I have often been asked how to get started in intarsia from people interested in this type of woodworking. I have thought long and hard about how to answer this question and I have come up with this Intarsia and Segmentation Woodworking for Beginners article with some tips and advice that I have for anyone interested in getting started with intarsia or segmentation woodworking. In the photograph examples that I will show, I am using a pattern by Kathy Wise called Clydesdale and Colt.
The first recommendation that I have for anyone interested in beginning this type of woodworking is… Do your research! Kathy Wise produced a book called “Intarsia Woodworking for Beginners” published by Scroll Saw. This is a wonderful book to help get you started. Intarsia and segmentation work is extremely rewarding, but involves attention to detail and is very time-consuming, so you will want to do your research first.
The next thing that you will want to do is find a pattern that you like. The key work here is “like”. Picking out a pattern that I really didn’t care for was my first mistake on my first intarsia piece. Why spend so much time and effort creating something that you don’t really care for? “Intarsia Woodworking for Beginners” by Kathy Wise has some beginner patterns in it to use or you can find and purchase patterns online. For your first piece, I do not recommend trying to come up with your own pattern. Your pattern should be selected before you decide on what woods to use.
Determining what wood to use is one of the most important things about doing intarsia woodworking. Each piece should be planned from what type of grain to what color wood to use. The more exotic woods can get very expensive, so not everyone has the luxury of getting very creative. In your very first piece, I would not recommend purchasing very expensive woods just in case you determine half way through your project that this is not really for you. If you choose to do segmentation piece instead of an intarsia piece, the type of wood really doesn’t matter since you will be painting or staining the wood anyways. Some good woods to start with is maple, cedar, pine, aspen, and walnut. These ae all beautiful woods that do not cost a fortune.
The next step is getting your pattern onto your wood so that you can cut out the pieces. I use carbon paper and draw out what I am going to do. This then transfers the image from my pattern to the wood itself. I do a few pieces at a time. This is the easiest way that I have found to cut your pieces accurately. Sometimes it can get a bit difficult to transfer to the wood piece when the pieces get really small, so this will require patience. Once you have everything drawn out, you can begin cutting.
In cutting out the wood, I use the band saw for large pieces and the scroll saw for small pieces. The scroll saw has proven to be excellent when working on the very intricate detailing. As you are cutting everything out, it is easy to lose your place and sometimes I find myself asking “Where does this piece go again?” I normally use a process of only cutting out a few pieces at a time and then assembling the design as I go by laying everything out on a table. This will help keep everything straight as you are cutting.
Once you have everything cut out, you can begin shaping each piece. To do this, I use a sanding wheel to round the edges of the and a drum sander attached to a Dremel tool to shape the wood. This is very time-consuming but is very important part of the process, because this is where you give a flat image shape. You get to determine how rounded you want the edges, where the peaks and valleys should be in the piece, etc. This is where you give your project life. Again, I only do a few pieces at a time and put them right back where I picked them up from so that the individual pieces do not get out-of-place or lost. I also suggest doing this on a solid and stable surface because when my son was very young, I was working on a motorcycle project that had approximately 200 pieces in it. He didn’t mean to, but he knock over the work space I had everything sat on while cutting everything out and I just ended up scrapping the project because it was just too difficult to find where every single little piece went.
After getting everything shaped up like you would like, it is time to put it all together. If you are planning on painting or staining the project, this is a good time to do it. You will want to paint not just the top of the piece, but it is a good idea to paint the sides of each piece before you assemble everything as well so that from the side view, everything is covered. To put everything together, you will need a backer. You can do this a few different ways. 1) you can have a thin piece of backer board cut to the shape of your project that you can glue everything to or 2) you can assemble your piece within a frame by creating a background and glueing the project against a back ground and then framing it. I normally make the decision on which to do depending on what type of project I am working on.
Then you will want to put a finish on the wood. This will help seal the wood and protect is as well as giving it a finished look.
You are finished! It takes a lot of time, effort, and patients to create on of these projects, so enjoy your finished result.
I did not go into great detail on a lot of the points in this article, but for more information and pictures, please visit my website at
-- Chris Mobley - http://www.cmobleydesigns.com