Easy Inlays with Lightburn and diode laser

Recently in another thread I intimated that I had started playing with laser inlays once again and, after a few rather frustrating days, I think I have come upon a good way to produce inlays that are accurately fit and quick to do.

I realize not everyone has Lightburn and a fairly powerful laser engraver. But hopefully, with the introduction of the new stacked diode lasers putting out 20W optical power, or more, and starting at under $1000, many may see something here that will “push you over the edge”. Lightburn software is also “not free” but is “reasonable”… and has rapidly become the “standard” for folks working with lasers.

The method I’m showing here comes after some days of frustration trying to use the kerf offset settings in Lightburn to make nice fitting inlays. Indeed, using that method, I came up with a few reasonably nice-looking inlays…

Others, with more detail, not so much…

Missing pieces, not so clean, and muddy, non-uniform glue lines.

So, I revisited my kerf calculations and found a similar but easier-to-use kerf program…

19 segments, 20 nodes. Push them all to one end and measure the end gap with digital calipers. I got 3.37mm gap, divided by 20, and came up with 0.169. Half that for kerf offset in Lightburn. However, using kerf, normally for outside shapes it’s outward, for inside shapes it’s inward. And when you start playing with inlays, you may have many inside and outside shapes in a detailed piece. It’s confusing and changes depending on how much detail is in the inlay… and I kept getting worse and worse results.

So, then I started playing with the Offset tool in Lightburn. Take a simple shape in outline mode and Offset it, BOTH inward and outward… like a 2-lane highway centerline to adjacent lane edgelines on either side. The offset value I used was 0.08… about half of the 0.169 above. That left me with double lines, one-half a kerf width on either side of the original lines.

From, there I selected all the inward edges and put them on the “pocket” layer. All the outward edges, move to the “inlay layer” and, while still selected, move them to the right.
Side-by-side, you now have two images, "pocket’ on the left, “inlay” on the rightdiffering in size by one full kerf-width. The left image, “pocket”, is essentially done. Also, pay particular attention to what’s selected when finishing an Offset operation.… most often it’s exactly what’s needed for the next operation and saves confusion should you click elsewhere and deselect it.

The right image, still selected from the move to the right, needs to be mirrored horizontally, and using the Offset tool once again, create a 5mm or so clearance area, around the actual inlay, which will remove any material that will prevent the inlay and pocket from joining together. Still selected, I create another Offset 1mm outward and then put it onto a third layer, the “inlay_profile” layer, with power and speed settings sufficient to cut completely through the material. This profile cutline is still 1mm proud of the clearance edge, so move it back with the Offset tool once again… inward 1mm to coincide with the edge of the clearance area.

This actually completes the process of creating side-by-side “pocket” and “inlay” pieces. All that remains is to set the “Cuts/layers” setting for the three layers. Use “fill” on the “pocket” and “inlay” layers to deeply engrave (2-3mm depth)… and add a sub-layer to each to cleanly outline each shape to full depth. The third layer, “inlay_profile”, settings should be set to complete cut through the material. Finally, cut the layers in the following order… “pocket”, “inlay”, and “inlay_profile”.

You can export the gcode to process just one, or both, of the “pocket” and “inlay” images. I show here both to the same plank of material…

The topmost image is the one using the method just described…

Here, the V1 logo is also done in one material for fit-check…

Finally, the “pocket” and “inlay” gcode files are run separately, on contrasting materials, to achieve the most striking results…

Ratty materials will, of course, cause the usually voids and imperfections that will need repair with a little glue and sawdust… but the kerf lines should look uniform and clean, regardless.

I also found that CA glue can be used (if it has sufficient working time) rather than the white wood glue… and it greatly speeds up the process. No more overnight waiting… you can have the finished inlay merely minutes after glue-up.

– David


That’s really helpful, thank you for taking the time to photograph and write up your progress.


When they work you really nailed them! I am trying very hard to resist the laser slope, and you aren’t helping. Thanks for the great instruction.


Thank you for sharing this! Those results look great.


Haha, @bitingmidge good luck with that. I have been reading @dkj4linux posts about lasers and have wanted to get one for a long time. I finally bought a 5w diode laser and I am really enjoying using it. I got it during Amazon Prime days for $77! It has opened a whole new world of cnc for me.


Thanks for all the nice/kind words, all. For you guys “on the fence”, I’m just tryin’ to help…

I’ve discovered since I started down this particular “rabbit hole” that there is a “powder/sawdust and wicking CA glue” method that some are using to do… hmm, “inlays”. Sounds like cheating to me, but I can see that being a way to use almost any laser (5W and up?), to create shallower pockets and then fill with “sawdust and wicking CA glue”. It also does away with the need to create a matching inlay piece.

I suspect, when gifted to someone, they’ll still be impressed and appreciative… and you’d be the only one the wiser? BTW I have my wicking CA glue on order already… :wink:

– David


David pushed me over the edge with all his tile work a while back. :grin:

I used another “inlay” cheating method for some Christmas gifts a couple years back. I machined the “inlay” pockets and then filled the recess with colored wood filler. Worked great, especially for the small letters. I imagine the sawdust & CA glue would be similar.

Great job as always!


That’s for saving your ass when there are little gaps… Whole inlays… Barbarians! :sweat_smile:

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Yeah, little gaps. Can’t imagine where I’d find enough sawdust for whole inlays… :roll_eyes:


I want a bandsaw like that. I am jealous. :slightly_smiling_face:


Cool! Thank you for sharing!!

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I got that saw a couple of months after moving back to East Texas in November, 2020. I’d given my old Craftsman 12" bandsaw to one of my sons before my move to San Antonio in Oct, 2019, thinking I’d never have room or need of it again. So, upon my unexpected return to my old homeplace, I treated myself to a new bandsaw. It’s a clone of Rockwell Delta’s popular 14" saw that’s been around forever IIRC. It was an in-store purchase from our nearby Lowes for a decent enough price but it appears Lowes has since changed their product line and no longer carry this saw or this brand. I’m glad I grabbed it then as prices seem to have shot up dramatically. Getting back into this inlay stuff, I’ve just started using it more regularly again. However it’s 105 degF out ATM so I don’t stay out long… cutting and sanding just a couple of small planks at a time and then rushing back in the house, to the A/C and my laser machine.


Lightburn really does make this an easy workflow. It takes way longer to engrave (< 30 minutes per piece) the pieces than to actually do the logo processing and gcode generation. Glue up with CA glue and within minutes you can cut away the waste and hit it with the belt sander…

– David


Arrgghhhh!! The “finishing” that I always hate with a passion… it’s exhausting work!

A little wipe-down with some Danish oil (natural)… on red cedar and pine.

I must admit it makes them “pop”… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

– David


That looks pretty sweet to me.
I’m glad I bought a lightburn license and that method looks like a pretty straightforward workflow.

I wonder if an alternative approach for someone without a bandsaw would be to use an LR3 or MPCNC to mill off the protruding portion of the inlay.


Thanks for the kind words.

Sure, you could use a CNC and mill off the inlay back… Broinwood does just that on his spectacular cutting boards.

You could also use one of those thin-bladed Japanese saws to cut to near-flush and then sand.

Since I’m using the bandsaw to resaw my rough planks, it’s already set just right to do the job… so I use it.

The bandsaw and wood lathe (which I don’t have any more :worried:) are/were my favorite tools in the shop. Both allowed me to work with “found” wood… the fallen limbs, spalted wood, etc. that you can pick up on a short walk through the woods around my place.

– David


I bought one of these and they work well for cutting the inlay.



Been playing some more to see what kind of detail I can get…

The inlay piece…

for this buddy of mine. I’m proud of the linework and nostrils.

Another buddy’s logo in both dark-on-light…

and light-on-dark.

And, finally, what we’ve all been waiting for… “sawdust and thin (wicking) super-glue” inlay on a botched "pocket-attempt-becomes-test-piece". [Sorry, if you’re a leg man.] I didn’t try to separate the cedar sawdust from the pine so it’s a mix… and doesn’t look bad IMO. There are a couple of areas that could stand to be filled with more sawdust and glue but since it’s a test piece I think it’s already told us what we were just dying to know… :roll_eyes:

Far from perfect, a ratty piece of cedar… left voids and cracks that I “repaired” with sawdust and glue… left interesting effects.

Nice legs (for those among us)…

nice face and hair (love the part in her hair)…

and in all her glory… about 6" tall.

– David



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I would not have guessed this was possible. Amazing work.