Old styles of furniture can still speak to us loud and clear today. The Queen Anne style,
popular in America from 1725 to 1760, is an elegant language of flowing lines and
reverse curves. This footstool is a small-scale example of a very elaborate style. If
you’ve always wanted to try your hand at cabriole legs, which are one of the defining characteristics of Queen Anne furniture, this project is a great place to begin.
On a historical note, this footstool is not a copy of an authentic antique. Footstools were
not common in the 18th century. I’ve made many copies of genuine Queen Anne chairs,
however, so I scaled down some of my favorite cabriole legs and rails and incorporated
their best features into this footstool. Making the legs is the hardest part of this project, so
I’ve gone into detail on how to do it in “Cabriole Leg,” below.
Tools and materials
One appeal of this style is that you get to use both machines and hand tools. You’ll need
a bandsaw to make the legs in addition to the basic machines for working solid wood: a
tablesaw, jointer and planer. I use a tablesaw tenoning jig and a mortising machine to make
the joints, but there are many other ways you can do it. You’ll also need a router to make
rabbets and the molding that runs around the top of the stool. As for hand tools, I turn to
a small number of favorites (see “Cabriole Leg,” below).
Mahogany is a natural choice of wood. It’s easy to work,
quick to smooth and has a muted figure that doesn’t interfere
with the curving lines of the Queen Anne style. Walnut
or cherry are good choices, too.
Cabriole legs require thick stock. It can be tempting to
glue up the blanks from less expensive, thinner wood, but
that’s inappropriate for the Queen Anne style. Unlike a
laminated straight leg, the layers always show in a cabriole
leg. I think you’ll be happier in the long run with a beautiful
solid leg rather than one that might have saved you a few
dollars but looks pieced together.
Thick wood isn’t always easy to get in small quantities, so I’ve
designed a stool you can build entirely from 3" turning squares
(see Sources, below). Resaw two of them to make the rails and
wing blocks. You’ll need four pieces, 18-in. long and two pieces,
24" long. Alternatively, you can make the stool from about four
board feet of 10/4 lumber and two board feet of 4/4 wood.
Make the upholstered slip seat from either plywood or a
secondary wood (soft maple, birch or yellow poplar) that
holds tacks and staples well. A plywood slip seat will feel
firmer than a framed seat with webbing.
Mill the rails and leg blanks (see Cutting List, below). Note
that the legs are 1/4" longer than their final size. Later, after
turning the legs on the lathe, you’ll cut 1/4". off the ends
that have drive-spur notches. Mortise the legs (see Fig. B,
Detail 5) and cut them out on the bandsaw (see “Cabriole
Leg,” Fig. B, below, for the pattern).
Cut the same size tenons on all the rails. Here’s a system
that enables you to make perfect shoulders around each
tenon: First, cut the two long shoulders of each rail with the
rail flat on the saw. Then stand the rail on edge and reset
the blade height to cut the top shoulder. Stick a thick paper
shim between the stop block and the rail (Photo 1). This
makes the shoulder a bit proud, just to be safe. Without the
shim, there’s a good chance this cut could eat into and ruin
the long shoulders, no matter how carefully you’ve milled
the rail and set the stop block. After years of making joints,
including a few ruined rails, I go with the odds and pare
this proud shoulder with a chisel (Fig. B, Detail 2).
Next, saw off the cheeks of the tenons (Photo 2). I generally
use my own shop-made tenoning jig, but commercial jigs
work quite well, too. After cutting both cheeks, remove the
waste above the tenon on the bandsaw.
When you test-fit the tenon into a mortise, you’ll find
that the rough, bandsawn surface of the leg is proud of the
rail by about 1/16" You’ll make these two surfaces flush
after the stool is glued up.
Shaping the rails
Rabbet the rails on the tablesaw or with a router (Fig. B, Detail 1). Cut out the curved lower edges on the bandsaw (Fig. A).
Rout the large chamfer that goes on the inside face of the rail (Photo 3). There’s no structural necessity for this chamfer, but it is a subtle and important part of the footstool’s design. I’ve studied and reproduced a lot of Queen Anne furniture, and I think the most successful pieces strive for the illusion of lightness. This chamfer, which was actually a standard practice of some 18th-century furnituremakers, makes the rail look thinner than it really is. It’s a neat trick that can be applied to contemporary styles, too.
Shape the legs by hand (Photo 4). See “Cabriole Leg,” below, for complete step-by-step photographs.
I’ve found it best to glue up the entire stool at one time, rather than in sections (Photo 5). Practice your setup without glue first, so you can figure out where all the clamps should go. The hardest problem to solve concerns the placement of the diagonal clamp you may have to use to pull the stool square. How do you balance it on the corners of the other clamps? You may need some sort of
wooden block during the actual glue-up, as in the photo,
so make it now just in case.
Plane the top post of the legs flush with the rails
(Photo 6). Authentic Queen Anne furniture has flush
joints rather than set-back joints so the transitions from
legs to rails appear seamless. This helps the whole piece
Routing and finishing
Complete the rabbets by routing the top inside corner of
the leg (Photo 7). Lay out the lines with a pencil and use
a 1/4" straight bit to rout as close as you dare to them by
eye. You don’t need a fence if you cut with care and use
two boards to support the router. One board fits the short
way between the rails and the other fits the long way. Use
the same boards to help you cut the bead and fillet that
go around the top of the rails (Photo 8 and Fig. B, Detail
1). One beading bit (see Sources, below) does it all.
Add corner blocks to strengthen the stool (Photo 9
and Fig. B, Detail 4). Now give the whole stool a final
sanding and apply a stain, if you want a richer color. I
like the old-fashioned reddish look that Behlen’s Nutmeg
Brown Solar-Lux Stain gives to new mahogany. It’s a
non-grain raising (NGR) transparent stain (see Sources,
below left). Any varnish will work on top of it, but I
prefer the look of shellac applied as a French polish.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
Constantine’s Wood Center,
2-1/2" x 2-1/2" x 18" mahogany
turning square; 3" x 3" x 24"
mahogany turning square.
Behlen Nutmeg Brown NGR stain,
1 Pt., 847-361; Freud 5/16" R, 1/4"
shank beading bit, 947-072.
Fig. A: Rail Half Patterns
Fig. B: Exploded View
Detail 1: Elevations of Tenon and Rabbet
Detail 2: Tenon Shoulders
Detail 3: Elevations of Wing
Detail 4: Plan View of Corner Block
Detail 5: Elevation of Leg Blank
Detail 6: Cross Section of Slip Seat
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Cut shoulders for the tenons on both ends of each
rail. Insert a thick piece of paper between the stop block
and the end of the rail when cutting the top shoulder. With
a little bit of paring, all three shoulders line up perfectly
with each other (Fig. B, Detail 2).
2. Saw the cheek of the tenon with a tenoning jig.
The tenon is centered on the rail so you can flip the rail
around and use the same setup for both cheeks. Arrange
the jig so you’re always sawing the outside cheek. The
waste piece will safely fall out of the way.
3. Chamfer the inside edge of the rails. This makes them
appear thinner from the outside. Use a router table and
chamfer bit to remove most of the wood, then use a
chisel to get into the corners. Finally, rabbet the top edge
of all the rails.
4. Shape the leg with hand tools. For complete how-to
information, see “Cabriole Leg,” below.
5. Glue up the whole stool in one
shot. Measure from corner to corner
to make sure the diagonals are equal. If
they’re not, pull the stool square with a
clamp across the long diagonal. A beveled
block slid over the clamp makes it easier.
6. Plane the leg flush with the rail. First use a chisel to pare a small ramp down into the intersection of the knee and post, a place that the plane can’t get into. Finish with a card scraper or sandpaper and round the outside corner of the leg with a rasp.
7. Rout a rabbet into the corner of the legs using a
straight bit. This will finish off the rabbet for the slip seat.
Support the router with a board that fits into the rabbets.
This is a freehand cut so take small bites. Stop shy of the
pencil line, then finish the rabbet by hand, with a chisel.
8. Rout a bead and fillet profile all around the top of
the stool. Use a support board to balance the router.
9. Fit a corner block around each leg. Plane or sand the
block so it fits tightly against both rails. Drill screw holes in
the block before you glue it in place.