How To Make Router Inlay Templates (5 EASY Steps!)

Looking to create stunning inlays with precision? Discover the secrets to crafting perfect router inlay templates and elevate your woodworking game! Ready to dive in?

how to make router inlay templates

Router inlay templates are one of the essential tools in inlay routing which help to create stunning letters and artworks on wood that enhance the natural appearance of your furniture and woodwork.

Templates help to make highly detailed designs and patterns with precision and ease with clean lines and perfect symmetry.

Have you ever wondered about the method of making router inlay templates? If yes, this article is for you.

I’ve included everything I have learned over the past years and things that I’ve gathered from professionals to figure out the best method to make router inlay templates.

Let’s discuss, How to make router inlay templates?

To make router inlay templates, first, design the template by hand or with CAD software. Then, prepare the template material by cutting, sanding, and smoothing edges. Next, transfer your design into the material and cut the template. Finally, sand the edges and test the router inlay template on scrap wood.

But that’s just a quick snapshot!

Where can we send your
FREE Tool Care Guide?

    Privacy Policy: We hate spam and promise to keep your email address safe.

    In this article, I’ll explore how to make router inlay templates properly by explaining step-by-step procedure in detail. Plus, I’ll help you to decide the best material to make router template and what router bit you should go with, and tips and techniques.

    Furthermore, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions as well.

    Let’s jump in!

    Router inlay templates with various designs
    Router inlay templates with various designs

    What Is The Best Material To Make Router Inlay Templates?

    Selecting the right material for making router inlay templates is an essential factor you should consider before starting to make the inlay template since it directly affects the quality, ease of use, and durability of your template.

    Here’re the best materials to make router inlay templates,

    • MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)
    • Plywood
    • Acrylic

    Each of those materials has unique characteristic features that emphasize the quality of your project.

    Let’s discuss each one of them in detail with the pros and cons of each to help your selection.

    MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)

    MDF is a popular material that can use for making router inlay templates.

    You can make stunning router inlay templates with MDF due to its affordability, smooth surface, and ease of cutting.

    MDF is a type of manufactured wood that is made by compressing the wood fibers, with a consistent density and thickness which makes it great for routing.

    Let’s have a look at some pros and cons of MDF which are important when making a template and this helps you to select whether it suits you or not.

    Pros And Cons Of Using Mdf For Router Templates

    Pros of MDF,

    • Affordable: MDF is usually less expensive than plywood or acrylic, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious woodworkers.
    • Smooth surface: MDF’s even texture ensures that your router glides effortlessly, resulting in clean cuts.
    • Easy to work with: MDF is easy to cut and shape using common woodworking tools.

    Cons of MDF,

    • Susceptible to moisture: MDF can warp or swell if exposed to moisture, so it’s not ideal for projects that require water resistance.
    • Less durable: MDF is not as strong as plywood or acrylic, and it may wear out more quickly with repeated use.

    I once made a router template using MDF for a simple inlay project, and while the smooth surface was a pleasure to work with, I noticed signs of wear after using it for multiple projects.

    MDF router inlay templates
    MDF router inlay templates


    Plywood is an excellent material for making router inlay templates because of its high strength and stability.

    Plywood is made by gluing multiple layers of wood veneer together. This will result in a strong and uniform material that lasts for years with no issues.

    Let’s have a look at some pros and cons you might face when using plywood for making router inlay templates.

    Pros And Cons Of Using Plywood For Router Templates

    Pros of plywood,

    • Durable: Plywood is stronger than MDF, making it more resistant to wear and tear.
    • Stable: Plywood’s layered construction reduces the risk of warping or twisting, ensuring a consistent shape over time.
    • Versatile: Plywood is available in various thicknesses and grades, allowing you to choose the best option for your project.

    Cons of plywood,

    • Rougher surface: Plywood’s surface is not as smooth as MDF or acrylic, which may result in less precise routing.
    • Higher cost: Plywood is generally more expensive than MDF.

    When I used plywood to create a router template for a more complex project, I appreciated its durability and stability, but I did have to spend extra time sanding the edges for a smoother finish.

    Plywood router inlay templates
    Plywood router inlay templates


    Acrylic is an ideal material for making router inlay templates since it offers exceptional strength, clarity, and versatility.

    Therefore, you can make router inlay templates with acrylic with ease and they last for a long time due to their high durability with nice aesthetics due to their smooth surface.

    Let’s see some pros and cons of acrylic you might face when making router inlay templates with it.

    Pros And Cons Of Using Acrylic For Router Templates

    Pros of acrylic,

    • Durable: Acrylic is stronger than both MDF and plywood, making it suitable for heavy-duty projects or repeated use.
    • Smooth surface: Acrylic’s smooth surface ensures precise routing and easy glide for your router.
    • Transparent: Acrylic’s transparency allows you to see your workpiece, improving accuracy and alignment.

    Cons of acrylic,

    • Expensive: Acrylic is more costly than both MDF and plywood.
    • Brittle: Acrylic can be prone to cracking or chipping if not handled carefully.

    I once used acrylic for a router template that required high precision and transparency, and while the results were excellent, I had to be cautious during the cutting process to avoid damaging the material.

    Acrylic router inlay templates
    Acrylic router inlay templates

    Now you have a good knowledge of MDF, plywood, and acrylic which are considered the best materials for making router inlay templates.

    I know now you’re a little bit confused about which material you should actually go with.

    That depends on your personal preference, but I can help you with some suggestions and factors to help you to take the decision quicker and a lot easier.

    Just keep reading!

    Choosing The Right Material For Your Router Inlay Template

    Consider the following factors when selecting the right material for making router inlay template,

    • Budget: If you’re working on a tight budget, MDF may be the best choice due to its affordability. However, if you can afford to invest in a more durable material, plywood or acrylic might be better options.
    • Durability: For heavy-duty projects or templates that will be used repeatedly, plywood and acrylic offer greater durability than MDF. Acrylic is the strongest of the three but comes at a higher cost.
    • Surface quality: If a smooth surface is important for your project, MDF or acrylic are ideal choices. Plywood, while strong and stable, may require additional sanding to achieve a smooth finish.
    • Moisture resistance: If your project will be exposed to moisture or humidity, consider using plywood or acrylic, as MDF is susceptible to water damage.
    • Visibility: For projects requiring precise alignment or visibility of the workpiece, acrylic transparency can be a significant advantage.

    As you can see each material has its own kind of pros and cons and the best material depends on your needs and priorities.

    Carefully, consider the factors that I mentioned above and select the right material for your router inlay template to get stunning results.

    What Router Bit to Use for Inlay Templates?

    Choosing the right router bit for inlay templates is essential for achieving precise and clean cuts.

    The two popular types of router bits for inlay work are spiral upcut bits and straight bits.

    We’ll explore them in detail with their advantages and provide some guidance on selecting the best router bit for your specific project.

    Spiral Upcut Bits

    Spiral upcut bits are designed with a helical cutting edge that moves material up and away from the workpiece.

    These bits are particularly well-suited for inlay templates with many advantages.

    Advantages of Using Spiral Upcut Bits for Inlay Templates

    • Clean cuts: The helical design of the cutting edge creates a shearing action, resulting in cleaner and smoother cuts compared to straight bits.
    • Efficient chip removal: The upward spiral motion effectively removes chips and debris from the cutting area, reducing the risk of material build-up and overheating.
    • Reduced tear-out: Spiral upcut bits are less prone to tear-out, especially when working with delicate materials or intricate designs.

    Straight Bits

    Straight bits, also known as straight-flute bits, are designed with straight cutting edges. They are another popular option for creating inlay templates.

    Advantages of Using Straight Bits for Inlay Templates

    • Cost-effective: Straight bits are generally more affordable than spiral upcut bits, making them an attractive option for woodworkers on a budget.
    • Versatility: Straight bits come in various diameters and lengths, allowing you to find the perfect fit for your specific inlay template design.
    • Ease of use: Straight bits are straightforward to set up and use, making them an excellent choice for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike.

    Choosing the Right Router Bit for Your Project

    When selecting the best router bit for your inlay template project, consider the following factors:

    • Material: If you’re working with delicate or splinter-prone materials, a spiral upcut bit is generally a better choice due to its cleaner cutting action.
    • Design complexity: For intricate designs with tight corners and detailed patterns, a spiral upcut bit may provide more precision and reduced tear-out.
    • Budget: If cost is a concern, straight bits are typically more affordable than spiral upcut bits. However, the advantages of using a spiral upcut bit may outweigh the cost difference, depending on your project’s requirements.

    By carefully considering your project’s specific needs, material, and design intricacies, you can choose the right router bit to create accurate and professional-quality inlay templates.

    Did you know fact about making router inlay template
    Did you know fact about making router inlay template

    How Thick Should a Router Template Be?

    The thickness of a router template is an important factor you should consider before starting to cut the template for precision and the quality of the work.

    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, as the ideal thickness depends on various factors.

    Factors to Consider When Determining Template Thickness

    Here’re some factors you need to consider when deciding the thickness of the inlay routing template you’re about to make,

    1. Router bit length.
    2. Material being routed.
    3. Desired inlay depth.

    Let’s discuss each of those factors to achieve the perfect thickness for your template design.

    1. Router Bit Length

    The length of your router bit is crucial in determining the template’s thickness.

    Ensure that the cutting edge of the router bit is long enough to reach the desired depth of your inlay work while still allowing for proper guidance by the template.

    2. Material Being Routed

    The type of material you’re working with can also influence the thickness of your template.

    Harder materials, such as hardwoods or acrylic, may require thicker templates to withstand the pressure exerted by the router.

    On the other hand, softer materials like MDF or plywood may not need templates as thick.

    3. Desired Inlay Depth

    The depth of your inlay plays a role in template thickness as well.

    For shallow inlays, a thinner template may suffice, while deeper inlays may need a thicker template for stability and accuracy during the routing process.

    Let’s see some recommended thickness ranges that differ according to the project types.

    Recommended Thickness Ranges for Various Projects

    Template thickness of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch is suitable for many woodworking projects. This range provides adequate stability while still allowing for easy maneuverability.

    For projects involving harder materials or more intricate designs, consider using a template with a thickness between 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch.

    This additional thickness provides greater support and durability.

    For simpler projects or those involving softer materials, a thickness of 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch may be adequate.

    As you can see, the ideal thickness for your router template will depend on the unique factors of your project.

    How to make router inlay templates
    How to make router inlay templates

    Let’s see the tools and materials you need to have when making router inlay templates,

    Tools and Materials To Make Router Inlay Template

    • Router – A handheld or table-mounted router is essential for cutting the inlays.
    • Router bits – Spiral upcut bits or straight bits, depending on your preference and project requirements.
    • Jigsaw or bandsaw – To cut out the initial shape of the template.
    • Spindle sander or disc sander – For refining the edges of the template.
    • Sandpaper or sanding block – To smooth the edges and fine-tune the template.
    • Pencil or fine-tip marker – For drawing or transferring the design onto the template material.
    • Carbon paper or tracing paper – If using the transfer method for your design.
    • Scissors or a utility knife – To cut out printed designs if you’re using the print-and-adhere method.
    • Ruler or measuring tape – For measuring and marking the template material.
    • Compass or French curve – To draw curves and arcs in your design.
    • Clamps – To secure the template material during cutting and sanding.
    • Template material – MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), plywood, or acrylic are common choices for making router templates.
    • Adhesive – For attaching a printed design to the template material. Spray adhesive or double-sided tape works well.
    • Wood or other workpiece material – The material you’ll be routing for your inlay.
    • Finish – A clear finish like polyurethane or lacquer to protect your completed inlay, if desired.

    Gather the tools and materials depending on your specific project and design preferences, to get the desired result.

    Router inlay template
    Router inlay template

    Let’s head into the hot topic, the procedure of making router inlay templates step by step.

    Read all the steps carefully and follow the guidelines on point for an awesome custom router inlay template.

    How To Make Router Inlay Template?

    Here’re the steps you need to follow when making a router inlay template,

    1. Designing the template
    2. Preparing the chosen material
    3. Transferring the design onto the material
    4. Cutting the template
    5. Fine-tuning the template

    Let’s discuss each of the above steps in detail to get a clear understanding about the template-making procedure for inlay routing.

    1. Designing The Template

    First, you need to design the template using your drawing skills before transferring it to the selected material.

    You need to have a clear design and the right bit size in your mind when making the design for the template.

    You can follow two main methods to design the template,

    1. Hand-drawing the design.
    2. Using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

    Let’s have a look at how to design the template using both methods. You can select the one that you prefer the most.

    Hand Drawing the Design

    Hand drawing the design is good for people who have good drawing skills and for the ones that like the traditional approach.

    Use a pencil and a ruler or compass to draw your desired pattern or drawing. Make sure to include the measurements for accuracy and scale.

    Using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software

    If you’re not good at drawing, to can use CAD software to create a precise digital design. Drawing using CAD software is easy and you can make detailed patterns and do easy adjustments with it.

    AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, and Inkscape and good CAD software you can use to design the template.

    Follow video tutorials to get some practice before drawing the design by yourself.

    2. Preparing The Chosen Material

    After making the drawing you want, you need to prepare the material you selected for your template.

    First, cut the material to the size using a table saw or circular saw. Cut your chosen material (MDF, plywood, or acrylic) to the appropriate size.

    Read the comprehensive guide of Can You Cut MDF With A Table Saw!

    Make sure to keep allowances in all the side edges of your design for easier handling and make adjustments.

    After that, smooth the edges of your selected material by sanding with a sanding block or orbital sander.

    This helps you to make the material more comfortable to use and free of splinters and rough areas.

    Do's and Dont's when making router inlay templates
    Do’s and Dont’s when making router inlay templates

    3. Transferring The Design onto the Material

    Now you need to transfer the design you’ve drawn onto the material surface which was prepared in the previous step.

    First, place carbon paper between your design and the material surface and trace the design using a pencil or ballpen along the lines and edges of the design without making any mistakes or misalignment.

    Keep the carbon paper, design, and material steady the whole time without letting them make individual movements until the drawing is finished.

    This will transfer the design onto the material, providing a clear guide for the cutting.

    Or you can print the design onto adhesive-backed paper and carefully adhere it to the material surface.

    Make sure the design is properly aligned before pressing it down against the material.

    4. Cutting The Template

    Now it’s time to cut the template. Carefully cut out your design on the material surface using a router bit, jigsaw, or bandsaw.

    A router bit is a popular choice for cutting templates, especially if you need to create precise, repeatable shapes.

    With a router and the appropriate bit, you can quickly and easily cut out shapes from a variety of woods.

    First, you need to select a suitable router bit to cut the template.

    You’ll need to choose a router bit that matches the shape and size of the template you want to cut.

    Here’s how to cut the template using a router,

    • Secure the template: You’ll need to securely attach the template to the workpiece you’ll be cutting, using either clamps or double-sided tape. Make sure the template is level and flat, and won’t shift during the cutting process.
    • Set the depth of cut: Adjust the depth of the router bit so that it’s slightly deeper than the thickness of the material you’re cutting. You can do this by adjusting the height of the router bit in the collet.
    • Make the initial cut: Start the router and guide it along the edge of the template. Make sure the bit is cutting into the workpiece, not the template. Make the initial cut shallow and take your time to ensure accuracy.
    • Continue the cut: Follow the template around its edges, using a steady, even pace. Keep the router flat and level, and make sure the bit stays in contact with the template at all times.
    • Remove the excess material: Once you’ve finished cutting the template, use a saw or other cutting tool to remove any excess material from the workpiece.

    When cutting with the bandsaw, keep the blade as sharp and close as possible to the design lines while maintaining control and steady without letting the blade wiggle.

    In order to achieve a smoother and more accurate cut when making template for inlay routing, use a spindle or disc sander to refine the edges of your template.

    This will help you to remove any rough spots or inconsistencies on the surface.

    5. Fine-Tuning The Template

    Finally, you need to fine-tune your template to ensure a precise fit. First, take a fine-grit sandpaper to gently sand the edges of your template until it matches your design perfectly.

    Sand carefully and check your progress frequently to avoid over-sanding and damaging the wood surface.

    After making the template, before using it on your actual project, test it on a scrap piece of wood first to ensure proper fit.

    This helps you to make any necessary and fine adjustments before starting the actual project.

    That’s it, folks! Now you know how to make router inlay templates properly without messing things up.

    Follow the above-described points carefully and create high-quality router inlay templates that are tailored to your woodworking project.

    Patience and practice are the keys to making the template-making process successful.

    Tip for making router inlay templates
    Tip for making router inlay templates

    Let’s see some tips that are useful in making routing templates for inlays to make the project successful.

    Tips To Master Router Inlay Template Creation

    • Practice on scrap material first.
    • Choose the right material for your template.
    • Ensure a precise fit by spending extra time fine-tuning your template by sanding and smoothing the edges.
    • Select the appropriate router bit.
    • Secure your template and workpiece to prevent movement or shifting during the process.
    • Maintain a consistent depth of cut.
    • Take your time since rushing through the process can lead to mistakes and inaccuracies.
    • Work with sharp router bits.
    • Keep your work area clean and organized.
    • Learn from experienced woodworkers by watching tutorials, reading articles, and attending workshops.

    Follow the above tips and tricks to make a perfect inlay router template with ease.

    benefits of router templates
    benefits of router templates

    That’s it, folks! Hope you were able to know all you wanted to know about, how to make router inlay templates using the proper method.

    Let’s answer some frequently asked questions as well.

    What Are The Benefits Of Using A Router Inlay Template?

    Router inlay templates allow for precise and consistent results, ensuring that each inlay piece fits seamlessly within the workpiece.

    Additionally, they save time and reduce the risk of mistakes, as you can use the template to reproduce the same design multiple times with ease.

    Can I Use A Handheld Router Or A Router Table For Inlay Templates?

    Both handheld routers and router tables can be used for inlay templates, depending on your preference and the specific project requirements.

    Handheld routers provide more control for intricate designs, while router tables offer stability for larger, more straightforward cuts.

    How Can I Prevent Tear-Out When Using A Router Inlay Template?

    To minimize tear-out, use a sharp router bit, such as a spiral upcut bit, which provides cleaner cuts.

    Additionally, work slowly and steadily, avoid forcing the router through the material, and consider using a sacrificial backer board to support the workpiece.

    What Precautions Should I Take When Using A Router For Inlay Templates?

    Safety precautions include wearing proper eye and hearing protection, using sharp and clean router bits, securing the workpiece and template, and ensuring the router is properly adjusted and set up before starting the cut.

    Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations for your specific router model.

    Can I Create Custom Router Inlay Templates For Unique Designs?

    Yes, you can create custom router inlay templates by hand-drawing your design or using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

    Transfer the design onto your chosen template material, cut it out using a router, jigsaw, or bandsaw, and fine-tune the edges for a precise fit before using it with your router.

    How To Use A Butterfly Inlay Template?

    To use a butterfly inlay template, secure the template to your workpiece with double-sided tape or clamps.

    Use a guide bushing and a straight or spiral upcut bit in your router, and carefully follow the template’s contours.

    Once the inlay cavity is routed, use the same template to cut the butterfly inlay from a contrasting wood species.

    After cutting, sand the inlay to ensure a snug fit, apply glue, and press it into the cavity. Sand and finish the piece once the glue has dried.

    How To Make A Router Stencil?

    To make a router stencil, first, create your design by hand-drawing it or using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

    Transfer the design onto your chosen stencil material, such as MDF, plywood, or acrylic.

    Cut the design using a router, jigsaw, bandsaw, or scroll saw, and sand the edges to achieve a clean and precise cut.

    Use the stencil with a router and guide bushing to transfer the design onto your workpiece.

    How To Do Inlays With A Router?

    To do inlays with a router, start by creating a template for the inlay design.

    Secure the template to the workpiece using double-sided tape or clamps and use a router with a guide bushing and an appropriate bit (such as a straight or spiral up-cut bit) to route the cavity for the inlay.

    Next, cut the inlay material to fit the cavity, sanding it as needed for a snug fit.

    Apply glue to the cavity, press the inlay into place, and allow the glue to dry. Finally, sand and finish the piece as desired.

    Read this ultimate guide article about Inlay routing for more details.

    Did I cover all you wanted to know about How To Make Router Inlay Templates?

    In this article, I’ve deeply described the step-by-step process about how to make router inlay templates properly using simple steps with some useful tips and tricks.

    Plus, I’ve mentioned the factors you need to consider when selecting material thickness and router bit for precise outcomes as well.

    To make router inlay templates, create a design, transfer it onto your chosen material (MDF, plywood, or acrylic), and cut the template using a router, jigsaw, or bandsaw. Fine-tune the template by sanding the edges, and use it with a router, guide bushing, and appropriate bit to create precise inlays in your workpiece.

    Furthermore, I’ve answered some frequently asked questions as well.

    Hope you were able to know everything you need to know about how to make router inlay template with this comprehensive guide.

    Keep practicing and keep making router inlay templates and test them with scrap wood until you come up with a precise and accurate template that following the correct guidelines.

    You’ll succeed with enough practice and experience!

    Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

    Leave a Comment