Canadian Woodworking

Inset pierced carving

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: October November 2014
Inset pierced carving
Inset pierced carving

Adding small, intricate details, like this Japanese wave motif insert, creates a unique piece that you will enjoy for years to come. And the design options are limitless, so you can add something that has meaning for you.


Adding small, intricate details, like this Japanese wave motif insert, creates a unique piece that you will enjoy for years to come. And the design options are limitless, so you can add something that has meaning for you.

I located and then drew the outer perimeter of the insert onto the lid. I set up my router with a straight bit and a template guide, and measured the difference between the outer edge of the bit and the outer edge of the template guide. In my case it was 3/16″. I drew a rectangle onto a piece of MDF that was 3/8″ larger in either direction, accounting for the additional 3/16″ on each of the four sides. I then cut the rectangle out on my table saw.

I then secured the MDF template on top of the lid. I clamped wood blocks to my work surface to keep the lid stationary, and added more blocks to locate and secure the MDF template. With clamps I fixed everything in place, being careful not to apply too much force, and flex the lid out of shape. I plunge-routed the rectangle in the center of the lid, then squared up the four inside corners.

Rectangular Template
Once the template is cut to size, it is centered over the location of the cavity in the lid and fixed in place with spacer blocks and clamps. A plunge router, equipped with template guide and straight bit, will create the cavity in the lid.

Inset pierced carving

Small Tolerances
Here, the insert, with veneers in place for spacing, comes very close to fitting into the cavity, indicating a good fit. Once the veneers are attached to the insert, a sanding block can fine-tune the insert to fit.

Inset pierced carving

Lots of Cavities
Once small holes have been drilled into the insert, the sawing starts. Brown carefully cuts out each piece with a fret-saw, being careful to cut perpendicular to the upper surface of the workpiece.

Inset pierced carving

Low Pressure Clamping
Using small cauls to disperse clamping pressure, Brown applies contrasting veneer, first to the ends of the insert, then the sides. Not much clamping pressure is needed.

Inset pierced carving

Flush it Up
A rigid sanding block helps to level the insert. Masking tape, applied to the maple lid, protects the surface of the lid and gives you clues as to how close to the surface you are sanding.

Inset pierced carving

Deep Waves
In order to give the insert some depth, Brown uses a chisel to remove some of the waves height. A little depth goes a long way.

Inset pierced carving

The insert

I wanted to add a layer of mahogany and maple veneer between the lid and the inset, for visual contrast. I cut four oversize pieces of each veneer, then cut the inset to final width. When placed beside the four layers of veneer, the final width of the insert would be ever-so-slightly wider than the rectangle cut-out in the lid. Once assembled, the final fit would be sanded to perfection.

The thickness of the inset blank was sized so that when it was inserted into the lid both sides would protrude beyond the lid and could be sanded flush.

I only cut one end of the insert to fit the opening, as I wanted to have something to clamp to my work surface while I worked on it. I marked the other edge with a pencil, to give me a visual to work towards when cutting the wave pattern.

Piercing and cutting

I pasted a pattern I found and modified from the Internet to my insert, then bored holes in each of the cut-outs. Once the insert was clamped to my work surface I used my fret-saw to cut each section out. You could use a scroll-saw, but I found my saw a little too aggressive for this tiny task. Your patience may be tested at this stage, but it will be paid off with great results. I left a 3/16″ bor­der for strength and aesthetics. At this point the insert can be cut to length. Best to check three times, and cut once.

Add contrasting veneers

Starting with the short, maple veneers, I glued them onto the outer edge of the insert. Once they were dry, I carefully trimmed them flush and proceeded with the next pair of veneers. Once all eight pieces were glued to the insert I fit it to the cavity and glued it in place. Some sanding left me with a good friction-fit. Remember, yellow and white glue will swell the wood fibres dur­ing assembly, so don’t leave the fit too tight.

Flush the insert

Once dry, I used a variety of tools to remove most of the excess insert material. I only reached for my hard-backed sanding block after removing about 90 percent of the waste. It’s best to be conservative here. The upper, convex surface is much easier to do than the under surface of the lid.

Add depth

With a pencil, mark the parts of the waves where some over­lap will add to the visual effect. Use a sharp chisel to score the wood fibres perpendicular to the lid’s surface, then to come in at a slight angle, adding some depth to the insert.
A final sanding is all that’s needed, before adding a finish.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


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  2. Hi Ronald. This project was completed about 10 years ago, so I can’t remember all the details. Having said that, There are many approaches to cutting a piece that small. It could be ripped to width while still part of a longer workpiece, then cut to length and fit in place. Hand tools are always an option too.

    If you build one of these please send me a few photos of the finished project. I might be able to include them in an upcoming issue – [email protected].

    Good luck!

  3. You wrote: ” I then cut the rectangle out on my table saw.” How did you do that? isn’t there over cut? And the width would not accommodate the cut of a table saw. I’m a little confused.

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