6 Helpful Tips From my First Intarsia Woodworking Project

6 Helpful Tips From my First Intarsia Woodworking Project

With creation of some of my favorite scroll saw projects, it would be expected that I would discover the art of scroll sawing intarsia woodworking projects.  When thinking about the experience I had with the creation of my first intarsia scroll saw project, I thought I would write down 6 Tips I learned from my first Intarsia Woodworking project.

Intarsia Tips and Tricks to thing about:

  • Picking your pattern
  • Choosing your wood
  • Planning your layout
  • Cutting out your pieces
  • Shaping and sanding your pieces
  • Attaching your pieces together


I decided to go with something a little big when I did my first Intarsia woodworking project.  I picked a really cool Phoenix I found in the Winfield Collection patterns that I just had to try out.  As I picked this pattern and started to work on it, I had to think about what kind of wood I planned on using, how I would get my layout set on my wood, and how I was going to go about cutting the pieces and sanding them.  Lastly, I had to think about placing the pieces together and doing it so the end result was somewhat close to what was expected.  Let me go into some more detail on these topics in an attempt to help those whom might be looking to start their first intarsia woodworking project.


Picking your pattern

I would like to consider myself a fairly decent wood worker and I went with something a bit more complicated for my first intarsia project.  I opened up the Winfield Collection magazine one day, of which they send me every so often, to find a little beauty titled “Reborn”(161).20180929_130900

This intarsia project is a two layer piece, a little simpler in that regard, and I absolutely could not resist trying to create it.  Now, I am going to apologize to whomever created this template and also Winfield Collection company.  I did not buy this template.

I took a picture of this inch or so image and blew it up into 4 large sections.  The image was quite blurry but not so horrible that I could not figure out the lines and even modify some of the pieces in the project myself.  I was able to tape together these 4 pieces to create my ‘close to size’ template of this beautiful bird.

I would guess that there are many out there that may not wish to tackle something of this size as a first project.  This one in particular, “Reborn”, also included me buy some paints and a few brushes of which others may not wish to use on a first project.  A wonderful starter book for those out there wanting to begin doing some of these intarsia projects can be found here on Amazon, Intarsia Woodworking for Beginners.

Choosing your wood

20181019_211209Deciding what wood to use can be a bit difficult.  I had to figure something out with this first project of mine as I did not buy the pattern, so I did not get any instruction on what wood to use.  Improvising, I noted that I would like to use something a bit thicker as the base shape of the entire phoenix.  I then decided I wanted to do a little thinner wood for the second layer pieces that would make the project come to life.

I like to use pine on a lot of my projects.  It is easily available and fairly cheep to purchase.  At times I like to go for the premium stuff, but if you so desire you can use some of the non premium wood for your projects, I know I do.

For the “Reborn” project I went with about a half inch thick pine for the back piece, or maybe it was a ceder.  Which ever it was, it was fairly cheep to buy a nice 3′ by 3′ piece to create my first layer.  My second layer was definitively pine.  I don’t remember the size and how much I purchased it for, but it was a 1/4″ thick.

It was easy to pick pine on this first intarsia project of mine, as I did not care what the  wood looked like because I was going to paint it anyway.  Other projects use the natural look of the wood to give some different color to the project.

Here are some examples of different types of wood from Amazon.  Some of the types of wood I have worked with and other types I intend to work with some day.  As you will note, that they have different textures and different colors to work with.

Cherry, Oak, MapleBlack Walnut, Zebra, and Purple Heart to name a few.  I am currently thinking of a project for the very cool looking Zebra wood.

Planning your layout

To be honest, with my Phoenix project I kind of winged it for getting my layout planned.  I had some organization and direction as I created the pattern but in the end I did not really know how large the piece would be and how I was going to go about cutting all the pieces for the first level and the second level.

I got my first level of wood ready, the base level.  I put some of my favorite Scroll Saw Tape down on my first layer of wood and attached the template to it.  I made the entire perimeter cut of the Phoenix to cut out the base layer.

Here is where I got a little improvised in the project and I can’t tell you how much I love Scroll Saw Tape.  I carefully peeled off the template from my base first layer and attached it to my second layer 1/4″ board.  I did not have to print out a second template, the scroll saw tape was versatile enough I could peel it off and re-use it on another board.  I buy my Scroll Saw Tape at Amazon, and absolutely love using it.

Now that I had my first level base cut out, I was able to go through all the pieces of the Phoenix and cut those out as well.  Each Intarsia project will likely consist of 2 or more layers along with varying depths of wood.  Not all Intarsia projects will have a base cutout to glue your pieces onto like I did for my Phoenix but from what I have seen out there a lot of them do.  I went with a bit thicker of a base and then thinner wood for the  second level pieces.  I have seen many projects that do the reverse of this as well.


Cutting out your pieces

As I cut out my second level pieces, I was very grateful for my Dewalt scroll saw and its 20″ throat arm.  On a smaller arm I may have had some difficulty doing a larger project like the Phoenix.  With this particular project, I was very happy using my spiral scroll saw blades.   These blades allowed me to not have to rotate my project around so much, this was a big plus for me.  I purchased these scroll saw blades, Flying Dutchman, from Amazon and I have to admit, I have not put in a different type of blade for some time.

The difficult part for me in cutting out these pieces for the Phoenix was I had to cut pieces out from one side first and move my way to the other side of the project.  On many of my scroll saw projects, I tend to cut out pieces from the center first, and then move toward the outside of the project in cutting.

The difficulty comes in holding your project securely to the table.  Cutting from one side to the other results in you not having something to hold onto for one of the sides.  This can result in wood jumping if your project is not securely held to the table.  The blade cutting essentially pulls the wood off the table when you cut, the wood bounces or jumps.

To combat this issue I found that I can rotate the project in a way to where I can hold it down with both hands as I push it through the scroll saw.


Shaping and sanding your pieces

Shaping and sanding was where I feel I fell short on the Phoenix intarsia project.  If you note, the image in the magazine had smooth and rounded edges.  It appears to be sanded quite nicely.  I did not get that part done in my version of this project.

20181007_194430The issue I had was first, the pieces were a bit small and I was not comfortable sanding such delicate pieces.  Secondly, I don’t know that I have very good sanding tools for the level of sanding on such a delicate level.  I’ve seen people with sanding tools you attach to drill presses, and some use a flex drum sander.  Both tools I do not own yet.

Instead I did hand sanding, and though I do have a cordless Dremel, I put the Dremel aside and carefully sanded the edges to smooth them out as best I could.  I have noted that a lot of intarsia projects have larger pieces you can work with.  This of course seems like sanding would be a bit easier and those smooth edges more obtainable.


Attaching your pieces together

One of the scary parts of this project was that it was kind of a puzzle.  A puzzle that did not look exactly like the original in the magazine.  This meant if I cut out pieces, I better know exactly where to put them on the base.

I found myself cutting out a few pieces at a time, sanding them, and then painting them and gluing them to the base.  This kept me from loosing track of where each piece may go if I had too many pieces laying about.

As a final touch, I have some Topaz crystals I like to make use of whenever I can.  I found a nice one and set it into the eye of the Phoenix.  Not a bad look for a fiery Phoenix.



I hope you had an enjoyable time reading about my first Intarsia project.  I enjoyed writing about it.  It did not go all according to plan but it did turn out very nicely.  I hope my written experience can help you when doing your Intarsia woodworking projects.

If you are interested in scroll saw woodworking, you might want to take a moment or two and read some of my other articles that can be found in the above menu items.

As always you can take a look under My Tool Picks to see what tools I use to create my scroll saw projects.  Thanks for reading.