straight. The most common element of cabriole legs is the S-shaped curve, which is meant to suggest the grace and elegance of a horse’s leg.
The design shown below will yield an attractive, well-proportioned leg strong and stable enough to support a piece of furniture. You can alter the pattern to suit your own project or copy the design of an existing leg that appeals to you. However, do not exaggerate the curves too much or you risk making the leg unstable. Before cutting into the block of wood, perform this simple test on your design: Draw a straight line from the top of the leg to
For a template, cut a piece of stiff cardboard or hardboard to the same length and width as your leg blanks. To draw the leg, start by outlining the post block. Make its length equal to the width of the rail that will be attached to the leg; the width should be adequate to accept the tenon of the rail (one-half to two-thirds the width of the stock is typical). Next, sketch the toe; for a leg of the proportions shown, it should be about 3A to 1 inch from the bottom of the leg. Then draw a curve on the front of the leg from the toe to the ankle using a french curve;
at its narrowest point, the diameter of the ankle should be about two-fifths the stock width. Move on to the knee, sketch ing a gentle curve from the post block to the front edge of the template about 2 to 3 inches below the block. Then join the knee to the ankle with a relatively straight line. Complete the outline at the back of the leg, connecting the bottom of the leg with the back of the ankle. Then sketch a curve from the ankle to the bottom of the post block (above). Experiment with the outline until you have a satisfactory design.
Copying the design of a cabriole leg
To transfer the contours of an existing leg onto a template, use this shop-made tracing guide. Cut a 2-inch cube from a scrap block, then use your table saw to form a V in one edge. Saw off the bottom half of the wedge. Remove the cartridge from a bail-point pen and use epoxy glue to bond it to the cube just to one side of the V; tape the cartridge to the block while the glue is drying. To use the guide, hold the template flat against one side of the leg. Then, guide the pen along the back and front of the leg, making sure the point of the V rides against the edge of the leg.
Transferring the design to the leg blank
Cut out your template on a band saw, then sand the edges up to the marked outline. Hold the template flat on one of the inside faces of the leg blank, making sure that the ends of the template and the blank are aligned and that the back of the post block is flush with the inside edge of the block of wood. Trace along the edges of the template to outline the leg. Turn the blank over and repeat the procedure on the other inside face (above). At this point, some woodworkers prefer to make preparations for the joinery before cutting the leg. (It is easier to clamp and cut a mortise in a rectangular leg blank, for example, than to carry out the same procedures in a leg with pronounced contours.) Other woodworkers cut the leg first and then do the joinery.
3 Making the cuts on one face of the leg
Set the leg blank on the band saw table with one of the marked outlines facing up and the bottom of the leg pointing away from you. Aligning the saw blade just to the waste side of the marked line for the back of the leg, feed the stock into the blade. Turn off the saw about halfway through the cut and remove the workpiece. Then cut along the same line from the opposite end. To avoid detaching the waste piece from the blank and losing the marked outline on the adjacent face, stop the cut about Vz inch from the first kerf, leaving a short bridge between the two cuts. Retract the workpiece, then cut along the line for the front of the leg (left).
Turn over the blank so that the marked outline on its adjacent side is facing up. Cut along the marked lines, beginning at the foot (above). This time, complete the cut, letting the waste fall away.
Rotate the blank so that the first face you cut faces up. With the saw off, slide the blank forward to feed the blade into the kerf at the back of the leg. Turn on the saw and cut through the bridge to release the waste piece (above). Then cut through the bridge between the kerfs at the front of the leg.
6 Shaping and smoothing the leg
To finish shaping the cabriole leg and to remove any blemishes left by the band saw blade, smooth its surfaces with a spokeshave, followed by a rasp and sandpaper. In preparation for this smoothing process, secure the leg in a bar clamp and fix the clamp to a work surface with a handscrew and a C clamp as shown. Holding a spokeshave with both hands at the top of a curved edge of the leg, pull the tool slowly toward you, cutting a thin shaving and following the grain (left). Repeat until the surface is smooth. Turn the leg in the bar clamp to clean up the other edges. To smooth an area that the spokeshave cannot reach, use the rasp. The tool works best when pushed diagonally across the grain. Finish the job with sandpaper, using progressively finer-grit papers until the surface is smooth.
Sanding a cabriole leg
Smoothing the curved surfaces of a cabriole leg using only a sheet of sandpaper or a sanding block risks creating bumps or valleys or flattening out the curves if excessive pressure is applied. Use a shop-made sanding pad that will follow the contours of the leg. Wrap a sheet of sandpaper around a thick sponge that you can comfortably grip and hold the paper around the sponge as you smooth the leg. Even with firm hand pressure, there is no risk of oversanding
Cabinetmakers taper legs strictly for visual effect. A taper adds no strength, but neither does it take any away. Its principal effect is to reduce the stolid heaviness of a leg, imparting a sleek appearance to furniture as diverse as traditional English and contemporary Scandinavian designs.
A leg can be tapered on one inside face, on two outside faces, or, as illustrated below and on page 129, on all four sides. Before settling on the amount of taper for a leg—expressed in either degrees or inches per foot—you can evaluate the visual impact of the finished
product without cutting into your leg blank. Experiment with different tapers by simply masking off the part to be cut away with a piece of light-colored cardboard. There are no prescriptions for the ideal amount of taper, but as a general rule, the thicker and longer the leg, the greater the angle.
Another option well-suited to many furniture styles is the octagonal leg. Despite its appearance of intricacy, it is easy to create using a table saw, as shown on page 130. For either style of leg, be sure to sand the stock thoroughly before preparing it for joinery.
Use a cutting gauge to outline the taper on the bottom end of the leg blank (inset). Then mark lines on the four faces of the stock near the opposite end to indicate where the taper will begin. Install a clamp on the jointer’s infeed table to hold the guard out of the way during the operation. Set the depth of cut for Vs inch and, holding the blank against the fence, align the taper start line with the front of the outfeed table. Butt a
stop block against the leg as shown and clamp it to the infeed table. To start each pass, carefully lower the blank onto the cutterhead while holding it firmly against the fence with your left hand (above). Straddle the fence with your right hand, using your thumb to keep the blank flush against the stop block. Make sure both hands are over the infeed side of the cutterhead.
2 Jointing the taper
Feed the leg across the cutterhead with a push stick, pushing down on the trailing end of the stock while pressing it flush against the fence (left). Keep your left hand away from the cutterhead. Make as many passes as necessary until you have trimmed the stock down to the taper outline, then repeat the process to shape the remaining faces.
On your table saw install a molding head with the appropriate cutters; a bead profile is shown. Mark a cutting line for each molding on one face of the leg, then hold the leg against the miter gauge. For a tapered leg, you will have to adjust the angle of the gauge. Use a carpenter’s square to make sure that the square part of the leg is perpendicular to the miter slot. Crank the cutters to Vs inch above the table and align one of the cutting lines with the molding head. Then
butt the rip fence against the leg. To cut the first molding, press the leg firmly against the miter gauge and the fence, while feeding the stock into the cutters. Repeat the cut on the adjacent face, then continuing in the same manner until you have cut the molding on all four sides. For a deeper cut, make as many passes as necessary, raising the molding head Vs inch at a time. (Caution: Blade guard removed for clarity.)
1 Setting up the cut
Unplug the table saw, crank the blade to its highest setting and adjust the cutting angle to 45°. Move the rip fence to the left-hand side of the blade. Lay one face of the leg blank on the blade with a corner resting on the saw table, then butt the fence against the stock (left).
Cutting the leg
Butt the stock against the rip fence a few inches in front of the blade. Adjust the cutting height until one tooth just protrudes beyond the face of the workpiece. To make the first cut, feed the blank into the blade, straddling the fence with your left hand. Rotate the leg 90° clockwise and repeat the cut on the adjacent face. Continue in this same manner until all the sides are cut.
Adding inlay to a leg can transform an easily overlooked square or octagonal block of wood into the eyecatching focus of a piece of furniture. Whether the goal is to create a contrast with the leg stock or to complement a leg’s outlines, you can choose from a wide variety of inlay materials, including metals, wood veneers, marquetry and— as shown below and on page 132—solid hardwood. Each type of material can be prepared in the shop, but most are also available in various diameters at fine woodworking stores.
Standard practice is to rout a groove for an inlay from the top to the bottom of a leg. However, before cutting into your leg, hold pieces of inlay of different lengths up against it and select a length or arrangement that produces the best effect.
Another decorative option is to rout a molding into a leg. Although it does not stand out as boldly as inlay, molding can add its own distinctive touch to a piece of furniture. You can also install a molding cutterhead on your table saw and carve out a pattern, much as you would on a door frame (page 107).
To cut a straight groove, use your table saw with a dado head the same width as the inlay; set the cutting height to slightly less than its thickness. Make a cut in a scrap board and test the fit; adjust the width and cutting height of the blades, if necessary. Next, mark a line for the groove on the leading end of the leg and align it with the dado head. Butt the rip fence against the stock, then feed it into the blades (above, left). To make a groove with more than one straight
cut, use a router. Start by securing all four edges of the leg with stop blocks. Then install a straight-cutting bit on your router and set the cutting depth to slightly less than the thickness of the inlay. Outline the groove on the leg, then adjust the tool’s edge guide to align the bit with one of the lines that run across the grain. Gripping the router firmly, cut the groove, moving the tool against the direction of bit rotation. Repeat to cut the other grooves, then square the corners with a chisel.
2 Setting the inlay in the groove
Cut the inlay to fit in the groove with a table saw, a backsaw and miter box, or a wood chisel. For the rectangular groove shown, make 45° miter cuts at the ends of the inlay pieces. It is easiest to cut and fit one piece at a time, making sure you align the miter cuts with the corners of the grooves. Next, spread a little glue in the slot and on the mitered ends of the inlay pieces. Insert one strip at a time, tapping it gently with a wooden mallet (right). Once the glue has dried, gently sand the leg to remove any excess adhesive and to trim the inlay perfectly flush with the surface of the wood. If you are using metal inlay, cut it with a hacksaw and sand the surfaces that will contact the groove to improve adhesion. Then bond the strip in place with epoxy glue.
Hold the leg in place with stop blocks screwed to a work surface. Mark lines on the leg for the beginning and end of the cut. Then install a decorative bit on your router; a cove bit with a ball-bearing pilot is shown. Set a cutting depth appropriate to the profile you want to make, then align the bit with the start line. Gripping the router with both hands, guide the bit along the corner of the leg against the direction of bit rotation, stopping when you reach the end line. Repeat to rout the detailing on the other corner of the leg (left).