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Queen Anne Footstool & Cabriole Leg

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Queen Anne Footstool

By Alf Sharp


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.

 

Joinery

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.

 

Gluing up

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 look fluid.

 

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.


Sources

(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Constantine’s Wood Center, constantines.com, 800-223-8087, 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" x 18" mahogany turning square; 3" x 3" x 24" mahogany turning square.

Woodworker’s Supply, woodworker.com, 800-645-9292, Behlen Nutmeg Brown NGR stain, 1 Pt., 847-361; Freud 5/16" R, 1/4" shank beading bit, 947-072.


Cutting List


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.

 

 

Cabriole Leg

Step-by-step instructions for making an elegant leg.

By Alf Sharp

Cabriole legs revolutionized furniture in the early 18th-century and are still vital today. They look as if they could come to life at any time and walk away with an impossibly heavy load. Part of their vitality is an air of mystery. They puzzle every woodworker who first sees them and asks, “How do you make curves like that?”

The secret to making cabriole legs is actually quite simple: One pattern is used twice on adjacent sides of a square leg blank. I’ve got a great technique for sawing that avoids all the hassle of reattaching the waste pieces in order to cut the second side. The hard part of making a truly graceful leg is finding a good pattern. I’ve made one for a footstool that’s the result of looking at many good, bad and indifferent legs. The curves of this leg have just the right amount of spring.

The first time I tried making a cabriole leg the results weren’t so great. You’ll probably have a similar experience. So glue up some thinner wood and make practice legs before you cut into the thick, expensive wood that a good cabriole leg should be made from. Use a hardwood like cherry, walnut or mahogany for a practice leg to get the feel of how your hand tools should work.

 

Power tools and hand tools

Power tools and hand tools You’ll need two power tools for making this cabriole leg: a lathe and a bandsaw. Many cabriole legs don’t have turned feet, but using a lathe speeds the process. Install a 1/4", 4 to 6 teeth-per-inch (tpi) blade in your bandsaw. This relatively coarse blade may leave a slightly rough surface, but that’s fine because you’ll continue to shape the entire leg with hand tools.

You won’t need many hand tools, but each one has to be very sharp. I use a 1" or wider butt chisel, a mallet, a flatfaced spokeshave, a medium-coarse and a fine half-round rasp, a half-round file and a cabinet scraper. Rasps and files can be expensive, but I’ve found that an inexpensive carpenter’s 4-in-1 rasp can substitute for all of them (see Sources, below).

 

Preparing the blank

Print out full-size patterns for the leg and wing block (Figs B and C, ) and glue them onto 1/4” solid wood. Saw out both patterns and smooth the rough edges with a file and sandpaper. Fine legs require fine wood. Your wood shouldn’t have knots or grain that wildly changes direction. Cabriole legs made from straight-grained wood are stronger and easier to shape by hand. Mill the wood for the legs from solid lumber and follow photos 1 through 17 to make the leg.

 

3 Tips for Making Cabriole Legs

Gluing the wing block: This is a finicky operation (Photo 4). I’ve found that if you clamp too soon the block slips out of position. To avoid this I put glue on the block and rub it around in place on the leg, pushing firmly to squeeze out most of the glue. I stop rubbing the block when it’s exactly in the right place, then I wait five minutes before putting on a clamp.

Making the practice leg: Each time I use a new cabriole leg pattern I make one trial leg from beginning to end so I know the basic strokes to get the shape I want. I’ll also end up with a model to judge the actual legs by. I take small amounts from every surface on this trial leg as I familiarize myself with the leg’s curves.

Finding the right shape: As I’m shaping the leg, I remove it from the clamp every so often, turn it over in my hands and take a look at it. I sight down the length of the leg to find flat spots and feel it with my hands to make sure each part of the leg flows smoothly into another. Toward the end of the process I stand the leg on the bench and continue to smooth it with the fine rasp, file and scraper (Photo 14).


1. Trace the plywood leg pattern on both of the inside faces of a straight-grained square blank. Flip the pattern over to draw the second side. When you’re done, you should be able to “see” the leg inside the blank.


2. Turn the foot. To begin, use a parting tool and calipers to cut grooves that are the diameters of the top and bottom of the foot (Fig. B). Then shape the foot with a gouge or a skew chisel turned on its side and used as a scraper.


3. Cut the mortises for the rails before sawing the curves in the leg. After you’re done, cut 1/4" off the top of the leg to eliminate the spur marks made by the lathe.


4. Glue both wing blocks onto the leg blank (see Tips, above). Match their figure as closely as possible to the figure of the leg. The top of the block is even with the bottom of the mortise. The front of the block is flush with the leg.


5. Saw the wing profile. It’s laid out on the inside face of the wing with a plywood pattern (Fig. C). You may need a larger support surface for the leg, so add a plywood top to your bandsaw table.

Caution: You have to lift up the saw’s guard to clear the leg blank, so be careful where you put your hands.


6. Lay out the curve of the knee on the sawn edge of the wing block. Make a double-sided marking block (Fig. A) using the wing and leg patterns.


7. Saw one side of the leg. Stop your cuts just short of exiting the blank and carefully back out the blade. The waste piece will bend out of the way. The beauty of this method is that the waste pieces stay attached to the leg without tape or nails.

Caution: The guard must be raised to saw through the wing blocks. Place your hands out of harm’s way.


8. Flip the leg over and cut again, starting at the bottom of the leg. Begin the cut at the edge of the turned foot. This time you can saw right through to the end of the cut. Break off or saw off the waste pieces that remain hanging on the leg.



9. Begin shaping the leg with hand tools. Remove large chunks of waste with a chisel and a mallet. I prefer a butt chisel because its short length affords more control. Firmly support the leg in a bar clamp held in your vise or clamp the leg between bench dogs.


10. Pare the top of the foot with a large chisel. Take light, sweeping cuts to make a curved surface. Use a freshly sharpened chisel and you’ll be in control through the whole cut.


11. Use a medium rasp to slightly round the arrises at the ankle and below the wing. (An arris is an intersection of two planes). It’s better to take off too little than too much at this point (see the cross section of the foot, Fig. D).


12. Round and smooth the leg with a spokeshave (see the cross sections of leg, Fig. D). Shave with the grain, take light cuts and follow the curve of the leg. Check your progress every few strokes by running your hand down the leg. Then you won’t inadvertently flatten out the curve. You’ll now have a leg that has many narrow facets on it.


13. Round the back of the ankle with a chisel, spokeshave and medium rasp. Then pare away the arris between the wings at the upper part of the leg. Removing this corner lightens the appearance of the leg. It’s okay to leave rough chisel marks here.


14. Brace the leg against your chest to see it in its proper perspective. Then refine the shape of the top of the foot with a half-round file. Turn the leg around and shape all its faces with the medium and fine rasps until the ankle is completely round. It’s easier to get to all the faces of the leg now than when it was clamped up.


15. Remove the rasp marks with a scraper. This works extremely well on the end grain of the foot and it’s faster than using coarse sandpaper! Keep the scraper moving around the leg so you don’t make any flat areas. Once both your hand and eye tell you the leg is right, sand with 100, 150 and finally 220- grit paper.


16. Scribe the wing to fit the rail. The rail is temporarily inserted without glue. Be sure to number the rail and leg so they go back together the same way when you glue up the footstool.


17. Pare the wing down to the scribe line. Hone your chisel again for this delicate operation. It’s best to shape the wing free of the rail because it would be easy to stab the rail with the chisel if it were glued in place. Smooth the wing with rasps, scraper and sandpaper. The leg is now ready for assembly into the footstool.


Fig. A: How It Works

 


Fig. B: Footstool Cabriole Leg Pattern

 


Fig. C: Wing Block Pattern

 


Fig. D: Cross Sections of Leg

 


Source

(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Woodcraft, woodcraft.com, 800-225-1153, 1" Butt Chisel, #404679; 4-in-1 Hand Rasp, #145481; Medium Rasp, 06B32; Smooth Cut #50 Rasp, 06B02; Half-round Wood File, 06B06; Flat Face Spokeshave, #827102; 6" Long Cabinet Scraper, 02Z08; Pfeil “Swiss Made” Chip Carving Knife, #05Z11.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June 2000, issue #80.

June 2000, issue #80

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