Sulphur Inlay

September 2003

Reviving an 18th century inlay technique.


Sulphur inlay is a rare, near extinct, 18th century inlay technique. But it looked pretty easy, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Test piece - as carved

Test piece - as carved

I started with a small piece of mahogany, about 4" square. Then carved it (badly) with an oak leaf mon.

The grooves are about as deep as they are wide. The sulphur locks in there permanently, as it expands slightly on cooling.

Sulphur poured and allowed to cool

Sulphur poured and allowed to cool

The sulphur is just plain yellow "flowers of sulphur" from a garden shop, or an older ironmongers. Melted in a small tin can over the kitchen stove, it melts very easily. Then just pour it carelessly over the carving.

Scraped smooth and finished

Scraped smooth and finished

After cooling for a couple of minutes, scrape it flat with a cabinet scraper. You're done !

Results:

Not bad. Needs a groove width of about 1/16" minimum. The groove should be square-sided, as narrow V-shaped grooves can fall out.

There are a few air bubbles in the sulphur, particularly down the middle of the wide grooves. I think having the workpiece right next to the stove might give me a quicker pour and runnier sulphur.

Surface when finished is hard and pale straw colour. Definitely needs a dark wood to show it up well.

Raw sulphur isn't whiffy, and it seems to last for a couple of hundred years at least. Only when you're (over) heating it does it smell a bit of cheap coal fires.