I just thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about installing inlay banding. Everything I’m going to say will be pretty elementary to most, but might be helpful to some who haven’t tackled this technique yet. Here is a closeup of one of the corners of my recently posted chess table project:
The easiest way to install banding on a mitered frame like this is to do it on the individual pieces before the frame is glued up. Once I had the four sides roughly cut to size, but before mitering the ends, I cut the channels in each piece to accept the inlay. You can either do this on the router table, or, as I did in this case, on the table saw. Your method will most likely be determined by the width of banding you are inlaying. Since this one is only about 1 and 1/2 the width of a saw kerf, I thought the TS would be easiest.
The main thing to remember at this point is to set the fence for the first cut, and then cut a groove on all four pieces before moving the fence a smidgeon to widen the channel to the proper measurement. Then recut all four pieces and you’re ready to glue the banding in.
(Note: Most instructions I’ve seen tell you to cut your groove a bit shallower than the thickness of the banding so that it will sit a little proud of the surface. Then you can sand the banding down flush. I have found that it is very easy to sand all the way through the banding when doing this, so I prefer to cut the channel deep enough so that the banding is just slightly recessed, then come back and sand the entire surface down until everything is flush. This is somewhat more time-consuming, but you are a lot less likely to make a big mistake.)
A very thin bead of glue will suffice to hold the banding in place. Once it has dried, you can proceed to cut the miters. If you followed the instructions about cutting the groove in all four pieces before moving the fence, you should find that your banding meets up perfectly at the corners.
If you are a real perfectionist, you can miter the sides before installing the banding. That way, you could take the time to line up the banding so that the pattern match will be identical on all four corners. Personally, I’m just not that picky (which is why I’ll never be a real master woodworker).
Another note: If you want to install an inlay band in a rectangular pattern on a non-mitered surface as I did in the photo below, the best way I’ve found is to use the router table with stop blocks, then a sharp chisel to square the corners.
Now in case you are wondering about the plain bands of maple and walnut around the chess board, those are not inlays at all, but actually a frame-inside-a-frame. I first glued up the three thin strips into a single piece, then miterd the corners and glued them to the board before moving on to the main walnut frame.
-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"