I like working with inlay because I want my craft-work to be beautiful to the eye. This seems to happen most easily (for rattles) when I ‘listen’ to the wood. This means paying attention to the process. Attention to the type of wood I am working. Each type of wood has different characteristics to exploit. I am also paying attention to the natural features of that particular piece of wood in my hand. and under my knife. I want to utilize all the existing cracks and defects; the nubby spots where branches used to be; the bark and surface texture below the bark; how the wood changes as you carve deeper into it. Listening to the wood with meditative attention!
I often use branches for handles. Sometimes I use wood split from a round with a maul. I rally am not seeking nice straight symmetrical pieces. I like funky, wonky branches with a curve and a dip and lots of cracks and defects (sort of like me, chuckle). A piece with some character!
Once I have the piece of wood carved into a handle, I further accentuate the beauty of its natural features with my craft-work. The most common way I do this is by applying stone ‘inlay’. The laying down of natural crushed stone into cracks or defects. Usually I will accentuate existing cracks (even very tight ones) with my carving gouges. I have tiny, and larger, ones shaped lie a “V”, or a “U’ that I most often use for this purpose. The crack has to be large enough to receive the ground stone. Sometimes I work on larger natural defects in the wood and inlay them as well. Sometimes I leave cracks, and defects, alone because they are so nice how they are!
I only use natural crushed stone for inlay. I don’t like synthetics that are readily available. They gemstones I like to use most are dark blue Lapis Lazuli, green Malachite, light blue Turquoise and adobe colored Pipe-stone (Catlinite). I occasionally use others though these are my favorite. I like them for several reasons. The colors are stellar, and look good together in any combination. It is very important that the stone is soft enough to finish easily with sandpaper. I do all my work by hand, no Dremel, or other electric rotary tool. Why? Because that is how I like it… all hand carved and finished. I do use an electric drill to create a hole in the top post of the rattle, which receives a tiny cedar dowel. Here is my blog post about Tiny Cedar Dowels. All these stones have wonderful metaphysical properties, though my relationship with them is more intuitive then having to do with my understanding of their metaphysics.
There are several ways I know to inlay stone into wood. They both use chemical solvent glues. If you are a true ‘primitive skills’ fanatic (which I respect, and appreciate) then you don’t want those chemicals in your rattle and should choose one without any inlay. One way is to use Cyano Acrylate (CA) glues, Superglue is a brand name most people are familiar with. You lay the crushed stone into the crack/defect and then apply CA glue to the stone which fixes it to the crack. I did not like my results with that method.
The way I inlay is using a 30 minute 2 part epoxy. First I mix the right amount (for the job) of 2 part epoxy. Then I add crushed stone to the epoxy. I add is slowly until the right consistency is reached. Not enough stone then it is too much like epoxy. Too much stone and it becomes too pasty. Experience is the teacher here. Different grades of crushed stone require different treatment. Powdered stone results in a more flowing product which is easier to place in very fine, smaller cracks. It has a very homogeneous appearance. Crushed stone ‘sand’ can be fine, medium or coarse grade. The coarser the stone the more pasty the product, which is better for larger cracks and defects. One benefit of a courser stone sand is the final appearance looks more variegated like tiny pieces of stone. In general, the end product should be way more stone than epoxy. It should look like stone. So lovely!
When the stone epoxy is placed into the crack, or defect, I try to make the top very level with the surrounding wood. This makes for less sanding. Sanding is a real problem if the stone being used is too hard. Garnet was lovely but I don’t use it cause it is too hard to sand easily (and I have a lot of rattles to make!).
Sometimes I finish rattle handles strictly with my knife (no sanding). The effect is wonderful though this precludes the use of inlay. When sanding I become a fanatic! When working the handles initially I might start with a very coarse sandpaper of 150 grit. I progress to 220 grit, then 320 grit, then moving a a fine 400 grit sandpaper. I used to stop there and consider the handle done, and ready for oil. Then I found a product that took it to the next level. One of my ‘secrets’ is using a sanding product called ‘Micro-Mesh, Ultra-Flex Cushioned Abrasives’. These are cushioned pads with abrasive on both sides that start with a very fine grit of 1500 (!) and progresses through 9 pads to an insanely fine grit of 12,000 !!! Using the last 2 pads are more like polishing than sanding. They leave such a lovely hand feel on the surface of the rattle.
Here is a gallery of handles with inlay…