Cabriole Legs

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Cabriole legs may look like sculpture, but you don't need to be an artist to make them.

abriole legs look more like sculpture than woodworking. And while some designs can get fancy, I kept these cabriole legs pretty basic. All you need to do is follow the steps.

turning blanks. Cabriole legs start out as thick, square blanks. To avoid joint lines, I used solid stock to make the legs. Hie problem is finding stock that's thick enough.

To get blanks this size, I use 3" x 3" turning squares. I buy them extra long, so I can also cut the transition blocks from the blank. Turning

ITo draw the pattern, position template so back edge of corner post aligns with inside corner of blank. Flip template and repeat on adjacent side.

squares often come rough cut, so you may need to square them up before you can begin on the legs.

patterns. Once you have square turning blanks, the next step is to create patterns for the leg. (I made mine out of hardboard.) There are two patterns: one for the leg and another for the inside faces of the transition blocks (added later). You can use the patterns shown below left or order full-size patterns, see page 35.

Note: Though the same leg pattern works for the jewelry cabinet and cof-


Drill mortises

Inside edge

3" x 3" square turning blank

3 At this point, cut the mortises on the two faces with the patterns. Drill a series of overlapping holes. Then clean up the cheeks with a chisel.

Inside edge

2 Next, use a square to draw reference lines around all four faces of the blank to indicate where the corner post meets the knee.

4 Set up band saw to make the face cuts on the corner post. Use a fence to guide the leg and clamp a stop block to the fence.


Use V4" band saw blade

Stop block


Use V4" band saw blade

Stop block

Transition block


Direction of end grain on blank and blocks fee table, the patterns for the transition blocks are slightly different, see details 'a' and 'b' on page 14.

corner post. After the shape of the legs are laid out, ifs time to work on the blank. I start with the corner post at the top, back edge of the leg.

transition blocks. While working on the corner post, you'll have to add two, rectangular transition blocks, see drawing at right. These blocks are glued on over the knees of the legs. They should also line up with the reference lines between the corner post and the knee so they end up square.

cutting the legs. After the transition blocks are in place and the corner post is completed, if s time to cut the leg out. This is done in two steps. First, all the cuts are made along one face of the leg. Since these cuts remove part of the pattern on the adjacent face, you need to save the waste pieces. Then you simply tape them back onto the blank and cut the curves on the adjacent face.

Now, while the leg is still relatively square, I sand the faces with a drum sander on the drill press. (You'll need an auxiliary table to do this.)

•t Align transition blocks on reference lines and carefully glue them in place. These blocks should be flush with the front faces of the leg.

Redraw pattern on transition block

Transition block ptllem

6 A second pattern is used to trace a profile on the inner faces of the transition blocks. Place this pattern in the corner and mark the outline.

5 Redraw the knee on the outer faces of the transition blocks. The reference line on the pattern should align with the transition block.

Cut from knee to foot



9 Cut the back of the leg just like the front. A second cut is needed to form the transition block. Again, save the waste pieces.

8 To cut the front face of the leg, start at the knee and saw around to the foot in one smooth pass. Be sure to save the waste piece.

7 Start sawing at the corner post by aligning blade with top of transition block. Saw to the kerf. Then repeat the cut on the adjacent face.

Drumi sander

Masking tape

To complete cuts, reattach waste pieces

The waste pieces are needed when cutting the remaining faces of the leg blank. Tape the pieces to the blank in their original position.

nNow, finish roughing out the leg by repeating the cuts on the front and back faces. Again, work from the knee to the foot.

At this point, the "square" legs can be sanded with a drum sander. But a larger auxiliary table will need to be added to the drill press.

| Shaping the Leg

| At this point, the blanks have been | roughed out, so they're beginning j to look like cabriole legs. But all the ftk edges are still square. So now, if s time to do the final shaping that Is will soften these edges and give the cabriole legs their graceful appearance.

sequence. To shape the legs, HH I worked from the bottom up, m/al starting with the foot and mov-fff|y ing up to the transition blocks 3f at the knee.

¡jf feet. One of the tricks to mak-m ing cabriole legs is to get four W legs that look similar. And the feet I are probably the most noticeable, f So I shaped the feet on all four legs and then set them side by side to compare them. If one was noticeably smaller, I worked on getting the others to match it But don't be too critical. After all, when the project's built, no one will be able to compare them as closely as you can now.

The first step for each foot is to lay out the final radius on the top. Then the square corners can be sawed off.

To do the shaping, I used a rasp and a half-round file. (For

■ sources, see page 35.) The |! rasp allows you to remove the wood quickly. But the file gives


Align center of template with front corner of leg

Draw centerline hoot ^

template centerime l^lio begin shaping the legs, first ■ W make a template to draw outline of foot. This is a piece of Vs" hard-board with a V/8"-radius cutout.

MNow that the template has been made, the top of the foot can be laid out. Set the template on the foot and trace the outline.

Fine-tooth hacksaw


Connect corners to find centerpoint

Remove corners -of foot


Block protects work surface


1 C Turn the leg over and find the ■ ^ centerpoint on the bottom of the leg. Then use a compass to draw a circle on the bottom of the foot.

1 £L Next, hold the leg upright and ■ W cut away the front and side corners of the foot with a hand saw held at a slight angle.

Use rasp \ and file ) to shape foot to layout lines




Round over heel to bottom of foot

To avoid chip-' out, don't rasp or file top edges of foot-



Use curved face for smoothing top of foot

Bottom of foot

Bottom of foot

Still holding the leg upright, file the top face of the foot.

Next, shape the back of the heel by blending the radius on

Remove the sharp line from the cen- the foot, working from top of the foot the bottom of the foot into the back ter and feather it out across the top. to the bottom to prevent chipout. of the ankle.

you a cleaner cut Both have a curved edge for cleaning up the top of the foot and a flat edge for shaping the sides of the foot legs. Once the feet were done, I started on the legs. There's not much to these. The front and back corners of the legs get a small, tapered roundover with a file and some sandpaper. But these roundovers aren't the same for the front and back. The front gets rounded over a little more, see Steps 20 and 22. The side corners are just softened with sandpaper.

Shaping the legs is no trouble. The problem is holding them steady while you work. And you need some freedom to rotate the leg and work from different angles. So I came up with a shop-made carver's cradle by adding wooden extenders to the jaws of a common pipe clamp, see page 19.

knees. The last area of the leg to work on is the knee, including the transition block. There's not much shaping to do. If s mostiy just cleanup.

To begin, I removed the ridge between the corner post and the knee

Now with a file and some sandpaper, round over the front edge of the leg, following the layout lines that were just drawn.

with a sharp chisel. But here, you have to work carefully. A slip with the chisel can put a scratch in the corner post which will be a chore to remove.

Next, I dry assembled the aprons and marked the location of their outside faces. Then I rounded over the top of the transition block with sandpaper, removing the hard edge.

All thaf s left is to ^and the leg to get it ready for the finish. If you're going to use stain, the trick is to get a consistent color. To do this, I used a wood conditioner, see page 30. C9

Draw tapered lines to lay out roundover

I Lay out marks to show the tapered roundover on the front corner. Connect the marks by drawing lines up and down the leg.

Draw tapered lines to lay out roundover

Sand sides lightly

0% The back edge also gets a mm Mm tapered roundover— though not as much as the front. Also lightly sand both side edges of the leg.

Sand sides lightly

#} Between the corner post and Jm%9 the beginning of the knee, there may be a small ridge. This can be carefully pared away with a chisel.

#%yi Set the aprons in place and Jm*W trace the front edges. Remove the aprons and round over the hard edge to the line with a chisel.

rit sandpaper

4% jC Finally, sand the leg to 220 JmI «J* grit. If applying a liquid stain, you might want to use a wood conditioner before staining, see page 30.

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