Intarsia Wood: Tips and Uses of Various Woods

Intarsia Wood: Tips and Uses of Various Woods

When it comes to intarsia, a woodworker has a lot of different options of wood to use to create those beautiful works of art.  In fact when you are looking for intarsia wood, you may have some difficulty choosing what in particular you want to use with your project.

I wanted to go out and do some research on as many of the more popular types of wood and talk about their hardness, color, any tips, and usability as intarsia wood in your projects.  So let me get into it…


Pine Wood

Pine wood is one of the cheapest woods out there.  I use pine on so many projects mainly due to this factor.  There are actually many different types of pine.  I have discovered that some pine wood, in fact,  can be relatively close to the strength of oak.

The type of pine I purchase is a lighter color with knots every so often in the wood (The cheaper stuff).  They do have some variation of regular pine in the hardware stores and then there is the availability of premium pine.  I should pay more attention to the types they have in the store as I typically focus on color and the size of the wood.

The premium stuff may be a bit harder, or stronger of a wood, but my attention is taken to the patterns that can be available in the wood.  You can get some pretty good looking pieces of pine wood that can be used for Intarsia.  The character of the wood patterns can be used on many different projects.  At times you can find a nice piece with tiny spots on them.  (I am currently working on a 3D fish with this type of pattern  ).

Pine is a fairly soft wood and takes a stain very nicely.  If you wish to use pine but make it a shade or two darker, you can do that with a stain.

Pine cuts very nicely and can be sanded fairly easily for you Intarsia projects.  As a bold statement by myself, I think no 5″ x 5″ space on some variations of pine wood has the same look (In fact this is the same for many different types of wood).  This is what makes pine so fun to use as you can look at a piece of wood in the store and see some pretty cool patterns in the wood that pull at your imagination.


Oak Wood

Oak wood as it is well known, is a very strong and durable piece of wood.  Its pattern is fairly repetitive and distinguishable, which basically means the variation in the grain of the wood is not as unique.

I don’t want to say that all oak wood falls into this pattern and grain description but from what I have seen, it is fairly close.

Cutting out oak will obviously be a bit harder as the wood is a stronger wood, but such as that is, the wood tends to make some very nice cuts.

Oak wood can be great for an intarsia project with a flowing, continuous pattern within the project.  I can imagine using oak wood to put some character into furry animals or the clothing on some part of the project.

Oak will definitely be more expensive, but that does not mean one should shy away from it entirely.  Working with Oak wood has been a great experience with me.  With intarsia projects, you don’t have to make the entire project out of oak.

Oak can be stained as well, and if you want to take the wood a shade darker with a stain, it should work out.  Though oak being a bit harder of a wood, the stain will not absorb as nicely as pine.

Oak wood is thought to be quite a tough wood, but I found that it hardness on the Janka scale is 1290 to 1360.  As a fun comparison, Madagascar Ebony comes in at roughly 3250.  More than twice the hardness of an oak.


Black Walnut Wood

Walnut wood, from what I have seen, can be very expensive wood.  Sometimes it feels like it is this coveted wood that everyone wants a project created from.  It also seems only those with deep pockets can afford the beauties created from such a wood.

Black walnut can range in color, but the darker brown with darker streaks in it can be used as an intarsia wood for creating those darker parts of your project.

This wood is rarely stained though it can be.  The natural look of the walnut is so desired that staining it seems like big no no.

Some of the neatest patterns can be found in the crotch cut of a slab of black walnut wood.  If you work with this wood, do it right the first time, plan ahead.  You don’t want to waste any of this stuff.  You can get some fairly cheap Black Walnut at Amazon for your intarsia projects.


Birch Wood

Birch is a very widely used wood, but seems to be one of the most perishable.  It typically has a fine and even texture with some low luster.

I ended up doing a scroll saw project with birch wood that I feel was not one of my best works of art.  The wood was fairly easy to work with but at times seemed too flexible.

Birch can be sanded fairly easy and is a pretty soft wood.  You do have to be careful with this wood as it can break easily as I have found out.

Using this type of wood in an intarsia project might not be ideal.  I think other types of wood could take the place of birch when it comes to color and no one would be the wiser.


Purple Heart Wood

With purple heart, the grain is typically straight, but can also be irregular.  It has a decent texture with some good natural luster.  Purple heart is a fairly hard wood coming in at a 1860 on the Janka scale.

When I first saw this wood, I could not believe that wood could come in the color purple.  As I have searched on different types of wood, I am surprised at how many different colors, grain, and looks they have.

If you are looking for purple, then this might be a great pick for your intarsia project.

The work-ability of this wood can pose some difficulty from what I have read.  Too much heat from your scroll saw or other tools being used can cause a resin to form which can complicate your cutting process, even clog up your tools.  Scroll saw speed can be controlled, and I could venture to say that this issue may not be as prominent with purple heart wood.

Purple heart wood is a very durable wood and can be acquired for a decent price at Amazon without taking too large of a chunk of your cash.  I plan on using this wood sometime in the future for a project or two.


Zebra Wood

This wood has some of the coolest looking patterns in wood I  have seen.  For anything that needs striping, this wood seems like it could fit the project.  Though Zebra wood is not as hard a purple heart it comes in at a 1575 on the Janka scale.

I was surprised that I could find Zebra Wood for sale on Amazon.  It seems like it could be a bit too exotic of a wood to be available.  As it is available I have found that it can be a bit expensive though maybe not as expensive as Ebony or Rosewood.

I have read that the wood is fairly durable and has many applications including use in intarsia projects.

On the downside, I  have also read that the wood has a bit of an unpleasant smell when using it.  I suppose that dust mask may come in handy with this wood.


Cherry Wood

Cherry wood is another more common wood that possibly can be obtained at your local hardware store.  If not, then it certainly can be obtained at Amazon.  I particularly like the Black Cherry wood with its nice red color and the patterns you can get from it.

Cherry wood is an all around type of wood that is used in just about any project you can think of.  The difficulty with this wood is that I read it has some problems with taking a stain.  I read that it can be blotchy in spots when staining.

The draw with this wood is the reddish brown that can come from the wood, typically seen better with a gloss or semi-gloss applied.

The patterns in the cherry wood may not be the unique factor for many people in my thoughts.  To me, its color that seems to be the major attraction to create beautiful wood working projects with cherry wood.

This wood would give any intarsia project a nice color contrast that would look very nice.  Cherry wood is easy to work with and is not too difficult to cut or sand.


Maple Wood

Maple wood has some variety, with your typical grain looking patterns to some very beautiful patterns that a Birds Eye Maple can give you.

When it comes to intarsia projects, this wood can give you some wonderful different patterns to work with.   The quilted maple I have seen used on animal intarsia projects that look wonderful!

When working with maple, I have been told that it can burn easily when cutting.  A scroll saw may not give you as much heartache on this as a router would.  Also, maple can blotch a bit when staining.

Maple wood is a wood I plan to work with more often in future intarsia projects.


So Many Types of Wood

I have touched on some of the more typical woods with a few exotic woods in the mix in this article.

As I have pushed on in my research for intarsia wood, I have found that there are way to many different types of wood available.  I could not cover all of them if I even tried.  However, in my research it seems someone has gone through and briefly covered just about every type of wood I can think of.

I have garnered quite a bit if information from this website, that I feel I will be going back there often to find different kinds of wood to work with.

The site is called The Wood Database (Use their Wood Finder link).  If I find myself looking for a type of wood, or color of wood, I will definitely go there to get a little bit of information on it.  In general, I don’t expect that I will find all the wood easily available to buy like some of the common woods that I have mentioned above, but with such a large database of wood, it will give me plenty of options to search around for.

I think that just about any wood can be used for intarsia wood in your projects, I don’t know that all of them should be used, but I hope you have a better idea of the options out there when you look for wood in your intarsia projects.  Thanks for reading.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s