Shaping And Turning A Tapered Table Leg

(Also see Tapered Octagonal Bedposts.)

(Also see Furniture Legs From Split Turnings)

I don’t usually take the time to photograph all the stages of a work in progress, but the client I made this table for lived 1500 miles away and insisted I email him regular updates on this piece’s construction. Since I had the pics I thought I would show how I made the octagonal tapered legs for this table. These legs are made of wenge, a hard, brittle, splintery African wood that I like for its dark color. What you see in the photo is the natural color of the wood with a clear finish; no staining is involved.

Click to enlarge any of these images.

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These legs have a nice neoclassical elegance to them, but one must pay careful attention during the shaping and turning to get pleasing proportions. I begin with a scale drawing and then make a full-size template in 1/4″ material that shows the exact shape of my slightly curved taper.

table leg

I start with a leg blank that is 2 3/4″ square in section and 25″ long. Later on I will add a decorative foot made of bubinga with wenge accents. I locate and mark the exact center of each end of the leg and drill a shallow hole on my marks with a bit 1/8″ in diameter or smaller. I will later use these holes to mount the leg on to the lathe. I will also use the hole in the lower end of the leg as a visual guide to keep me on track as I hand plane the tapering facets on the octagonal part of the leg.

I come down 3 3/4″ from the top of the leg and on the table saw cut an 1/8″ deep kerf  all the way around on each face of the leg to mark where my turning will begin. Another 4″ below those cuts I make another series of kerfs to define where the turned portion of the leg will stop. These cuts can be seen in the photo below.

I lay my full-size tapering template on one of the faces of the leg, and, making sure it is exactly centered, I draw the taper on my blank, then bandsaw very carefully just leaving leaving the lines I have drawn. I then masking tape the waste pieces that I just cut off the legs back on to where they were, turn the leg 90 degrees, and, using my template, again draw the taper on this new face and then bandsaw to these lines. I now have a leg that has a slightly curving taper on all four faces.

Using hand planes, scrapers, and sand paper I clean up the bandsaw marks and make sure everything looks smooth and symmetrical. Then I make a couple of V-blocks in 2″ material that will support my leg as I spoke shave and hand plane the four sharp edges of my leg into the other four facets that will create the octagonal shape. I think this photo will explain what I am trying to describe.

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Anyone who would like to try making a set of these legs should not be intimidated by the fact that these facets are achieved with hand tools and by eye. With practice and attention to what you are doing, you can make facets that look very close to equal. Properly done, the human eye cannot pick out very slight variations in each bevel. After the octagonal facets are completed and sanded, the leg is mounted on the lathe and the turning is done.


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The decorative foot on the leg is made by taking two pieces of bubinga 3/4″ thick, 4″ wide, and 20″ long and gluing them  together face to face with a 1/16″ thick piece of wenge sandwiched between them. After this lamination dries, it is ripped in half down its length, making two pieces of equal width. Between these two is inserted another 1/16″ piece of wenge  running 90 degrees to the first piece and all of this is glued together. I clean this final lamination up into a square turning blank and cross-cut it into two pieces. I mount each new blank onto the lathe and turn the feet two at a time.

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A 1″ long round tenon is turned on the end of each foot. The feet are cut apart, and then a hole is drilled in the end of each leg the diameter of the round tenon. The decorative feet are then glued and clamped onto the octagonal legs.

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And that is how I made the legs for this table. Hope it all makes sense. This is the first “how-to” I have attempted on my blog. Let me know if anyone would like to see more of this kind of thing. For an update on this post please see Tapered Octagonal Bedposts. Also see Furniture Legs From Split Turnings.

To view more of my furniture, visit My Furniture Gallery.

7 Comments

    1. Thanks very much, Robert. I will try to do more “how-to’s” from time to time in the future. I have also considered posting some thoughts on design, but this might really put people to sleep.

  1. Louis,
    I finally took the time to look at these legs and the process. Gorgeous. That beautiful detail is missed if one is only glancing. Thanks for the “how to”.
    Derek

    1. Hi Derek,
      Thanks for taking the time to give a response to my post. I am currently making a queen size bed and am incorporating turning and tapered octagons into the bed posts. I will try to get some photos up soon. Always great to hear from you. Keep on chiselin’ (wood, that is, not your customers).

  2. Louis, as a furniture maker I always enjoy the “How To” blogs….I never fail to learn from these blogs and the experence of my fellow furniture makers.Thanks,Robert Lindh,Western Pa.

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