How I Create Art - The Build ProcessWoodworking

Keepsake Box with Custom Inlay of a Bear

Keepsake Box with Custom Inlay of a Bear

Time-lapse Photography of the Lid Inlay Being Created

Custom Inlay of a teady Bear in a boxCUstom inlay on keepsake boxThis keepsake box was made for a special girl who passed away just before her 4th birthday from epilepsy earlier this year. The inspiration for the bear inlay on the lid of the box came from her nickname “Claire Bear”, a nickname that quickly became popular around the hospital as all the doctors and nurses used it during her frequent visits.

If you would like to get involved with helping kids with epilepsy, you can do so at, where you will find links to the charity that helped Claire Bear as well as a link to help the family out directly with their medical bills, which accumulated over Claire’s life.

Building The Keepsake Box

Bear SketchSince everybody called her Clair Bear, I knew I wanted to incorporate a bear into the top of the box. To come up with the design I searched Google images to find inspiration. I found an intarsia piece that someone did of a bear sitting on a moon. I then found a picture of a Bonsai tree I liked, so I held up a piece of paper to the computer screen and traced the outline. I did the same for the leaves. I used the bear sitting in the moon idea and redrew the bear so it was sitting in the tree.

Once I had the entire piece traced and drawn, I scanned them into my computer as individual pieces and resized them in Microsoft publisher until I had them sized and placed just right to fit the ob the box. I printed it out and traced it onto some tracing paper to use as a template.

Cut inlay with exacto knifeI cut out each piece of the inlay by hand using a razor knife.

hand cut inlay with tree branchI started with the background and worked towards the foreground.

Glue Clamp inlayEach piece is cut, glued, and clamped in place and left to dry a minimum of 2 hours before moving onto the next piece. This box top inlay has over 24 individual pieces; it sat on my bench for weeks as it slowly came together gluing one piece at a time.

Transfering Inlay image to box top using carbon paperTracing paper over carbon paper is used to transfer the location of each piece onto the veneer and to the lid.

Custom Bear inlay ProgressClosing in on the half way mark.

Sand Shading wood inlay pieces To add some three dimensional depth to the inlay I used a sand burning technique to shade the individual pieces of the inlay.

steaming hot sandThe sand was wet the first time I heated it up, looked pretty cool as it steamed off the moisture.

Wood Slicer resaw bandsaw blade

Cutting mitered keys Shop made jig for cutting mitered corner keysI used a shop made jig to cut the bevel on the lid as well as the slots for the keyed miters. Let me tell you, after putting in 22 hours on cutting in the Inlay, I was really squeezing my butt cheeks together hoping nothing would go wrong as I built the rest of the box trying not to mess up the lid.

Double Check jig setupI used a scrap piece of plywood in the jig for two reasons. One to test the location of each keyed mitered slot. You just do not get a second chance if you cut it in the wrong place. Two, I used it in the jig as a backer board to prevent tear out and splintering as the blade exited the box.

Cuttinmg the strips for the wood keyed mitersI used a thin rip jig from Rockler to cut the strips for the keyed miters. I always have a safety issue as the small pieces hit the blade and shoot back at me. To keep the pieces away from the blade I clamped a wedge behind the blade so as I cut the thin strips the wedge pushes them away from the blade.

Painters tape to protect Box from scratchesI taped the box to protect it from being scratched as I cut off the lid by passing it over the table saw blade. If you are looking for a hot stock tip, invest in 3M as I go through at least a roll of tape on every project.

Handsaw to cut the lid offTo prevent the lid form falling off and being ruined from hitting the table saw blade I only cut partway through. I finished the cut with a handsaw.

Danish oil, shellac, and lacquer finishTo finish the project, I first put on a coat of Danish oil to bring out the colors in the different woods used in the inlay. I then sealed in the Danish oil with a coat of shellac. For the inside of the box to prevent it from smelling of a chemical finish smell forever, I did two more coats of shellac. The final coat on the exterior of the box, I sprayed on three coats of lacquer.

Custom Inlay of a teady Bear in a boxI used seven different woods to make this keepsake box. I used walnut for the box itself. The top and mitered corner keys are made from hard maple. The tree is walnut, and the leaves are African Cerejeira. The bears legs, arms, and head are made of quarter swan African Mahogany. His belly and face are made from quarter swan African Makore, and his ears and eyes are made from European Pear wood.

CUstom inlay on keepsake boxBear box front view

A look inside the box Overview of the bear inlay box

If you would like a Keepsake Box with a custom inlay or,

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I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.

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