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Getting Started in Intarsia


Awhile back, a member of Scroll Saw Village (Clayton 717) put together a wonderful set of progression pictures where he created this intarsia portrait of Christ.  It was a lot of fun to watch the process.  The end result was stunning.  I asked Clayton if he’d be willing to write an article for Scroll Saw Goodies on how to get started in intarsia.  He was kind enough to share some advice on getting started in this wonderful hobby.  Once you’re done reading his article, be sure to stop by Scroll Saw Village and check out his progression pictures and descriptions.

Getting Started in Intarsia

by Clayton Baker

Intarsia is a type of woodworking/art combining several pieces of wood, (different species) to create a finished project. It is often created with varying thicknesses of wood to make a 3d type affect. By using different species of wood you get different colors and varying grain patterns that makes each project unique. There are never two exactly the same.

There are no special tools required.  I started doing intarsia with just my scroll saw and a dremel rotary tool, (used for shaping) and a regular orbital sander. There are several tools which make it easier. Now I have a oscillating spindle sander(OSS), this makes it much easier. The OSS will square up the edges after cutting, along with the shaping part. There are several sanding machines that are available, that will aid in the shaping of the pieces. I use the OSS, an orbital sander, my dremel and of course hand sanding.

If you would like to start intarsia, but don’t want to buy a bunch of patterns, check you local library for books. This is where I got my first patterns as well as some directions about intarsia. There are several intarsia artist out there. A few of my favorites are Judy Gale Roberts, Kathy Wise, and Bruce Worthington. These are just a few.  I have used patterns from them and they are very good to work from. They all have websites.  Judy Gale Roberts is – you can buy patterns, books and instructional videos about intarsia. Kathy Wise is at and she sells patterns.  And the last is Bruce Worthington at he has patterns and a couple free ebooks for intarsia. All three have great patterns on information.

There are also several books, one that I recently had was by Kathy Wise called Intarsia Woodworking Projects. It has patterns in the book and has lots of tips and info about intarsia.

I like to glue the whole pattern to poster board then cut out all the pieces with an exacto knife, this way I can save them and use them over and over. Instead of printing or getting copies made every time I want to do the project. I then put these pattern pieces onto the wood and trace around them with a fine pencil or marker. This way I can kinda pick the grain patterns I like. Many just use spray glue to attach the pattern to the wood. No matter which way you use, NEVER use the original pattern, make copies. After all pieces are cut and I start the fitting process, I use two faced tape to hold the pieces down while getting the fit I want. On large projects(like the Christ I’ve done) there are to many pieces (122) to hold together to get the fit. The tape holds them down and together while getting all pieces to fit together. After all pieces are fit together I’ll start the shaping process, once this is done I’ll glue up small sections (for  a large project) and let them dry then I’ll glue the whole thing together. For this I use silicone, just a couple of dots on the edges, enough to hold the together, this way if something goes wrong or doesn’t fit right on the final assembly, the pieces will come back apart without having to cut new ones. The once its all together and dry I will glue to a backer board. And attach the hanger. I stamp and sign all of my work. Then I’ll hand sand any problem areas, like where I got sloppy with the silicone or glue.  Next step finishing.

For finishing I like to use polyurethane. I apply with a brush, so I can squeeze it into all the cracks. I never use stain, this way the natural beauty of the wood comes out. There are several types of finish available, this is just my preference because I can buy it almost anywhere I go.

If you have been thinking about trying intarsia, don’t be intimidated by it give it a try. I was at first, I didn’t think I could do it, now I love it. I spend most of my shop time working on Intarsia. It requires a lot of work but the finished project is worth it.

About The Author
My name is Clayton Baker. I live in NW Ohio. I have always been into woodworking and have been scrolling for about 17 years. About 2 years ago I started doing Intarsia. My first project was a pretty simple one, I just wanted to “try” it, now I am hooked. Intarsia is my favorite type of woodworking now. I am still learning this craft as I go, but have finished several different projects. Intarsia makes beautiful wooden art. My advise is to start with a simple pattern and go from there. My finished work can be viewed at

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  • blame

    great article clayton i enjoyed reading it. thanks