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it depends on the size and detail of the inlay. if its large it can be done with a router and a guide.. if its small a knife and chisel usually work
Am I correct in assuming that the depth is not terribly critical?


It seems like if the channel in the main piece of wood is too small, a sander will make quick work of knocking it down.

I'm thinking about making my kid a "pokemon mat" as the ones that come with the game are paper and are getting destroyed quickly. I would basically be making a dozen small squares the sizes of cards..... Maybe a knife and a straight edge would be the way to go. I could make 1/4" channels and lay some darker wood into it.
 

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Do a Youtube search for 'router inlay'-----It's really rather simple---the router inlay set consists of two rub collars for the router and a small straight cutting bit---

You will need to make one template out of a scrap of MDF or plywood--this is used to cut the filler piece and the indentation to receive it----

I use this for removing knots and patching the void with a good bit of wood---
 
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They are also called template guide bushing and/or template cutting bushing. The router base hole is usually standard, but you may need to buy matching router base plate.
Work will be more accurate with the router.
 
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