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  • Writer's pictureIntarsia Wood Art

The Right Tools: What You Need to Get Started with Intarsia

Tools crafted in Intarsia woordwork

Intarsia woodworking is great because you don't have to spend a lot on expensive tools or need a huge workspace when you get started. Are tools important in the design and creation of Intarsia? Yes, most definitely. However, you can start with a basic set of tools (the must-haves) and work your way to better and more specialized tools (the nice-to-haves) over time.

Your tools, in addition to your dexterity and task-performing abilities, will furnish you with an extra capability that can distinguish between a good and an outstanding Intarsia piece. Read on to find out what you need to get started on your own Intarsia journey.

The Workshop

Before we begin discussing tools, a word about location. I have converted our single-car garage into a workshop. Every inch of space is filled with a workbench, cabinets, ventilation, lighting, and, of course, tools. It wasn’t always this way, though. Over the last 23 years, my space requirement has expanded to align with the intricacy and diversity of the projects I undertake.

For example, my latest acquisition is a laser cutter/engraver. To make room for that tool, I had to monopolize one of my workbenches. Despite the loss of precious workspace, I hope that this acquisition will further enhance my ability to meet my client’s requirements.

You can also set up your shop in a room inside your house, but keep in mind that dust will become your worst enemy. Whatever space you choose, you’ll have to find a way to capture or expel the dust you’ll make as part of the building process.

The Must-Have Tools

It’s important to keep in mind that you’ll need both hand tools and power tools to build Intarsia artwork. These tools can be categorized as must-have and nice-to-have tools. Here’s a list of must-have tools to get you started:

Scroll Saw

This is your workhorse and an indispensable tool. While a professional scroll saw will set you back over $1,000, there are several affordable models to choose from starting as low as $300. Along with the scroll saw you’ll need some blades. More on blade choices in an upcoming blog. To date, I have gone through 3 scroll saws, and I have just replaced the motor on my current saw. Keep in mind that depending on how many pieces you make per year your saw will eventually need to be replaced.

Higher-end models offer vibration-free cutting, quieter operation, variable speed, easy blade changes, and better overall construction. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve good results with less expensive models. Many of my earlier artworks were completed on affordable saws and they are still hanging on the wall.

You might be wondering if a band saw is the better tool here. The scroll saw allows for very tight turns and a lot more control of your cuts. The band saw, on the other hand, can cut thicker material at the expense of control. For Intarsia woodworking, the scroll saw is the tool of choice.

Sanding Stations

I use the term "station" to encompass the diverse array of sanding machines in my toolkit. These include flap sanding wheels, pneumatic sanders, or trusty hand sandpaper. Additionally, I make use of a belt sander to sand the undersides of my pieces before applying a backer.

Many artists use a Dremel as a handy tool for sanding and shaping. It could serve as a great starting point. For those seeking a more adventurous approach, seek out the pneumatic sanders. Keep in mind that these sanders, along with flap sanders, require installation on electric motors, adding to the overall cost.

Air Compressor

Dust is your enemy and there will be lots of it. A compressor equipped with a simple blower is a great tool to use to clean your pieces and your work area. In the summer, with the garage door opened, I can just blow all the dust outside.

Air Cleaner/Vacuum

I put the air cleaner in the must-haves because your health is not a luxury. A ceiling unit, capable of cleansing the entire workshop in approximately a minute, is part of my setup. Furthermore, I've connected my shop vacuum to the tools that generate the most dust.

Miscellaneous Tools

These can include glue, pliers, pencils, rulers, squares, and a variety of other tools you’ll accumulate over time. Generally, these are tools you’d find in any good toolbox, however, some tools are especially practical for Intarsia that you won’t find in any regular hardware store. For example, do you know those scrappers your dentist uses to torture your gums because you don’t floss enough? Well, next time you’re at the dentist, ask them if they throw their broken ones away and ask them to keep them aside for you. These scrappers are practical when you need to move small intricate pieces of wood in place.

These are the must-have tools you will need to get started on your Intarsia crafting journey. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to go wild and buy the most expensive tools right off the bat. Once you’ve gotten familiar with the craft and are ready for more advanced projects, you’ll want to invest in better, more advanced tools.

The Nice-to-Have Tools

As Tim the Tool-Man Taylor used to say: “We need MORE POWER!” Once you’ve mastered the basics of Intarsia woodwork, you’ll want to start looking at some more advanced tools. These can include:

Stationary Belt Sander

This is a great tool for flattening the bottom of finished Intarsia pieces before fixing a backer. They’re nice to have and will speed up all your sanding, but not necessary when starting with Intarsia.

Miter Saw

Very useful when it comes to cutting down lumber or ensuring a square edge on a board. This is also a useful tool to have on hand for other woodworking projects that require making crosscuts and mitered angles.

Rotating Orbital Sander

This is a great tool to ensure that your cuts are square. This is an optional tool for basic woodworking and Intarsia beginners; hand-sanding can achieve similar results but may take more time.

Band Saw

As mentioned earlier, a band saw can be useful when it comes to cutting thicker wood. However, it is not ideal for intricate curved cuts, and thus not a must-have for beginners.

As you discover additional applications for your Intarsia, acquiring additional tools becomes essential. Choose wisely, and these tools will streamline and expedite your work.

Getting into Intarsia woodworking doesn't mean you need to splurge on fancy tools or have a huge workspace from the get-go. Start with the must-haves like the scroll saw, sanding tools, air compressor, and cleaner, and let your skills develop. As you get the hang of things, you can think about adding nice-to-have tools like the Saber Saw and a bigger compressor. Just remember, keep your workspace tidy for good work and good health. Think of your Intarsia journey as a gradual adventure, starting simple and growing as you get more skilled. Happy crafting!

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