View Full Version : Exotic inlay materials

Bob Rath
12-09-2010, 8:34 PM
The current edition of Fine Woodworking (Jan/Feb 2011) has a good article on page 90 about exotic inlays and it mentions materials like mother of pearl, abalone, abalam laminated shell, reconstituted stone and acrylester that can be used for inlays. All of the materials are listed as being available in the .040 to .250" thicknesses. Although the article is focused on using the materials in hand cut inlays. I was wondering if these materials can be cut with a laser...specifically a 45 watt laser. As always, I appreciate SMC input...

Dan Hintz
12-09-2010, 8:56 PM
Shell materials are notoriously fussy about laser cutting... you can get a decent cut, but it takes some tweaking, and many have burnt edges, inconsistent cut depth, etc.

The reconstituted stone will have its own issues as it's like trying to cut a piece of solid marble with the laser...

John Noell
12-09-2010, 9:06 PM
I use a very thin laminate, available in pearl and pau (abalone) that cuts pretty well with 45 watts. You will need to clean the edges a bit, esp. for the pearl shell. I also etch a lot of thicker pearl shell but you won't be cutting it with a 45 watt CO2 laser. Demolish it yes, cut it, no. :)

Mike Null
12-10-2010, 4:34 AM

I've cut .040 abalone with the same machine you have.

I cut it from the back in several passes at lower power to avoid cracking the material.

Do a search and you'll find some other threads.

12-10-2010, 10:29 AM
I use to hand cut this stuff. In the guitar world of inlay, rosewood and shell dust is bad for the lungs. I know fumes are different than dust... But FYI for what it is worth.

James Leonard
12-10-2010, 1:34 PM

I use a small CNC router table that is fully enclosed to cut natural shell, abalam and recon stone. Carbide router bits work very well for this. My dust collection goes outside via an underfloor (computer floor) dust collection system. The only materials you are going to get in .250 are abalam (extremely expensive at this thickness), acrylester and recon stone. You MAY get small pieces of white mother of pearl at that thickness (think Ukulele nuts). Abalone is getting increasingly expensive. I just bought 10 pounds of green abalone inlay blanks (random size pieces, mostly around 1.000 x 1.000 x .060). This has some bark on the back, it was bought as 'good one side'. Since abalam is also only 'good one side' I don't see a problem with that.

-James Leonard

Dan Hintz
12-10-2010, 3:57 PM

I'm diggin' the raised computer center floor setup... perfect for both electrical and exhaust. but I imagine it's not so easy to use with a lot of heavy equipment without a lot of support.

James Leonard
12-11-2010, 7:29 PM
Hi Dan,

The floor consists of 24" x 24" steel tiles with a linoleum (I think) surface. Each tile is supported on all four corners. There is NO sign of any flexure even under my Delta Pro 8" jointer which is REALLY heavy. My Jet Pro sander is also not light. The floor does even notice these loads. This is the same floor that is used at my day job in the computer center. I hate to think what some of those huge industrial UPS units weigh. You can see the four corner stands that support the tiles on the home page here:


I don't have stringers installed and I don't have the floor anchored to the concrete below. Before I went to buy installation mastic I installed 4 tiles and jumped up and down on them for a while. Not a hint of movement. This also gives me confidence that I have circumvented the requirement that nothing be 'permanently' installed over the floor that prevents use as a garage.

I got the whole thing on eBay (for a 20' x 20' garage) for about $300 including renting a van to bring it home in. I plunge cut the edge ports for the electrical and dust collection hose with a 6" Porter Cable circular saw and one of their metal blades.

-James Leonard

Tim Neal
12-14-2010, 12:05 AM
I only have experience with acrylester. I make and sell secret compartment keychains at arts and craft shows. They sell well in the $13 range. I got bored one day and decided to to kick it up a notch and crate something that might sell for a good bit more at the more artsy shows. The item below was made from Corian, with inlayed acrylester butterflies. Acrylester cuts like butter with a laser, so you wont have a problem there.