DIY - Easy simulated wood inlay using veneer (aka "fancy plywood")

Time for a new experiment!

My father is an accomplished wood worker. He can make all kinds of fancy designs by making hand-crafted wood inlays from scratch. But me? I have ZERO skills for hand-crafting anything… so thank goodness for lasers and computers, since it allows me to “fake it”!

Today, I decided to see if I could make my own “fancy” plywood so I could simulate wood inlays. And yes, I know that this is not truly “wood inlay” but I didn’t know what else to call it. :slight_smile:

Here’s what I did:

Got a wood veneer variety pack. These can be found at Amazon and probably your local hardware store. (I already already had one from a previous project and was trying to figure out what the heck to do with it. Hence this posting today). Note: This stuff is super thin (.5mm)!

I wanted to cut the different colors of veneer into thin strips of varying widths. The strips must have very clean straight edges for a later step. I first tried cutting strips with a utility knife with no success… but then I remembered that I have a LASER. Duh! :slight_smile: Cutting these with the laser is a breeze. I personally stacked 3 or 4 of these and cut them at the same time, but beware that these strips are light and might move during cutting. I personally was lucky, but use whatever technique works for you.

Now, I took a piece of my existing plywood (you could also use chipboard, or other rigid laserable material) to use as a base. I arranged the different color strips to my liking. I then started gluing the strips down to the base. You can use whatever glue you like as long as it’s laser-safe. I personally chose to use Gorilla Glue Spray, as I had some on-hand and am familiar with it’s use (dry time, etc.)

Arranging the strips before gluing:

I opted to tape the strips in order using transfer tape (masking tape or painter’s tape would work just as well) to keep the strips the way I liked and to make the gluing process faster/easier later.

I moved the strips off the base plywood (which was now easy since I taped them). I then sprayed glue on a section of the base and started placing the strips. I didn’t spray the whole base, as the drying time might have been an issue, and working a section at a time was much easier. I made sure to place each strip’s edge is up tight against the previous one, leaving no gaps and no over-hangs.

I worked section-by-section, insuring that I protected the rest of the work area from glue over-spray.

Here’s my progress so far.

And very soon I had the whole base covered by strips of glued-down veneer!

I then placed the whole thing under a clean piece of plywood with some weights to ensure that all the strips have good contact with the base while drying. This photo is to illustrate my point. In “real life” the top piece of plywood completely covered the strips and base below.

While waiting for that to fully dry, I whipped up a simple Sphynx cat ornament for my wife so I could test out this new “fancy” plywood I made.

Once the glued veneer was dry, I cleaned off the soot marks (from when the veneer was originally laser-cut) with a bit of Isopropyl Alcohol. I’ve heard that baby wipes work well too. Or you could lightly sand it. Or you could simply skip this step!

I then decided to lightly treat the wood with some Boiled Linseed Oil I had on-hand, as I’ve been told it can “bring out the grain” of the wood or something. This step is definitely optional. For me, it just seemed to give the wood a tiny bit of shine. It might not have been worth the 2-minute effort. Not sure.

Now it’s time to cut! I angled the image so the end result would not have all the strips just be vertical.

And here’s the first result of my little experiment.

This technique could be used for signs, ornaments, and all kinds of other things. And now I have a full board of it, so cutting my next “fancy plywood / simulated wood inlay” design will be a piece of cake.

Going forward…

I’m betting there are lots of other ways to improve/simplify my process, so let me know what you come up with!

Other things that I might try someday:

The veneer strips could possibly be cut and glued in different patterns (herringbone, zig zag, etc.) on the base to get interesting results.

Would colored construction paper strips work?
How about colored wool felt strips?
And who knows what else? Do you have any fun ideas to try?

Thanks, and let me know what you think of this technique!


Hey, this is great. I love a good description of a process.

There are almost no limits to what you could do with the technique like this, you might like this project I did that is sort of similar, a box that I called Harmattan.

But yeah I am excited to see what you come up with next. I think you’re onto something really cool.

PS: you may not post often, but seems like when you do it’s great!


What a fun project!

It’s called marquetry :slight_smile:


Wow, your box technique looks awesome! And thanks for your kind words. :slight_smile:


One neat thing about a laser is the you can make shapes that fit perfectly no matter how weird.
This was the first step in such an expeiment…

this wasa another…

and one more


Thanks for the great write-up and explanation of all your steps! It’s so interesting to see what you did and how you accomplished each step (not to mention having all the details will make it easier for the next person who tries it).
I look forward to seeing what else you make with your “fancy plywood”!


Thanks for explaining your method and the great photos.

ps: i’m cold! Make your cat a sweater! :black_cat: :heart_eyes_cat:


Wow, impressive. Thanks for describing the process. That always helps so much!!


Thanks! I’m trying a Fancy Wood 2.0 experiment today. Stay tuned!


Trust me when I tell you that my wife’s 3 Sphynx cats own WAY more clothes than even I do. She spoils them like crazy. :rofl:


Great project! Great write up too!


Ok, here’s my attempt at Fancy Plywood 2.0!

For this experiment, I decided to do more wavy strips of veneer, and make the strips more narrow.

To cut the strips, I decided not to stack multiple pieces of the veneer during cutting like I did in 1.0 since the material is SO thin that it tends to move under the laser assist fan while cutting.

Instead, I took a piece of scrap cardboard and sprayed it with Easy-Tack. This is light adhesive that holds things in place enough that they don’t move while cutting, but also does not permanently stick to the material being cut. It’s similar to a slightly stronger “sticky note” adhesive. This is awesome to use while paper-cutting in the Glowforge, so I figured I’d give it a try for this.

The cardboard with Easy-Tack held the veneer nicely for all the cuts. No fire hazard here folks!

Through a bit of testing, I found that 450/Full Power cut through the veneer without cutting through the cardboard. Your results may vary.

For this 2.0 experiment, I also pre-stained the back side of the plywood base to give it a more “finished” look (and because I’m too lazy to stain finished items individually!)

Note: I just had an additional thought. If the cost/availability of multi-colored wood veneer is difficult for folks, you could also just buy a single light-colored veneer, then stain different parts of it different colors, then laser cut strips from that!

Anyway, back to 2.0. I just cut all the waves out of multiple color veneers, as I already had them.

To glue them to the base, I decided to try a different approach than I did in 1.0 above. Instead of gluing each strip to the base individually, I decided to first fully assemble the wavy pieces without glue, using painters tape to keep them together. I took this approach since the waves were (purposely) cut thinner than 1.0 which resulted in them being more fragile. And yes, some broke while cutting and some broke while assembling. No worries. I strongly suspect that more would have broken if I attempted to individually place them on a pre-glued board as I did in version 1.0.

Anyway… I started assembly using a ruler to give me a straight edge, and just started laying, sliding, and taping the wavy strips in place.

Was this a bit tedious? Yup. Did it work? Also yup. :slight_smile: So on I went!

I also ended up fully taping across the surface of the strips, as everything started to want to bend and twist a bit as I progressed. As a reminder, these strips are NOT glued down yet. They are just taped to each other.

When I was done placing all the strips (well, all the strips that didn’t break at least!) I flipped the whole thing over and sprayed it with Gorilla Glue spray.

I then flipped it AGAIN and placed it down on my base layer of plywood to adhere it.

And just like in version 1.0, I placed weight across it with a second piece of scrap plywood on top, and let it dry.

Here it is fully dried, and with the painter’s tape peeled off.

Now let’s use some Fancy Wood 2.0! And here’s the end result of a couple simple tests (with a clear coat spray applied to make the colors “pop”):

Under “Lessons Learned” I would put: Use a LOT more glue spray next time. On some of the Fancy Wood 2.0 I had veneer coming off the base, even though I thought I glued it sufficiently the first time. Maybe I should have sprayed glue on the veneer and the base. Oh well. :smirk:


i might suggest using something more permanent than the gorilla glue spray. like 3M adhesive sheets.


Looking so much better :slightly_smiling_face: Straight lines are ok if that is where you can go with a knife or saw, but with a Glowforge it is like 3d printing a flat sheet :upside_down_face:

For wood on wood there is not much that beats a good wood glue, even painted on with a brush.


Thanks @lampert for an interesting and most detailed write-up. I just learned something today.


I’m kind of obsessed with this. I especially like the wavy one. And I also have some of that veneer…


Can you laser through standard wood glue or does it cause problems like cheapo plywood?


Hi Christy. If you try this, let me know how it goes! :slight_smile:


No problems at all.

I know @geek2nurse has made really thin plywood out of veneers, and it inspired me to do it too for this project:

Standard wood glue never presented a problem.


Ok, here’s a really quick Fancy Wood 3.0 experiment. Note: This version of the experiment requires equipment that many Glowforge folks may not own… but we’re all “Beyond the Manual” here, so I figured I’d try it and post my results for those who may be interested.

Anyway… I was pondering how I could get a fake inlay look without the tediousness of gluing all the strips down to a base. I happen to have a sublimation printer and heat press which provides a way to transfer printed ink on to other materials. I won’t go into any more detail about sublimation, as it can be easily researched on the Internet.

So, I started by finding an image of wood strips in different colors. For this test, I googled “Rainbow wood” and found something I liked.

I then scaled it down and repeated/tiled it in a graphics program so it would fill out a full piece of paper. It’s entirely possible that you could have found an image online that was already the correct size, so this step may be optional for you.

I then printed this fake-wood-strips image onto sublimation paper. Note: This is NOT the same as printing with a normal inkjet or color laser printer. Those will not work using this experiment method (though there are other transfer methods for those types of printers, so feel free to google it.)

I then taped down the sublimation paper to a piece of plywood and used my heat press to transfer the image to the wood


Here’s the plywood with the ink permanently on it.

Then I cut out the same Sphynx ornament I used for version 1.0. Here is the result, after a quick spray of clear-coat.

I like the look of the end result, though it doesn’t look as… real, maybe?.. or professional?.. as the ones that used actual veneer. Not that that’s a big shock, since it’s not “real” strips. But man, was it easy to create! :grin:

Maybe someone can give this a try, but can also laser scribe lines with the Glowforge between each fake strip on the printed plywood? That may enhance the illusion, but I was too lazy to figure out how to get something like that lined up properly.

Final note: The colors are muted since they were not transferred on to a white material. I knew this would be the case in advance and could have pre-painted the plywood base with white paint, but I wanted some of the natural wood grain to be allowed to show through.

Ok, I’m off for now. If I ever come up with anything else good, I’ll post to the forum again. :hand_with_index_finger_and_thumb_crossed:

Have fun all, and keep experimenting!