Furniture Legs From Split Turnings

For some, creating objects on the lathe such as bowls, platters, vases, and nonfunctional art is an end in itself. These people are known as turners and they can be quite devoted to their pursuits. My own ambitions for the lathe are much more modest. The lathe is a tool I want to gain enough proficiency with to make parts that can add to my design vocabulary as a furniture maker. For several years I have experimented with incorporating simple split turnings as parts in some of my furniture. I define a split turning as a piece that is spindle turned between centers on the lathe and then split down its length into two (or more) pieces creating parts that are round on one side and  flat on the other. The legs on the table below are examples of what I have described.

I recently made an updated version of this table in Macassar ebony and bubinga, so I thought I would show how I went about making the legs for this new piece and incorporating them into the overall design of the table. As seen in the photo above, there is an upper stretcher that is mortise and tenoned into the legs at the top and a lower stretcher that passes through an open mortise cut in the bottom end of  each leg creating what I call a bridle joint.

One nice thing about split turnings is that they are a two for one deal; one turning gets you two legs. To make two of the legs for this table, I begin with two pieces of lumber 3 1/2″ wide by 1 3/4″ thick by 28″ long. These two pieces glued together will give me turning stock that is 3 1/2″ square in section, but before I glue them together, while my stock is still rectangular in shape, I will first cut the mortises that will later accept the upper and lower stretchers. To cut the open mortises in the bottom end of the legs I make multiple passes through a table saw blade with the help of a tenoning jig. Because the stock is pushed vertically through a saw blade set at 2 3/4″ high, great care must be taken for wood and jig to completely clear the back side of the moving saw blade once each pass is made. The back side of a moving table saw blade is one of the most dangerous places  in the workshop; STAY CLEAR and NEVER attempt this operation without the aid of some kind of tenoning jig.

Next I cut mortises in the upper end of my leg stock using a plunge router and straight-edge guide. These mortises must be centered exactly in the face of the stock and cut 7/8″ deep. I square the rounded ends of the mortises with a chisel.

With mortising completed, the two pieces are ready to be glued together, and here is the trick to being able to split them apart after turning. After applying a thin layer of glue to both pieces, a sheet of newspaper is placed between them, and then they are clamped together. Edges and ends must be clamped perfected flush with one another. Hand screws keep things aligned as clamps are tightened down.After the glue has dried a snug fitting block of wood is cut to fill in the open mortise in the bottom end of the turning stock and a couple of drops of super glue are applied to this block before tapping it into place. A little bit of super glue will hold it in place during the turning but allow the block to be knocked out after the work on the lathe is finished. Now centers can be located in each end of the turning stock and it can be mounted and turned. The turning is very simple for this design, just a straight taper with the finished piece being 3 1/4″  in diameter at the bottom end and 2 1/2″ at the top.

Once the turning and sanding on the lathe are finished the piece can be removed, and the block in the bottom end can be tapped out with a smaller block of wood and a mallet. Now the stock is ready to be split in two. Line up a 1″ wide chisel on the glue line at the top end of the piece and give the chisel a firm tap. The piece will separate pretty easily at the top. Then push the chisel on in, and, using it as a wedge, split the glued up pieces completely apart. A couple of light passes on the jointer and a little sanding will completely remove the newspaper and glue from the flat side of our split turnings and the two pieces are now ready to become table legs with mortises already cut. The photo below shows the split turned legs being dry fitted to upper and lower stretchers.

Here is the base of the table completely assembled.

Here is the finished table. The split turned legs compliment the over all design very nicely.


Click to enlarge these images.

To see more of my work please visit My Furniture Gallery.

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