Metal Ring Inlay Tutorial

After searching far and wide for a tutorial on how to add a metal inlay into a ring, I turned up pretty much empty-handed. I found all kinds of other inlay techniques, but nobody seemed was sharing any info for a metal-on-metal ring+inlay combination.

This is what I ended up with, and I felt like I should share it with others that were having the same googling woes that I faced with.

Here I use a stainless steel base metal and copper for the inlay as long as the inlay material is softer than the parent metal, this should work with any combination.

What you’ll need

  • A grinder and tool steel blank – for making the dovetail tool for cutting the inlay groove. (pictured below)
  • A hammer
  • Square inlay wire of your desired size and material (I’m using copper)
  • Stock for the ring (I’m using 1″ 316 stainless steel rod)
  • A lathe and basic tooling

This tool will create an undercut relief that makes setting the inlay possible. This tool cannot be wider (narrower is ok) than the width of the inlay material you are using. Note the shape, we will need this to create an undercut to hold the inlay securely.

lathe cutting tool

Dovetail Grooving Tool

lathe turned groove in ring

Groove Cutting

Now we cut the groove into the ring.

Using any grooving tool, plunge straight in until you are about 50-75% of the depth of your inlay materials thickness, make the width of the groove the same as your inlay wire.

Now switch in the dovetail tool and undercut each side so that there is a relief near the bottom of the groove. You don’t need much relief, only enough for the wire to expand into and lock the inlay in place in the next steps. Just make sure you don’t go too far and make the outer edge of groove wider.

When you’re done the wire should fit in with a light press and stay in place. Like this –

Machining the inlay groove

Fitting the Wire in the Groove

Pre-form and begin inserting the wire into the groove.

inlay wire

Inserting the Inlay Wire

The wire is cut a little shorter than circumference of the groove diameter.

The formula I use for finding the base length of the inlay wire is this –

((groove diameter + thickness of wire)*pi) – thickness of wire.

Setting the inlay with a punch

Setting the Inlay

Starting at one edge, begin lightly tapping the inlay into place, working in a circle. Once you’ve gone around once or twice, start tapping harder so the wire expands into the undercut left from the dovetailed groove.

Inlay set totally flush

Inlay Completely Set

Keep working in a circle, hammering until the ends meet and a seam is no longer visible. Make sure the end of the inlay is hammered down well, if it isn’t the inlay may come out when turned flush.

Finished Ring Inlay in Copper

Finished Inlay

All that’s left is to turn the inlay down flush and you’re done! It seems like a lot at first, but it really isn’t that complicated, it just takes patience.


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