Like their counterparts in human anatomy, legs in cabinetmaking serve mainly as supports. But furniture legs play an equally important esthetic role, complementing and setting off for display anything from a carcase to a chair.
Whatever the style of legs, the challenges of making them are several: shape and proportion must be perfectly in balance with the rest of the piece of furniture, and the leg must also provide adequate support. The goal is to achieve a balance between strength and beauty.
This chapter will show you how to make four popular leg types: cabriole, tapered, octagonal and square legs. Several methods of attaching legs are also presented. Taken together, these leg types and joinery techniques offer attractive alternatives for a wide range of furniture styles.
Among the most distinctive of designs for legs, the cabriole is best suited to traditional styles of furniture, such as Queen Anne and Hepplewhite. But as American furnituremakers have shown since the 19th Century, accomplished craftsmanship can keep this design fresh and appropriate. As you will see, the cabriole leg does have certain design requirements that should be respected (page 124). The characteristic contours of the leg are more than simply random shapes. Incorporating animal profiles in the design, for example, has always been a feature. The Italian word capriolare, an antecedent of the English term, refers to an animal leaping into the air, an action which many versions of the leg are calculated to suggest.
In general, legs should be attached to furniture with the strongest of joinery techniques (page 133), such as the mortise-and-tenon or the dowel joint. Another option is leg hardware, which is commercially available but can also be easily made in the shop. This alternative allows a leg to be detached, but it is usually only appropriate when the piece is large enough to make detachable legs an advantage during moving.
For most leg projects, you will need thicker stock than is commonly available. You can either order proper-sized wood from a specialized supplier, or make your own leg blanks from thinner stock, using a process called face-gluing. Start by preparing the stock slightly larger than the final size of the leg: To make a leg whose finished dimensions will be 3 by 3 by 29 inches, cut three 1 Vi-inch by 3 Vi-inch by 30-inch boards. To ensure a seamless fit, joint the mating surfaces. Then glue up the boards face to face, alternating the end grain of the pieces and arranging the stock to maximize grain and color.
The process is identical to edge-gluing boards into panels (page 20), except that more clamps should be used. Before cutting into your leg blank, joint a face and an edge to create two surfaces that are at a 90° angle to one another, then use the planer or the table saw to bring the blank to its final width and thickness. Lastly, crosscut the leg to length. Refer to the Cabinetmaking Techniques chapter (page 12) for information on these basic woodworking operations.
A router etches a rectangular groove for an inlay into a square leg.