The Process of Intarsia

By Chris Rentmeister (goldfinch4) on November 27, 2010

Intarsia is cutting, shaping, fitting and gluing various species of wood onto a wooden background for decorative purposes. In this article I'll show the entire process of making an angel.

This is the angel pattern I'll be using for this project.  You can see the legend on the lower right side that gives you suggested shades of wood to use.  The shades are also marked on each pattern piece.  The short lines on the pattern represent the grain lines of the wood.



The first step is to run several copies of the pattern because it will be cut into pieces and you need to leave space around each piece for cutting.  Sometimes for small pattern pieces, if they will be cut out of the same wood and in the same grain direction, I’ll leave several of them together.  For this pattern I’ve left the face in one piece, also the hair and some of the wing pieces.


Next I select the wood I want to use for the project. Using removable spray adhesive, lightly spray the back of each pattern piece.  (Further down in the article is a picture of Duro Spray Adhesive, the one I prefer to use.)  You want to put enough adhesive on so that the paper sticks well to the wood and doesn’t come off during the sawing process, but not so much that it’s difficult to remove when you’re done cutting.  A pretty light coating will do.  If you get too much on you’ll have to either sand it off or use turpentine to remove the paper.  If you use turpentine the wood will have to be cleaned well before finishing – lots of extra work.  Each pattern piece is sprayed and applied to the wood before putting glue on the next piece.  Make sure to place the pattern so the arrows on the pattern align with the grain of the wood. 

Now it’s time to cut out the pieces.  Here is the scroll saw that I use and a picture showing the size of a scroll saw blade. It's important to always use a sharp blade or it tears the wood.

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It’s also very important to saw exactly on the lines of the pattern or the pieces won’t fit properly when you try to assemble them.  After each piece is cut out I remove the paper and start to fit the picture together.

OK, all the pieces are cut out and I’ve laid them together to make sure everything fits properly.  If a piece doesn’t fit well it may need to be recut.  Some of the pieces end up pretty tiny like the ones in the face of this angel. 

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Next is the shaping and sanding process.  This definitely takes a while.  The two pieces of equipment I use mostly for this process are the oscillating spindle sander and a belt sander.  The oscillating spindle sander spins the sanding sleeve around and at the same time the sleeve moves up and down.  I have six different diameters of sleeves and several different grit sizes of each.  You can see more about the shaping process in my other article, The Art of Intarsia.  Click this link to see the article: The Art of Intarsia  

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Here are a few stages of the project as I shape and sand them.  I continually check the fit of each piece during this process and sometimes they need to be reshaped a bit.

 2010-11-27/goldfinch4/1f668d  2010-11-27/goldfinch4/437aad

After everything is cut out all the pieces are glued together.  There are lots of good glues out there but right now I’m using Elmer’s stainable wood glue.  Be careful not to get any glue on the fronts of the pieces since it will show up as ugly spots when you varnish it. 

Front and back of the piece when glued together.

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After the glue dries it’s time to make the backing.  I use 1/8” fiberboard or something similar.  It’s sturdy, relatively thin and doesn’t weigh a lot.  Lay the project on top of the fiberboard and trace around it.  Be sure to also trace the inside holes, like around the head and arms in this project.  The back is cut out with a scroll saw again.  When I cut it out, I cut approx. 1/8” inside all the lines so that the backing doesn’t stick out from sides when it’s glued on the project.  After the back is cut out, glue it to the back of the angel.  I stack catalogs on top of the project as it dries to make sure all areas of the piece are glued to the background. (Pretty technical!)




And here is how the back looks once it’s glued to the angel.


Now it’s time to finish your project.  I use some type of clear spray varnish, polyurethane, enamel, etc. to finish and seal it.  This one was sprayed with Valspar.  This process really brings out the colors and grains of the wood.  I generally apply three coats, lightly sanding between each coat for a smooth finish.  Attach the hanger of your choice and you’re done!

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Approximate time

Cutting out paper pattern, wood selection and gluing pattern on wood: 3/4 hour

Cutting pieces out of wood:  2 hours

Shaping and sanding:  4-1/2 hours

Gluing pieces together:  1/2 hour

Cutting out background and gluing angel on background:  1/4 hour

Varnishing, sanding and attaching hanger:  1/2 hour

Total:  8-1/2 hours


Add those 8-1/2 hours to the cost of the following supplies and you’ll see that there's a lot invested in each project.



Copies of pattern (I don’t include the cost of the original pattern since I usually use it many times)

Spray adhesive



Scroll saw blades (this project used 5 blades)

Sand paper, sanding belts and sanding sleeves

Wood Glue

Spray Varnish

Picture hanger


I charge $38.25 for this item in my store, which I think is extemely reasonable.  Intarsia is a labor of love for me, not a profit center, since it would be impossible for me to make a living at this.  But I really do get a lot of pleasure making intarsia items and hope you’ve enjoyed viewing the process.

Click here to view my Timber Treasures Store:  Timber Treasures 

Related articles:
art, arts, belt sander, intarsia, sanding, saw, scroll, scroll saw, shaping, spindle sander, wood, wood art, wood craft, wood working, woodworking

About Chris Rentmeister
I grew up in Wisconsin and have lived here most of my life. My hobbies are woodworking (specifically intarsia), working with hypertufa and cement, polymer clay, cooking and gardening. Whatever hobbies I'm interested in I tend to do to the extreme.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
wow! imapigeon Jan 3, 2011 2:53 AM 3
greater appreciation for my purchases! Maridell Dec 7, 2010 9:09 AM 5
Thank you quilter5 Nov 28, 2010 4:26 AM 5
thank you Dutchlady1 Nov 27, 2010 12:39 PM 3
Well Done! azreno Nov 27, 2010 11:57 AM 2

Timber Treasures

Beautiful hand made intarsia and fretwork art for sale. Some of the categories include birds, wildlife, angels, snowmen and much more. Large price range of items available. Come and discover more about these unique woodworking techniques.

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