Planar butt jointing techniques

THERE ARE PICTURES DOWN BELOW! Don’t run away because of all the dumb text :wink:

I’ve recently completed a study of various inlay-esque plane jointing techniques, where two pieces of wood butt up against each other edge-to-edge in the same plane. As with my finger joint roundup, I had a few rules I set up at first to keep the scope manageable.

  • No more than two species of wood involved.
  • No “islands”. All wood needed to be firmly attached to its “side” of the joint
  • Light, constant kerf correction (0.005"), in many examples it could be tighter, but these are proofs of concept, so I didn’t chase thousandths in order to preserve my sanity and save time. This is important because of the various materials involved – it would have required lots of trial and error to get them exactly right.
  • Always flip one side so that they mate with one piece face up, the other face down. This (for most designs) requires doing a horizontal flip of one side before cutting, to make it a mirror image. This makes for a better low-kerf fit.

A few notes on materials and process:

  • All woods are nominal 1/8" (3mm). In reality the woods are different thicknesses. This results in a LOT of sanding to get it right. Do yourself a favor and try to start with materials that are all the same thickness.
  • All woods have been sanded up to 600 grit.
  • All woods are sealed with feed-n-wax (basically an oil/wax mix)
  • All cuts were masked. This really reduces the necessary cleanup.
  • All joints are glued with titebond. It’s a bear to get good coverage inside the resulting edges, but worth the effort.

I started this whole journey with a simple greek key. These are fairly trivial to make, especially in the traditional rectangular/constant width style.

Greek Key
Maple/Mystery wood from scrap bin at Rockler [Cherry? Mahogany? Light weight and cuts quickly]

I wanted something more organic, and settled on a swirl design that takes its cues from a dual layer of interlocking greek keys. Curves are naturally better performers with inlay projects because they generally avoid corner overburn. You’ll see that wherever possible from here on I use (small radius) curves almost everywhere for that very reason.

Counter Swirls


Expanding on the curve idea, I designed a wave that nested nicely.

Wave Curls


It was a short jump to rotating it and making hexagonal variant of the joint.

Hex Curls


And then, another short jump to mirror it and get this:

Moustache Curls


I changed direction and went back to my geometric roots, but took some curviness with me, and ended up with this deco-esque design.

5-1/2 Sigma

Maple/Mystery wood from scrap bin at Rockler [Cherry? Mahogany? Light weight and cuts quickly]

Then I took the curve idea and made this interpretation of a sine wave. The fingers are 0.10" (2.5mm) thick.



That previous photo just doesn’t catch the joy of this piece. The padauk has great figuring and flashes bright red lines. Here’s a bonus picture at the correct angle. [ignore my laser fingers] Note the reflected red at the top and lower mid. It’s gorgeous in person.

Shockwave detail/true color


From here, I decided to expand away from geometric patterns and try something with a real-world analog. These guys were born. If I were to do it again, I’d want to do it at about 1.5x scale, it’s very difficult to avoid overburn and loss of detail at this scale (0.75" [19mm] tall owls)

The Parliament


And then to just get away from symmetry altogether – you can use literally any shapes you want as your “puzzle pieces”. Note the overburn in the maple, I didn’t bother to edit the font outlines, again, sanity.



You might be asking “What’s this good for?” Well, first, it allows for precise alignment of two planar pieces. Second, it can be used to bring some flash to an otherwise staid design. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, but I do have an example of using these techniques on a real project. I made a smaller-sized dice tray for game night, and used this sort of planar jointing to make it really stand out.

Swirl Box three-quarters

Maple/Padauk/Sheepskin - 4" wide, 8.75" long, 2.5" tall (100 x 222 x 64mm) [exterior]

Swirl Box long


Swirl Box closeup broadside


Swirl Box full frontal

Maple/Padauk/screw-in rubber feet


sigh! You get to work with the most beautiful woods! Love that maple/wenge combination. :slightly_smiling_face:


Gorgeous box!


wow that looks pretty incredible. especially that wenge/padauk


Thank you for all of this info and the pictures. The designs are beautiful, and the box is flat out gorgeous!

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I love the colors on this.
Everything looks great, I can see this turning into a rabbit hole.


That’s some awesome work. They really elevate a project.

Now I need more non-work time to jump down this rabbit hole :grin:


Smacks hand to forehead!!! Of course this is how you do it!!!

I’d been thinking of simple “jigsaw” style connections, but of course they should be artistic

I find it so hard to think artistic instead of engineer sometimes - thank you for the inspiration.

Would you be upset if I happened to write an inkscape extension that did versions of these? It is OK to say no - I will respect that.


Thanks :slight_smile:

If I weren’t such a hoarder of my precious yellowheart, I might have used it instead. The combo of wenge and yellowheart is ridiculous.


Those are simply gorgeous!!!

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If you hadn’t said the wood was 1/8" I would have guessed it was 1/4" thick. Where do you find all of these woods in an 1/8" thickness? My favorite is the maple and padauk. This is a great inspiration for me, thanks for sharing your pictures. :grinning:

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omg that swirl box.

i think there are a lot of places to get the 1/8" exotic woods. the real problem is finding many of them in widths wider than 3". there are places, but it’s far more common in the narrow widths than in 4-8" wide.


Green valley has maple, padauk and wenge. As for pricing, I think Ocooch edges them out on maple. I havent done a deep dive on Ocooch’s pricing on the other two.

Here’s a quick analysis on Wenge pricing between GV and Inventables:

Oof Ocooch is way worse on Wenge. like $13/sqft, about double what GV charges.

It all comes down to the species you want and who has it in stock. Caveat Emptor!


That swirl box is ridiculously cool. Love the contrasting colors you chose. Very inspirational.


Truly very nice work.

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The box leaves me speechless. Very well done. :sunglasses:

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O.M.G. that is absolutely farkin’ brilliant! Beautiful pieces! I cannot wait to try this technique! Those are some premium pieces to display at my local neighborhood ‘farmer’s market.’

My brain itchez in a most fantastic way right now! THANK YOU!

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I’m all over this! Excellent work and thanks for the technique and clues.

I need to think about why you mention flipping a piece over so they meet face to face…is there another way to illustrate what you are saying?

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The shape of the cut matters. Anytime you cut with the laser there is a slight slope to the sides of the cut. Flipping one piece over lets you meet them face-to-face so the sides align better. I call this process “flip-mating”.

I’m away from my computer, so I can’t really provide a visual aid, but think of it as like a keystone of an arch, you want the sides to align and mate properly. You can test this with any piece of scrap cuts that you have laying around. Lay the two pieces edge to edge with their faces up. You’ll see a gap between the two faces.

Now flip both of them over, so that you see the two backs… They will align with nearly no gap, but there will still be a gap between the two front faces (now facing down).

Now, flip one over and align them. There should be very little gap on either side. Making any sense?


So creative and beautiful. I hope it is a post that will launch a thousand projects!