How To Add Bow Tie Inlays To Your Builds With A Router

We are about to get fancy up in here.  We are talking a Bow Tie today.  You can call them splines, Dutchman Inlays or even Butterfly Inlays, but today, we are all high class/red carpet type and we’re calling them a Bow Tie.  With that said, I’m going to draw the ire of every fine woodworker out there and show you how to skip the chisels and hand cut inlays and show you how Lazy Guy puts a bow tie on in seconds rather than days.  And no… it’s not a clip on.

Bow Tie Inlay
But before we go there…

What Is A Bow Tie?  

I went “pinky out” fancy in the image above and made a three piece suit joining three separate pieces of material (and this is for my first ever, go big or go home right… ? but I was already at home…).  Thanks to the suggestion of friends on Instagram, I’m going to name it a “Tuxedo Bow Tie” given the stripe.  The inlays provide stability across the joint of two separate pieces of material much like a pocket hole would (but prettier) join boards for a table top.  You still have a glue up in the middle, but these bow ties lock it up tight and help prevent the piece from separating.  In addition to bringing worlds together, it can also go double duty for damage control.  If you have a split in your live edge, a bow tie will keep the pieces from splitting any more than they already have.  So not only do they look good, they are actually functional too (sort of like your current narrator).

How To Add Bow Tie Inlays
How Does One Make A Bow Tie Inlay?

Generally, a fine woodworker would cut the inset into the top of the piece by hand with chisels and then use a saw for the inlay.  My cuts are only but so good and accuracy is key here (because they have to fit), so how do we get the same shape and look?  We cheat of course!  My wife got me this great Inlay kit from Rockler pictured above (*product links in this post are affiliate links).  You’re going to need to get the same thing to repeat this process.  It’s usually only $20 on Amazon, so that’s a great option, but you also need to purchase this Inlay Template Guide Kit With Router Bit.  Rockler has their own as well, but I love Freud’s quality of bits and recommend that one.  Oh, I guess I should mention you need a router too… and it needs to have a plunge base.  I used my Makita RT0701Compact Router that keeps going down in price, but up in the hearts of its fans everywhere.  But there was a problem…

How To Add Bow Tie Inlays
See the Gold Circle on the bottom?  That’s called a bushing.  This attaches to your router base and uses that little ring to trace the inside of the template to give you an exact cut out.  Problem is… it didn’t mount into the bottom of my Makita.  So I attempted to make my own router jig out of acrylic… and failed (pictured above).  If you follow me on Instagram you can find the full story as to why there… but heat and plastic don’t mix.  So now what?

How To Add Bow Tie Inlays
I had to make yet another purchase… For another $17, a reader let me in on the secret that you can get an after-market router bushing adaptor that would go right into my Makita.  I could even use my existing router plate.  It attached in seconds (once I got the bushing out of my melted acrylic) and I was ready to cut bow ties.

See The Bow Tie Inlay Guide In Action

As you see in the video above it’s actually extremely simple to use.  You have your depth set, plunge your router base and then stay between the lines.  That’s it.  Use your depth lock once you plunge the router and then just clean out the middle.  I did stop twice to clean out the debris and see what I had missed, but it’s so quick and easy (like your mom…).  *I’d like to point out that’s my first “Your Mom” joke of this entire blog.  I’m surprised I lasted this long (That’s what she said) without one.  First one of those too!  The biggest question I’ve been asked is how does the template stay on the surface?  The answer is magic or possibly double sided tape.  I picked up this 1″x 35 yard double sided tape from Amazon and I can tell you a little bit goes a long way.  You do need to replace the tape after each time you stick it to a surface, two pieces of quarter sized tape will lock it down like Fort Knox.

How To Add Bow Tie Inlays
So You Cut Out A Bow Tie Shaped Hole… Now What?

Now you can remove the little ring on the bottom of your bushing (it’s held by friction… and magic) and run your router over your material you’re going to use for the inlay.  I’d recommend adjusting your depth a little deeper on your bit so your inlay sticks out a little from your inset when you insert it.  Then you can sand off the excess after the glue up.  You will use the exact same template, but because you’ve removed that ring from the bushing, the cut pattern goes a little wider.  Trace only the outside edge of the bow tie this time when you use your router.  You’ll be left with a bow tie outline.  Cut off any excess material with your table saw and sand any rough edges.   *Depending on how thick your inlay piece is and how deep your router cut was, you might have to do a rip cut on your table saw to pop out your cut out.

How To Add Bow Tie Inlays
Drop In Your Bow Tie Inlay

With your surface clean and your edges smooth you’re ready for the glue up.  Add glue to all contact surfaces, pop them in and let them dry.  I used TiteBond II for mine and let it dry overnight.  I then came back with a belt sander and sanded off the excess.  Then hit it again with graduating grits of sand paper with the random orbit sander up to 220 with a glass smooth finish.  That’s it!  You can fill any gaps with a combo of wood glue and sawdust, then sand off the excess again.  You’re now ready for the formal bow tie party.

~Lazy Guy

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4 years ago

Love the info on the bow tie jig. One major problem with your bow ties. The grain is going the wrong way. If that joint tries to open the bow ties will snap. The grain has to go 90 degrees to the crack or joint.

Reply to  lazyguydiy
4 years ago

Unfortunately those “hard way” lessons seem to stick the best. I always say it only takes 2 or 3 hits upside the head with a 2×4 for me to learn something. Love the small shop ideas. I get the one car side of the garage for mine. Gotta have a spot for everything and it’s all gotta move easily.

4 years ago

When cutting out the inlay material, better to use thin stock initially rather than resaw an already routed bow tie. Too much chance for rip out or other damage to body and materials as the bow tie goes flying off the table saw or band saw at the end of the cut. Use a waste board below the inlay material so that the router bit cuts all the way through the inlay and doesn’t damage anything below it. Use double-sided tape to attach the inlay to the waste board. Otherwise, the inlay will be destroyed when the last part is… Read more »

Steve Hawes
Steve Hawes
2 years ago

I have 2 maple cookies both 24 inch round and 2 inches thick, I’m hoping to connect both of these to make 1 table. Was going to use bow tie inlays to connect, have used bow ties in past on large cracks with great success. Obviously concerned about the stress on them and if this is even possible how would I figure out how long and thick do the bow ties need to be? Appreciate any feedback that anyone may have.

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