Construction of “Table with a Twist” – Part 1: Legs

When I set out to create this table I knew that I wanted to use plain wood for the base and figured wood for the top.  I knew that straight-grained wood would be easier to carve, and complements the carving well; curvy grain would distract from the linear design.  I expected that using figured wood for the top in contrast to the straight-grained base would create a “wow” factor – another dimension to the piece.

As most of my projects do, this one started with a hunt for wood.  I had a nice piece of figured maple that had been sitting around my shop for a few years and this seemed like the time to use it.  However, I didn’t have any 8/4 (2″ thick) maple that was exceptionally straight grained in my shop.  I found just what I needed at a local lumber supplier, P&D Taylor Industries.

With all the necessary material on hand I was ready to begin.  I started with the legs because they require the most time and are one of the most enjoyable parts of the project.  Also, I rationalized that the legs would be easier to store than a table top while the rest of the piece was being made.  By finishing the top last it stood a greater chance of not getting damaged.

I sawed the 8/4 maple into 2″ x 2″ x 36″ leg blanks and surfaced them to 1-7/8″ square.  Then I cut them to final length.  I wanted the table to be 30″ high, so I subtracted the top’s thickness and set a stop block to that measurement.  Looking at the colour of the wood as well as the slight variances in grain I oriented the legs on my bench to make the prettiest faces most visible.  It wasn’t easy when they all looked so close, as straight-grained stock does!  Once happy with their position I marked them FR (front right), FL (front left), BL (back left) and BR (back right).  I made the marks on the inside corner so that I knew where each leg went and how it was to be positioned.  I made sure to make my marks on the tops of the legs so the letters didn’t get removed in the carving process.  In this position, I used (blue) chalk to indicate which areas needed to be carved away to form the 1/8 (45-degree) twist.  When viewed from the front, the front legs twisted outwards.  When viewed from the back, the back legs also twisted outwards.  So when viewed from above, the front left and back right legs twisted clockwise while the other two twisted counterclockwise.

The creation of the twists was actually very simple.  First, I drew a line around the leg indicating where I wanted the twist to begin.  Then I would have used my Board Twister… if I could find it.  Sadly, the stores didn’t have any in stock either so I had to twist the legs the old-fashioned way.

On the bottom of the legs I marked the midpoints of each face and connected the dots.  A miter saddle square came in handy here.  This diamond represented the bottom of the leg.  Carving the twist automatically tapered the leg at the same time.  Note that my leg blanks were riftsawn – the growth rings ran at approximately 45-degrees to the faces.  This meant that each face exhibited straight grain.  I didn’t want to see cathedral grain (arches) on these parts.

Then, being mindful of the blue chalk, I used a long straight edge to connect the corner at the top of the leg (where the twist starts) with the midpoint at the bottom of the leg.  Note that the diagonal pencil line was drawn counter to the implied angle of the chalk.  This was correct.  I drew this line on all four sides of each leg, remembering that for two legs, the diagonal line would go the other way.  (The leg in the picture below has a counterclockwise twist and the top of the leg is to the right of the picture.  You can also see the marking tools I used sitting on the bench.  I don’t remember why the fine-tip marker is there though…)

To ensure that the leg bottoms ended in a crisp, clean square, I first cut chamfers up to the layout lines.  This project made good use of the Tucker vise’s tilt capabilities.

Then I used a drawknife to remove the bulk of the waste.  My goal was to remove all the high spots between the diagonal lines I drew on the leg faces.  Because of the twist, I started with the drawknife at the top and parallel to the leg face and finished with the leg at the bottom, angled 45- degrees to the leg.  Of course, if the grain ran the other way, I would need to work in the opposite direction.  I had to be mindful of the layout lines!  Even though I could work right up to them with my drawknife, but I always finished up with my flat spokeshave which fairs the twisted faces.

When done, I had something that looks like this.  Notice that my formerly rift-sawn leg blank now appeared to be flatsawn or quartersawn, depending on how you looked at it.  There was a chance that there would be more prominent figure towards the base of the legs.  By using the straightest-grained wood I could find, I minimized the chance of exposing wild grain patterns.

I finished up with card scrapers and sandpaper to 180-grit.  If I was not planning to add a pad or glide to the bottom of the leg, I would have lightly chamfered the edges.

Next week:  Carving the aprons.  While they were also twisted, the layout and carving procedure was different and there were be some additional challenges!  I had considered a few different profiles before settling on the quarter twist.

5 thoughts on “Construction of “Table with a Twist” – Part 1: Legs

  1. Still, nothing better than doing it by hand…. I will bet by the time you do a few more, the draw knife skill will get so good you don’t need much of a layout line! Thanks for sharing the technique.

  2. Thanks Chris for the detailed description on how to make absolutely stunning legs. I plan to use twisted legs on my next project. Thanks Felix

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