Cabriole legs – Design considerations and roughing in

We’re going to be using a bandsaw to rough in the legs.  I know, you were expecting that I’d be cutting the rough shape with a bow saw.  Well, sometime during the next few weeks, I’ll take a little “side trip” in the shop and we’ll try cutting out a cabriole with a bow saw and a rip saw, the good old-fashioned way.  But for the sake of expediency, we’re going to use a little electrical assistance to get the project started.

But first a brief word about design.  Cabriole legs should give the appearance of being light.  But, they also need to be strong.  The design can be deceiving.  They look very “curvy”.  But be ware.  At the front and rear of the knee, you’ll find two arcs that, essentially, are quarter circles.  You’ll find a similar situation at the ankle.  These quarter circles are connected by straight lines.  When viewed from the diagonal perspective the resultant angle creates the appearance of a leg that is curved throughout its length.  In fact, it is not and it is this straight section that gives the cabriole leg its strength.  Also, be attentive to grain orientation.  Leg billets should be clear and, preferably, straight.

Alright!  Let’s get started.

First, cut your blanks to finished length.  No cheating.  Finished length.  The top of the leg blank is the registration surface.

Next, lay out the leg using your template.  I find that laying out with the back of the template on the back edge on two of the surfaces at 90 degrees to one another works best.  (On darker woods you may want to use a white or other light-colored pencil.

Then we’re going to cross-cut a register at the upper line of the knee.  Stay back from the pommel line between a 1/16th and an 1/8th.  This will give you a target when you’re rough shaping the knee.  Remember, this cut is made on two surfaces ONLY.

Take a moment and mark the centers of the billet.  Remember you’re going to turn the foot of this leg on the lathe.  (If you don’t have a lathe, you can shape the foot with chisel and files.)

Make sure that you have a “turning blade” in your bandsaw.  Something on the order of a 3/16 or 1/4 will work well.  Don’t be mislead, 4 to 6 tpi would be a good blade choice for this work.

Okay.  Muy importante!  Don’t cut the pommels (upper portion of the post where the mortises will be made) at this point.  Work from the knee down.  Now we cut out our stock on the first surface.

Now comes the magic.  Take the waste stock that you just cut off the leg and tape it back in place.  This will provide support and the template lines you’ll need to make the cuts on the second surface.  Once you’ve taped the leg back together, turn it ninety degrees.  Make sure you’re on the right surface.  Now cut away the waste stock on this surface.

Since you have two lines to cut, you may find that you have to add a little tape before making the second cut.  After you’ve finished both cuts and peeled away the tape and the waste stock, you’ll find that you have a roughed-in cabriole leg in your possession.

We’ll start final shaping, turning and finishing just as soon as I get a couple of Christmas projects out of the way.  Stay tuned.

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