V carve inlays are something that the people who do not know who they are seem them and wonder how people got the inlay to look so clean. How the builder got the inlay to look so clean and how they got it seem as the inlay even though it is clearly multiple types of wood seem to be one single solid piece of wood.
In this tutorial I will be using vcarve pro and the i2R-8 UCCNC from i2rcnc.com to show you how to make your own Vcarve inlay. I will walk you though how to create the toolpaths and create an inlay. You will be proud of.
Its amazing how precise and detailed an vcarve inlay can be. Depending on the size of the project you are working on you could do almost any design you would like with incredible detail. With this tutorial you will be able to use your cnc and vcarve inlay almost any design you would like. For this tutorial I will be inlaying a simple logo but the basics of this process are the same no matter the logo or design you would like to make. However I always highly suggest testing the design and settings for your machine and design before trying to inlay any design into your final piece.
The first thing to keep in mind it the types of wood you are working with. Spalted woods are beautiful but depending on the wood they do not lend themselves to inlay work to well. The spalting and beetle holes add character but they also cause voids that will cause the inlay to not be smooth around the seam of the glue up. Woods like Hickory, Walnut, Bubingia with smaller grains and are more dense do tend to make the inlays look cleaner when finished. Once your wood has been chosen it also needs to be flat and to work properly as a one tenth difference in thickness across the material can cause fit issues between the plug and the pocket.
Once you have to your material and its is cut to dimension. Start by opening up V-carve. With the program open you need to set your job size. Click edit then job size and proportions. There you will adjust the size of your work piece with this will also determine the how your machine will be reference from your work piece. Set the size of your material in this drop down menu adjusting your x,y lengths of your material as well as the material thickness. Once you material dimensions are set you then choose your z axis datum position. This is honestly preference to what you would like. One thing to keep is if you are to reference off of the machine bed you need to make sure the thickness measurements of your material are exact. A one tenth difference in measurements can ruin a v carve inlay. Once the z axis datum position is set you now need to set v carve for the x and y datum positions. This is the point were cnc will reference from to know were it is located relative to the work piece. This position is represented by a red dot in vcarve.
There are 5 positions that can be chosen from I chose and usually use the lower left hand corner of the material but you may choose any corner of the material as well as a center position. If you are needing to place the inlay in a specific position that is hard to measure from the edges of the material or is going to be very close to other aspects such as mounting points or holes then you might want to position the point at the center mark. This however this will change how you need to lay out the inlay as far as positioning. You will need to lay out the inlay relative to the center point not to the material edges.
To import the logo or design you may want to inlay you can import the file via the import menu under the file tab. You can also drag and drop the file directly into v cave onto your project. If the file is a jpeg you will need to use the bitmap tool to trace the file for a vector to work with. I will do a tutorial on this in the future.
With this inlay I will be referencing off of the lower left material corner so for this the logo will need be centered on the material. To do that with the logo vector selected click on the alignment tool and click the top over all center alignment button.
This will align the logo centered in both the X and the Y axis positions. I then click the rotate tool to rotate the logo 90 degrees. This would position the logo properly on the work piece. Then the logo will need to be sized to the dimensions you are needing. This will be different depending on your project for this logo it needed to be 1.5 inches wide. This is made simple by the resize tool.
To create the toolpath open the toolpaths tab. This will be the pocket of the inlay. Select the vector you would like to inlay and click the v carve tool in the toolpaths tab. For vcarve inlays you need to specify a depth of cut. If no depth of cut is specified the machine will plunge the v carve bit as deep as needed to get the width of the logo. For an inlay you need to set the depth to .2 inches deep this will not only give you room for the inlay plug but also for the glue that will hold the inlay in place.
Select the tool you will be using to cut the inlay with. For this inlay I decided to use a 60 degree v bit. I also usually do not suggest changing the setting of the tool within v carve. You can slow down or speed up the cut or spindle speed within uccnc. I do not suggest changing the settings within the tool database due to the fact if they are not changed back adjusted later on then it will set the tool to run at that speed for all following cuts with that tool if the settings are not changed back.
Once the toolpath is crated name the tool path to indicate the tool used and also the cut it will be making. This will make saving the toolpath easier to locate later on. Preview the tool path and confirm that the cuts look proper with all vectors cut if there are multiple on your project. If all of the cuts seem to be in the right place and at the proper depth save your tool paths. I suggest saving all toolpaths to this project or to specific inlays to one file. This will make locating the toolpaths easier and as there will be multiple cuts on the plug for the inlay it will make it less likely to cut the wrong toolpath.
Open UCCNC and then load the toolpaths for the pocket. This is done by clicking the load file button in Uccnc once the file is loaded you will see the toolpath in the toolpaths tab. Place your material on the cnc and clamp it into place firmly. Make sure that the material cannot move as a few hundredths of an inch in lateral movement can cause the sides of the pocket to be slightly to large revealing a glue line or even causing the plug to not seat correctly. With the machine set to the datum point you had selected in v carve zero the X and Y axis.
To set the Z axis place the z axis puck under the bit and press the Z axis zero button. Then click the Z axis zero touchoff button. This will slowly lower the bit until the tip of the bit touches the puck. Once this happens the machine will know the exact position of the tip of the bit. This will make the depth of cuts extremely precise.
Now you can click start cycle and run the machine to make the first cut of the inlay. You can also slow the machines cut speed to help with a cleaner cut from the bit. This will depend on the bit as and more so on the material. The harder the material with a tight grain the cleaner the cuts can be and the faster the machine can run and still achieve the clean cuts. Materials like MDF cut extremely easy and with clean corners. Some materials such as oak and walnut will have to be cut a slightly slower speed to get a clean cut. For this pocket cut on a 1\2 inch walnut veneered ply with mdf core I was running the machine at the standard speeds for this 60 degree V bit 16,000 rpm spindle speed with a 100 inch per in feed rate and 30 inches per min plug depth. This seems to make a very clean cut with minimal clean up on these boards. After the cut inspect the pocket make sure it is clean and does not have any debris in the pocket and there are no tear outs on the top.
With the pocket cut its time to work on the plug for the inlay. With the same pocket file open in Vcarve save the project. This is done at this point for a couple of reasons. Save the project using the “Save As” option to ensure the file is saved under its own individual file name. This will let you open the file back up later if you need to make the same pocket or check any of your settings again. The second reason for this is that once you change the plug material settings and align the logo for the plug you will also save the plug file as a new file for the ability to edit any settings on later projects.
Now the new material setting need to be made for the material that you will be using for the plug. There are again changed under the Edit menu then Job Size an Proportions. Once the new job sizes have imputed click apply or press enter to confirm the changes. Once the material sizes have been changed you will need to recenter the logo to the new material. Like before this is done using the alignment tool and clicking the center material button with the vectors selected. This will center the logo on the X and Y axis of the material.
Next you will need to flip the logo or design horizontally using the mirror tool. When cutting the plug of the inlay the plug needs to be the exact same size but be a perfect mirror image of the pocket. If you do not flip the vectors once in position the plug that is cut will simple be an embossed image of the design once it is cut. While using the mirror tool make sure the create copy box is not checked as this will flip the vectors but will create a copy that has been flipped from the original.
You now need to create a border around the design or logo this would be the border that the machine uses to know to remove all of the material within this border to the depth specified in the toolpath except for the logo or design itself. I use a simple rectangle drawn around the logo to achieve this using the rectangle tool. If you are working with small piece of material also remember that the cnc will be cutting out to the edge of this border so keep that in mind while placing your clamps or hold downs. To set the tool paths select both the logo or design and the border you created. Then open the toolpaths tab. Then click the Vcarve tool. This is the same as the pocket up to this point save the added border and the mirror image. For the depth this again will be set to a flat depth but instead of starting the cut depth at 0.0 the cut depth will start at 0.1. The finishing depth of the cut will be set at 0.2. The purpose of this is that once the depth of the cut is made the actual depth of the plug will sit into the inlay a tad bit less than the depth of the pocket. This will allow for a gap for the glue to sit. Without this gap the glue could be pushed completely out of the pocket or the glue might not allow the plug to go completely into the pocket. You will also choose the flat clearance tool option for the plug. This will create a separate tool path that will use a flat end-mill bit to clear away the flat areas within the plug. This is actually optional as the flat area can be cleared out using the v bit but it takes a very long time. Using a bit like a 1/8inch end mill will vastly speed up the cutting process.
Once the toolpaths are set. You will need to rename the toolpaths to distinguish between the Vcarve bit paths and the end mill paths. As the two paths will need to be loaded individually once the bits are changed. I also like labeling the toolpaths with a cut number. This will make sure you are loading the proper toolpaths and also cutting the plug out in the order you would like. While I might be wrong I have not found any reason why one cut should be done before the other. Depending on the material I have found that the cuts come out just as clean with the Vcarve toolpath as the first cut and also the second. Now save the toolpaths just like with the pocket cut.
The process here is the same as with the pocket only this time after the V bit is done cutting you will need to change bits. If you have never tried this process before. You need to ensure that you do not move the material during the bit change. If you must move the machine jog it using only the UCCNC controller. Once you have changed to the next bit you will need to reset the Z axis depth. This is done just like before then loading and running the next toolpath. The i2R-8 UCCNC makes this much easier using the UCCNC controller. It allows you to simply jog the machine using the keyboard and swap bits then use the Z axis puck to reset the Z depth.
Once the plug has been cut you will need to remove the excess material that was not removed. This is done quickly on the band saw just making sure not to damage the plug itself.
Test fit the plug. The plug should fit within the pocket tightly but should fully seat into the pocket. There should not be any movement of the plug once inserted into the pocket. After test fitting you can then glue the plug into place.
Glue the plug into place by first applying glue inside the pocket and then using a brush or even you finger to ensure that all of the surface inside the pocket is covered with glue. Then place the plug into the pocket and clamp the plug into place. Allow the glue to completely harden before removing the inlay from the clamps. To remove the excess plug material after the glue has hardened you can use a band saw or a flush trim hand saw.
The rest of the material will need to be flushed using a hand plane and cabinet scrapper this will is done to keep from damaging the material under the inlay. If you are doing an inlay in a project such as a cutting board you can also run the board through a drum sander or planer removing only small amounts of material at a time. Then sand the inlay perfectly flush.
The final product of the inlay should be a smooth finish and look as if the two pieces of wood are one. This is a great add on to any project. It will not only allow you make any project more personalized. Being able to make offer this on projects for your customers will also allow you to add more value to the projects not only for you but also for your customers.
If you are interested in make projects like this check out i2Rcnc.com the i2R-8 UCCNC I have is an amazing machine. It has totally changed the way I look at not only projects but at my business. Being able to offer things like the Vcarve inlay allows me to reach out to new customers as well as being able to offer new products that I was not able to do before.
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Thank you for reading and I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. And I will see you on the next one.