Cutting Mother of Pearl Inlay

      Tips on tools and techniques for working with mother-of-pearl. December 29, 2008

Question
I'm getting ready to do a box lid that will have a mother of pearl oval in the center, with a rose inlayed into the mother of pearl. This is my first time working with mother of pearl, so any suggestions on cutting it would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Veneer Forum)
From contributor J:
I have used a jeweler's saw. It looks like a coping saw only smaller, with blades that have a square (or nearly) cross section. They come in various tooth pitches, some so fine you need magnification or run your fingernail down the edge. Use a board in a vice, with a V-notch in the end that widens out below the surface, to support the work. Hold the saw handle below the work, and mount the blade to cut on the down (pull) stroke. Smooth the edges with a Dremel tool with a diamond burr. Glue with epoxy. Good luck. (Try jewelry making books in the library.)



From the original questioner:
Thank you. I was going to try an ultra-fine tooth spiral on my scroll saw. I've seen the jeweler's saw in the catalog before. Maybe it's time to purchase one.


From contributor B:
You don't need a power tool for this. The pearl cuts easily with fine blades. You get more detail and sharper corners than you would with the large kerf that the spiral bits leave. Draw or print your pattern onto adhesive labels and tape it to the pearl. Cut it out with a jeweler's saw on a v-notched jig as suggested. Then temporarily spot glue the pearl onto the work piece with some crazy glue and scribe around it with a sharp pointed scribe. Pop the pearl off and cut out the recess with a Dremel tool with a router base and a 1/8 or 1/16" router bit (it's easier to handle than a Roto-zip or a laminate trimmer). Glue the pearl in place, and file it flush before sanding. You'd be surprised how soft the pearl actually is to cut, file, and sand. Guitar headstocks and fretboards have pearl inlays and the luthiery catalogs are a good resource. Stewart MacDonald's has pearl (white, gold, and black) pieces and you can get sheets of pearl that are laminated together for larger work.


From the original questioner:
Thank you. I will definitely keep it in mind the next time I use MOP. I ended up using a laminate trimmer with an 1/8" downcut spiral bit to remove the bulk of the material, then a sharp razor knife to finish it off.


The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor W:
Also remember that the particles from cutting and sanding mother of pearl and abalone are very harmful to your lungs. Donít forget to wear an approved respirator.



Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?


Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Veneer

  • KnowledgeBase: Veneer: Techniques

  • KnowledgeBase: Woodworking Miscellaneous


    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.



    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2014 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB











  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers


      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article