not sound very practical to me, not to mention dirtying up the wood with all that metal sanding dirt. Then, how would you finish the wood? I think if I were to go about it, I would have the pre-finished wood box, raster the inlay shape, then glue in the polished logo. You will not be able to get it perfectly flush from #1-#500 with rastering the negative, unless you were to cnc mill into the wood the depth of the thickness of the metal.

    As for the dye-sub, I don't think that screams "high-end", foil would be cool, but hard to work with as it is very fragile.

  10. #10
    There are quite a few companies that make thin custom brass Christmas ornaments, cheaply, that may be another avenue to explore.
    Martin Boekers

    2 Epilog Legend EXT36 75watt Lasers
    Geo Knight K20S 16x20 Heat Press
    Geo Knight K Mug Press,
    Ricoh GX-7000 Dye Sub Printer
    Zerox Phaser 6360 Laser Printer
    numerous other tools and implements
    of distruction/distraction!

  11. #11
    Chewbarka might be a good person to talk to. Otherwise, the metal is not a difficult task. I'd open up the yellow pages and see what options you have locally. I normally find when doing research within the industry, it's fairly easy to end up in the right place. I think stamping or laser cutting will be your best bet. CNC and waterjet are options as well.

    Honestly, if I were you, I'd be most concerned with getting a consistent engraved depth. Wood is inconsistent. I'm not sure if you can get 500 pieces engraved at the same depth. In fact, I highly doubt it. Would it be good enough? Hard to say without knowing the wood. Personally, I think a CNC router is a more accurate tool for the job.

    It might be opening a can of worms, but it might be worth looking into building the boxes custom. It's a bit of a long shot, but there is a possibility that there might be a benefit of building everything from the ground up.
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  12. #12
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    Ross is correct about the inconsistent depth... though one possible way around that is to engrave with enough power that it is always too deep with the intention of sanding the wood down to the level of the metal. You will still run into issues with sanding into the metal, but it's another avenue to consider.
    Hi-Tec Designs, LLC -- Owner (and self-proclaimed LED guru )

    Trotec 80W Speedy 300 laser w/everything
    CAMaster Stinger CNC (25" x 36" x 5")
    USCutter 24" LaserPoint Vinyl Cutter
    Jet JWBS-18QT-3 18", 3HP bandsaw
    Robust Beauty 25"x52" wood lathe w/everything
    Jet BD-920W 9"x20" metal lathe
    Delta 18-900L 18" drill press

    Flame Polisher (ooooh, FIRE!)
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  13. #13
    The inconsistency of the wood can easily be remedied with a sufficient first depth of engraving and adjusting with adhesive. Without seeing a representation of the logo, actual or not, it's hard to recommend a solution.

    If the parts can be incorporated into a coin shape then I'd stll look hard at a casting.
    Mike Null

    St. Louis Laser, Inc.

    Trotec Speedy 300 Newing Hall 350 Hot Stamping
    Woodworking shop CLTT and Laser Sublimation Sand Carving Graphtec CE5000-60
    Evolis Card Printer
    CorelDraw X5 , Engravlab

  14. #14
    Oh I missed the point about engraving the depth in stead of cutting it through. I have to tell you that is very difficult. I have done it with the inlay piece being wood and I could sand it smooth. Your only option is to engrave a little deep then sand it to the perfect depth (before inserting the inlay piece) other wise its going to be a disaster. Overall I have to say what you want to do is going to be difficult at best. Practice on a couple pieces of scrap before you spend any money having the metal cut. Engravinging to a particualr depth is very very very very difficult. I have tried on many ocasions and failed. Thats not to say its not possible but count on lots of scrap.

  15. #15
    Ok a little math and based on the Forests Wood Property handbook lets look at Walnut.

    At 6% (and up to 14%) walnut will have a coefficient of around .002 per inch. So at 2" thats .004. If you happen to glue you inlay at during a dry period you can expect a gap of .004 or slightly less depending on which side gets most of the gap. If you happen to glue your inlay during the wet part of the year (summer) you can expect it to crack the wood or buckle the metal inlay. Your best bet here would to be make sure you have a slight gap if not you can be assured that best case the glue will fail or worst the wood will buckle the thin inlay.

    most softer woods like pine and ceder have lower coefficients. Also Quarter sawn wood is a bit more stable than Flat sawn wood. For instance flat sawn hickery or beech have a coefficient of almost .005. Thats .02 of movement for a 2" piece.

    Wood expansion is a given and its important that with any project we kee that movement in mind or you may get a call 6 months down the line from a very unhappy customer.

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