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Not Exactly a Knife...

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Hi everyone! I'd like to show you a project I've been working on and off on since the end of summer. It's not a knife, but I originally started this project in order to learn inlay techniques that I would then be able to carry over and use on knives. I figured I might as well start with a massive project and then get some tips and feedback from the very talented makers who frequent this forum. :D  

The project itself is a custom mahjong table. For those of you have never played or heard of the game before, it's a tile based game that originated in China. My friends and I play a Japanese branch of the game known as Riichi (slightly more complicated than Chinese mahjong, but far less luck based). Basically, players take turns drawing tiles from walls that are built at the start of the hand, and try to create a strong winning hand without discarding into an opponents hand. It feels kind of like poker I guess, haha. Anyway, the goal for this project was to have a table that could seat 4 people and have koi pond themed inlay that also function as place holders for certain parts of the game.

The main body of the table is made of black walnut saved from the wood chipper. The inlay is made from dyed epoxy, shell, and various species of wood, and is comprised of approximately 220 pieces. To start, I created a flat tabletop from walnut, and squared it to the proper dimensions on a miter saw and table saw. Then, I turned the legs on a friend's lathe (which was a great experience! It really made me want to get a machine of my own, it seems like there is so much you can do with them). I drew all the inlay components on paper, cut them up and glued them onto different wood/shell veneers I had milled. All the pieces were then cut out with a jewelers saw and taped back together before being outlined on the tabletop. I then used a router set to the thickness of the veneers to remove the wood inside the outlines. Afterwards, the pieces were all glued in place with dyed epoxy and belt sanded flat. I sanded the table up to 400 grit and affixed the legs and trim. Finally, a few coats of oil based satin polyurethane was applied to protect the surface and bring out the color in the wood.



Here is my name signed in katakana and English. The katakana was routed and filled with colored epoxy. For the English signature, I used an engraver and filled it with colored epoxy. It somehow ended up about 3 degrees off square which really annoys me... :unsure:


Here is one of the four lily pad areas. They are made fro birdseye maple and brown epoxy. The black right angle inlays are made from black epoxy and denote where each player discards their tiles.


Here is one of the four bamboo pieces that denote where the walls get placed at the beginning of the game. It is made from black limba and birdseye maple.


In the center is a large compass rose made from wenge, birdseye maple, and bubinga.


There are three koi fish on the corners based on the dragon tiles in the game. This one is based on the green dragon tile. It is made from green paua abalone and black mother of pearl accents.


This fish is based on the red dragon tile and is made of padauk with bubinga accents.


Here is the koi fish based on the white dragon tile. It is made from white mother of pearl over black epoxy.


The three koi fish swim in the direction of play and also are in the order of dora indication (which is an odd mechanic only in Riichi mahjong).


The top of the table has a trim that allows player to snap open melds to the side easily. It also stops tiles from falling off during shuffling!


The lathed legs and underside trim.


Let me know what you think! I'd greatly appreciate if anybody has any inlay advice or comments on what I could have done better. If anyone who does a lot of inlay could list off some of their favorite and most useful tools for inlay, that would be great as well! Oh, and I'm also wondering what other uses for engravers there are. I got the engraver I used for this project at a garage sale, it's an older dremel model equipped with a blunt cone/pen tip. Can I use something like this for engraving on knives and other metals? Anyways, thanks for looking, let me know what you all think. 


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1 hour ago, Brian Dougherty said:

Nice job.  I don't think you need any more practice at inlay, you're ready for prime time!

That's good to hear. I've got an idea for a themed yari that I wanna try out over the summer, and it uses inlay pretty extensively

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