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Intarsia Goldfish

A couple of years ago, I saw this book in a woodworking shop, and bought it because it looked interesting.

I read the book, but did not decide to try intarsia because I was too busy on other projects at the time.

I kept seeing intarsia articles in Scroll Saw Woodworking Magazine, and decided to try an intarsia project.

I re-read the book above, and decided to follow the author's advice and do a simple project first, which is the Goldfish project.  You can get Kathy Wise's books or patterns from her web site here.


I needed a paper pattern, so I scanned in the pattern from the book. 
I imported the .jpg file into Google Sketchup, and used Sketchup to print out to-scale paper copies.

I used yellow heart wood for this project.  I had to glue up some narrow boards to get the 8.5 width size of board needed.  I kissed both sides on the planer after the boards dried because you can never match up the boards perfectly when you glue them.

I also followed the book's advice and white Elmer-glued another paper copy of the pattern to my 3/16" thick plywood backer board.

Scroll Sawing

This is the first scroll sawing pattern I have used where the pattern uses colored lines to tell you what order to saw the pieces.  I used a #5 blade and starting sawing pieces. 

Reducing Thickness on 4 Pieces

Four of the pieces must have their thickness reduced from 3/4 to 1/2". I table-sawed a piece of scrap pine to the desired 1/2" thickness. I used this scrap piece as a height guide and placed each of the 4 pieces against it, and scribed a line with a pencil.

I tried scroll sawing the 4 pieces, but this did not work.  Because they curved shapes, their is no way to hold them down on the scroll saw table with the guide. The scroll saw wants to raise them from the table during sawing.  With no guide, it is very hard to hold them down by hand onto the table.

I used the drill press drum sander to remove the 1/4" from the top of each of the pieces. You want to remove from the top versus the bottom, because you want the bottom to stay flat to glue well to the backer board.  After the drum sander, I finish sanded them on the horizontal belt sander.

Working the Pieces

I used a 60 grit 3/4" diameter drum sander on the drill press to put on an 1/8" to a 1/4 inch radius all around each piece.  I also used the Dremel with a small 1/2" wheel to put a radius on areas the 3/4" drum sander could not reach.

I wanted to put a groove in each scroll sawed line, like the lines on the fins.  I tried a round file, and this worked ok, but was time consuming and did not go very deep. I switched to a pointed steel bit on the Dremel, which worked very well.

Looking at the finished pattern photo, I used the Dremel drum sander to work the fish head. I made it slope to a thinner front, and lowered the fish's mouth as well.

I think you could also taper the fins to go thinner on the outside of the fish, but I did not do this on this 1st goldfish.

You basically keep checking the finished photo, and keep working the pieces by sanding until you are happy.

When I was happy, I finish sanded all pieces using 220 grit on the drill press spindle sander.


The book suggests gluing the pieces to the backer board, then using a spray polyurethane.  I don't have any spray cans, and I am terrible at spray painting.  I always get runs when I spray something.

I decided to varnish the pieces separately, then later glue them together, then glue them to the backer board.  This allows me to do 2 or 3 rounds of 220 grit and polyurethane, to get a nice finish. 

Here are the pieces with their first coats:

Black Fish Eye

The book says you can use black ebony, burn the wood to turn it black, or paint the eye black.  Since I have some scrap ebony, I decided to use ebony.

I cut a piece of 3/8" diameter 1/4" thick ebony using the dowel cutter on the drill press.  I then super-glued the ebony to the end of a 3/8" pine dowel.  I sanded it on the lathe holding it in the chuck.  I applied pen finishing abrasive to get a very smooth finish.  Last was to paint with clear gloss polyurethane.

Gluing the Pieces Together

I held the fish head with 1 hand, then super glued the first mating piece to it,  using my other hand to clamp both pieces together about 2 minutes, until the super glue set.

When I had all the pieces glued up horizontally, I let them set about 1 hour.

I then scroll sawed the backer board an 1/8 to a 1/4 smaller than the intarsia stack. I used a wet dish rag to rub off the paper pattern and white Elmer's glue from the backer board.  I popped the backer board in the oven at 110F for about 10 minutes to remove the water from the backer board (I wanted to finish the project right away versus waiting).

I liberally applied super glue to the back of the intarsia pieces, then placed the goldfish on top of the backer board. I used clamps to let it set for about 10 minutes.

I did make a mistake sawing out the backer board and removed one fin section that I should not have sawn out.  There were so many lines on the pattern, I accidentally marked the wrong one with a felt pen for scroll sawing.  I simply super glued the missing piece to the rest of the backer board.


I used a simple picture hangar on the back.

Finished Goldfish Intarsia





Closing Thoughts


This is a good 1st intarsia project. I learned that you can spend as much time as you want sculpting the pieces. For example, you could have the fins taper down to maybe a 1/4" thickness on the outside if  you want.

Now I am ready to try an intermediate level intarsia project.





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