Turning Table Legs

By Alan Lacer

Turning Table Legs

FIRST, turn a prototype leg. Place your prototype leg directly behind the blank for each final leg. By sighting along the upper horizons of both pieces, you'll simplify the process of repeating specific shapes.

Turning four table legs that match may sound impossible, but it's not. With these tried and true tips, and a little practice, you can successfully turn even the largest legs. And these same techniques apply when you're copying a broken chair spindle or producing a set of balusters.

Here's what we'll show you:

Wood to Turn

You'll need four pieces of 3-1/2 in. by 3-1/2 in, by 30 inch. squared stock cut exactly to the same length. (Note: We used two pieces of 8/4 ash, glued and squared on the jointer.) Having squared stock is critical when leaving pommels on the finished piece. Cutting all the blanks the same length greatly simplifies leveling the table.

Tools and Supplies

X is the area that remains square (pommel). LAY OUT the pommel (area to remain square) with a square and pencil. Only one line is necessary at the shoulder of the pommel because the spinning wood will show the line clearly.
Part down to create a cylinder CUT I /8 in. to the right of the layout line with a parting tool. Make sure the edge is keen; the handle is low; take only light cuts; and widen the cut as you go deeper to prevent binding. Cut to the left until you reach the layout line.
Turned to a cylinder with a roughing gouge TURN the area to the right of the pommel to a cylinder. If you're making rounded shoulders, turn the corners of the pommel with a 1/2?in. detail gouge. The line to the left of the shoulder indicates the top of the rounded portion.
Using a skew chisel to do both square shouldered or rounded pommels. YOU CAN ALSO use a skew chisel to do both square shouldered or rounded pommels. The long point (toe) of the skew is down and leading the cut. Skews leave the best surface, but require more skill and practice to use.
Using a layout board USE a layout board with cut pins to accurately lay out the placement of elements below the pommel. Securely place the board on the tool rest and push it into the cylinder below the pommel.
Pins on the layout board THE PINS are simply brads or finish nails driven into the edge of a 3/4-inch thick board at the critical points and clipped off about 1/4 inch. from the surface. On longer work it's often easier to manipulate the layout board by making it in two or three sections.
Using calipers USE a calipers and parting tool to size critical diameters. The calipers must have rounded edges and make contact only on the side opposite the cutting tool. There must be no gap between the wood and tool rest. Hold the parting tool handle low, tucked under your forearm.
Round the ends of the calipers ROUND the ends of the outside calipers with a fine mill file or rotary tool before using on the spinning wood. I finish off the process with 220?grit sandpaper. The goal is to eliminate any sharp edges or corners that might catch on the wood.
Cutting details CUT details with the detailing gouge. For long, gradual curves, cylinders or straight tapers, use the roughing gouge. After turning the pommel, work from the headstock toward the tailstock until the leg is finished. Control the shape by watching the upper horizon of the piece rather than the tool tip.
Use the skew (long point down) USE the skew chisel (long point down) to add shadow lines, crispness and emphasis to beads, shoulders, fillets and other details. Be sure to check the leg by removing it from the lathe and examining it in a vertical position. Complete the leg with final sanding.

TIP: Driving with a Dead Center

How to scallop a dead center Using a rotory tool to scallop a dead center

To use the dead center for driving, file the shoulder of the dead center to a sharp edge. You can cut several shallow scallops along this edge to increase its grip on the wood. This shaping is easily done with a rotary tool and a small stone or a chainsaw file. Prior to mounting turning stock on the lathe, drive the center into the headstock side of the blank with a dead blow mallet to make an indentation.

Although normally used in the tailstock, the dead center is a good alternative to a spur center for driving the work at the headstock. By controlling the pressure on the tailstock hand wheel, you can determine the amount of slippage in driving the work a real benefit in case of a catch or if you are intimidated by a large spinning square. You also can remove and accurately remount the leg several times, which is important for viewing the leg vertically during the design process.

 

To use the dead center for driving, file the shoulder of the dead center to a sharp edge. You can cut several shallow scallops along this edge to increase its grip on the wood. This shaping is easily done with a rotary tool and a small stone or a chainsaw file. Prior to mounting turning stock on the lathe, drive the center into the headstock side of the blank with a dead blow mallet to make an indentation.

Dead center, #2 Morse taper, #1146-439, 24in. Double posted tool rest (for bases that hold I in, stems and lathes with 12 inch swing), # 1146-694. Tool rest base (banjo) to use with 24 inch rest. Check with suppliers of your brand of lathe.

Packard Woodworks sells a tool rest base for lathes with a 1-1/2in. gap in ways, and a 12in. swing-on lathe, Item # 1146-707

Packard Woodworks, (800) 683 8876; www.packardwoodworks.com