In my last post I wrote about a lecture by Gene Landon that I recently attended which inspired me to try to do a period furniture piece. The piece that I will be building (and writing about here over the near term) is a side table from the Queen Anne period with beautiful cabriole legs and a single drawer.
This table is modeled after one done by Glen Huey of Popular Woodworking in the fall of 2004. As seen in the picture, Glen’s table is a nice example of Queen Anne styling with graceful legs and scroll work along the aprons. I have never done any hand shaped legs of this sort before nor have I done a period furniture reproduction. So, this project will be an interesting challenge in learning new styles and honing new skills.
To begin the project I determined what lumber I would need and set off to find the right stock. I knew that finding the correct stock, thick enough for the legs would be a challenge. I did not want to laminate the stock for them so, that was a priority. I went to a new local hardwood supplier G.W. Woods Inc. to see what was available there. I met the owner, Greg Wolfe and discussed what I had in mind. Greg showed me to a nice selection of 12/4 and 16/4 Cherry for the legs – these needed to be surfaced to 2 3/4″ square before any further cutting and shaping. I also found some nice 4/4 Cherry for the top, the drawer and the aprons. In addition, I brought home a piece of 4/4 curly maple that I was thinking of using for the drawer front, but I am not sure that I want to deviate from the typical characteristics of the Queen Anne period by mixing species so, that may get saved for a future project.
To get started I needed to create a template for the legs that could be used to transfer a consistent pattern to each leg blank prior to cutting them out on the band saw. I did this by drawing the pattern onto a piece of 1/4″ hardboard and cutting close to the pattern lines with the band saw. There are two pieces to the template, the main leg, and a small shoulder extension for the top under the aprons that is glued on and shaped later. Once these template pieces were rough cut, I smoothed all of the curves with a file and sanding block so that when transfered to the leg blanks the lines would all flow nicely.
Next, I had layout the leg cuts and rip the stock down to rough dimensions. I typically do this on my band saw as there is no risk of kickback with rough pieces. This also allows me to get the stock closer to finished dimensions before squaring it up with the jointer and planer – the benefit here is that if there is any bow or twist in the stock, it is more minimal when the pieces are shorter and therefore less stock is lost during the milling process.
Once the legs were ripped to size, I spent some time at the jointer and planer getting the stock to a finished 2 3/4″ square dimension. I did this in the typical fashion – first flattening a face and then squaring an adjacent edge on the jointer, then running the stock through the planer using those flat faces as a reference to obtain perfectly square leg blanks. Next, I cut the legs to length and saved the offcuts to use for the leg shoulder extensions later. At this point, it was time to transfer the patterns to the legs. This was done by tracing along the template on adjacent faces of the leg blanks. The important detail here was to do this so that the knees of the pattern meet at a corner of the leg. It is also typically desirable to have the growth rings of the leg running diagonal toward that corner – this gives the shaped leg nice straight grain instead of a series of concentric ovals. I tried to orient them for this detail as best I could while avoiding sapwood and other minor defects in the stock.
With the patterns transferred to the legs, it was now the moment of truth – time to cut out the legs. It was a bit nerve racking doing this for the first time after all of the time prepping and milling this stock – not to mention not wanting to make a mistake potentially ruining relatively expensive stock. I checked and double-checked the layout and decided it was time to give it a go. The first step was actually a cut at the shoulder just where the knee intersects the vertical post on the legs. This was done on the table saw with a stop block clamped to the fence behind the blade – this registered each cut at exactly the same location. This cut was made on the two faces that had the pattern traced onto them and only deep enough to intersect the vertical post portions of the legs. Next, it was time for cutting the curves on the band saw. The key to doing this was to cut the pattern on two adjacent faces of the leg blank while keeping the leg square so that the second face can be cut after the first. To do this I cut just outside of the pattern lines – on both the knee and back edges – on the first face leaving a little bridge so that face would remain intact during the cuts for the second face. The piece above the knee is too small to do this, so it was cut completely off and then temporarily reattached with some hot melt glue. Once all of this was done, the piece was rotated 90 degrees and the second face was cut completely through. All than remained was to go back to the first face and cut through the bridges and then to pop off the piece temporarily glued above the knee.
All of the prep work paid off, the rough legs turned out fine. The graceful shape of the cabriole leg is roughed in and ready for the next step in the process which will be turning the foot pads on the lathe and then shaping and smoothing the curves with rasps, files and scrapers. More new skills to hone!
Until then, and as always, if you have comments or questions, please either leave theme here with the comments link at the end of the post, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.