Top 3 Best Woods for Inlay

Marquetry is a technique used since the older times to enhance the beauty of wood. To this day it is one of the best techniques that a woodworker can employ in his projects. In marquetry, you need to use contrasting wood for inlays from the piece itself. However, not all species of wood are good for marquetry. If you don’t have any idea of what wood is suitable for this technique, then don’t worry, we got your back. In this article, we will discover the top 3 best woods for inlay used in marquetry.

The best 3 woods for inlay are cherry, maple, and holly. These woods have really tight grain which makes them perfect for the job. This is why most woodworkers use them for the purpose of marquetry. Not to mention woods like cherry have a dark colour that contrasts with most other light-colored woods. On the other hand, maple and holly have a very light colour which contrasts well with other dark species of wood.

When we talk about marquetry, the wooden inlays are mostly contrasting in colour to the main piece. This is so that it stands out and is more pronounced than the wood used in the project. But wood isn’t the only thing people use in marquetry, they sometimes also use metal. Golden and silver-colored metal wires made of bronze or silver are often installed as inlays in wooden furniture. Marquetry highlights wood in a way like no other.

Top 3 Best Woods for Marquetry

1. Cherry

We feel cherry is one of the best woods to use for inlays. It has a really beautiful colour that really pops out in any kind of woodwork. The colour and its tight grain structure are really attractive, whether you use it by itself or in marquetry and inlay. Natural cherry wood by itself is not very dark though, but when you apply a finish after completing the project, it has a more deep and defined look. It almost becomes a dark red and brown colour that contrasts really well with lighter shades.

If you are working on a light-colored wood, for instance, oak, birch, or ash, then using cherry is one of the best decisions you will ever make. Cherry is a hardwood with a tight grain structure, which is why it is one of the best woods for inlay. It is aesthetically pleasing, woodworkers find it a pleasure to work with. 

2. Maple

Everyone knows maple as the best wood for hardwood flooring. It has a very tight grain structure and a pale colour that just stands out from the rest. Maple is one of the best woods for inlay because it contrasts beautifully with species of wood that are dark. Not to mention a lot of woodworkers enjoy working with it, not just because of its durability, but also due to its aesthetics.

Maple inlays really suit well with dark woods like dark American walnut or mahogany. It contrasts their dark shade with its pale and light colour. Also, it is plenty durable so you can expect it to last long even under constant stress.

3. Holly

Holly is another pale wood, even more so than maple, which is a great choice for marquetry projects, specifically furniture. As with maple, it works best in contrast to wood that is dark in shade. It has a tight grain structure, but it is not defined as much as it is in maple wood. However, when it comes to aesthetics, holly has a great look as an inlay wood.

The only caveat with holly for inlay is that it stains and discolours very easily. So using it in something like a cutting board, bowl, or any other kitchen utensil would not be a great choice. It will start to darken or discolour and ruin the look of the whole project.

Most Beautiful Wood Used in Marquetry

One wood that is used in marquetry a lot is mahogany. Being the best is not exactly synonymous with being the most beautiful. This is why this species of wood was not included in the list. Everyone knows about mahogany as a wood, its beautiful color just stands out in the crowd. We all know that any wooden item made from mahogany will be substantially more beautiful just because of the wood itself.

The reason why it was left behind from the list of the best is that mahogany is very expensive. Not to mention, at times we can’t even identify real mahogany from other woods in the same family or faux mahogany entirely. Only experienced woodworkers can identify the subtle differences between real mahogany and other woods from the same species or fake ones.

Best Value for Price Wood Used in Inlay

When it boils down to the best value for the price when it comes to wood for inlays, maple is the clear winner. Maple has a long life, it is used in basketball courts, bowling alleys, and flooring, because of how strong and durable the wood is. It is resistant to shock, duress, and stress. For the same reason, it is the best value when it comes to inlay too, because maple is considerably inexpensive and pretty tough.

Tips for Choosing Woods for Inlay

  • Contrasting Colours: If you are choosing wood for inlay and marquetry, check out what the colour of the main piece is. The inlay wood should have a contrasting colour, so that it pops out and just catches your eyes from far away.
  • Durability: While durability is not the biggest of concerns when it comes to wood for inlay, it should still be considered a factor. The reason is that inlay wood is a very thin piece cut out of a veneer usually. If it is not durable, it will break under stress. It would be pretty visible in a thicker piece and would completely ruin its aesthetics.
  • Works with your choice of Finish: After you are done with your marquetry project, you will probably want to apply a finish to it. If the wood you have chosen for your inlay turns too dark or something after you apply it, then it will ruin the look. While most people would choose a suitable finish for the job, you can always choose a suitable wood for the project too.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of wood is used in inlays?

Wood with a tight grain structure is usually preferred when it comes to inlays.

What other materials can be used for marquetry other than wood?

You can use metal and even gems for inlay in marquetry projects other than woods.

What finish to apply after you are done with your marquetry project?

Any finish that does not change the look of the inlay wood should be better. If your finish changes the colour of your wooden inlay, it might ruin the contrasting look that you might be trying to achieve in the project.

Final Thoughts

Marquetry is an old art that is still being carried out by proud woodworkers to this day. Knowing what kind of wood to work with is essential in any woodworking project. This is especially important when you are choosing wood for inlay and marquetry. Hopefully, our list of top 3 woods for inlay will give you the idea that you need for your next marquetry project.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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