Guitar Inlays

Hey everyone. Looking for some advice on a type of glue to hold down shell inlay materials allowing a complete cut out then a debonder or water etc to remove it from a back board?

I’ve tried the masking tape trick but I’m using 0.3mm endmills to get the fine details, they seem to pick up some of the glue from the tape on the final pass which in turn either breaks the bit or makes a mess on the next cut.

I’m thinking a glue that goes hard but dissolves easily off would be the answer to my problem. Anyone doing this? Or is there an easier way?

Any advice would be appreciated. I’ll stick up a few pics of the current model for you too.

Thanks, Thistle.

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All done on the xcarve 1000 using easel pro


Have you checked out Highline Guitars on YouTube. I think this guy is the cats meow when it comes to building guitars.

Link to one of his videos.

Inlay gluing by same artist.

Thanks Robert. I’ll have a good look through his videos.

I have some experience with inlays like the ones in his videos. The last two pictures are both sides of the keyring for the flashlight that charges the luminlay fretboard side markers. I make them out of the end of each guitars fretboard. One side is abalone the other is white glow in the dark pigment added to a casting epoxy. It works fine but lacks the panache of a natural material.

Gluing them in isn’t the problem. It’s keeping the material secure in the xcarve while still being easy to remove. Bigger things are fine. It’s the little breakable bits. The cut goes good then I destroy the piece trying to remove it from the backing I’ve glued it to.

This just broke up several times and I wasted too much abalone sheet to continue. I’ve tried superglue on masking tape then superglue on low tack tape. Both times the bit had glue pick-up off the tape and caused issues. Tried just superglue and a debonder. Just made a mess. Tried wood glue and hot water. Worked but it took forever and I grew impatient… broke it again….

Need a brand/type suggestion.

Here is an idea to experiment with… Rubber Cement. Paint on both the secondary wasteboard and the back of the material being cut. I don’t think the rubber cement will have a tendency to adhere to the bit.

You could use heavy construction paper as your secondary wasteboard which you can then soak in hot water to make removal easier, then just rub the rubber cement off the parts.

Usual preface, I’m with PreciseBits so while I try to only post general information take everything I say with the understanding that I have a bias.

We sell to a LOT of luthiers that cut MOP/shell. Most of them are either using CA (superglue) or hide glue. Usually it’s directly glued to either tempered masonite or MDF. Although a fair number do use tape and CA.

For CA you should be able to pop the pieces off with acetone or a heat gun if glued directly to something like MDF.

There’s 2 things I can think of that might have you breaking tooling using CA with or without tape. Either the type of CA itself or the tooling.

If you are using a “gel” type or other CA that has additives those can (not always) keep it from properly curing in the middle and/or make it more flexible/“tacky” and that can load the tool. The one brand I’m aware of that is regularly used without issue is BSI’s INSTA-CURE+ (Link). You’ll find a lot of people resell it under another name. It almost always still has BSI’s foil label though.

The other thing I’ve seen that can cause an issue with this is using a burr like a diamond-cut or chip-breaker PCB router. They will work but they are much more likely to load from things like glues or adhesives.

Hope that’s useful. Let me know if there’s something I can help with.


Thank you John :+1:

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Went and bought different superglues and acetone today. Worked way better on a little test piece just there.

Wasn’t the bit. I’m using 2 flute endmills and I think the “gel” consistency of the glue has been my issue, not the tape. Problem solved. Cut fine, Stayed secure and came off real easy. The stuff I’ve been using may be old and not setting properly is my guess. Just threw a load of glue in the trash, won’t get caught like this again lol.

Thank you again John. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

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Glad it was useful info and is working for you.

Yeah, I’ve had the issue on both sides. Old stuff that didn’t want to completely cure and “gel” or “thick” CA that never worked right brand new.

Just as an aside. You might want to check if where you’re getting the cutter from has a 3 flute version. Like for like it should be stronger, has one more flute to dull, and can run 50% more feed at the same tool and machine force. Just make sure it’s same diameter, cutting length, manufacturer, and family. There’s a bunch of other geometry differences that can change things otherwise.

Let me know if there’s something I can help with.


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