Staying true to Vitruvius

I promised my daughter and son-in-law a new dining room table.  So, after a lot of time spent looking at table styles, we all agreed that a slightly upscale tavern table would work very well.  We opted for a fairly classical turned leg design, somewhere between mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries.  And, I must admit that my design was heavily influenced by Matt Burak at Tablelegs.com.  Mr. Burak has done the entire woodworking community several important favors.  First, is the provision of high quality legs at very reasonable prices, for the working tradesman who may not have the time or turning expertise needed to do such work at a profit.  Second, he has seen fit to share all the dimensional information about his designs.  (Gramps, rolling over in his grave is mouthing the words, “secrets du metier”.)

We decided that a painted base would be just the thing, painted and glazed.  So it only made sense to opt for fluting.  This would provide more shadow detail, just what the glazing needs.

Well, now days these flutes would be, more often than not, created by the use of a round or corebox bit in a router and usually their width would remain constant throughout their length.  Just as I was thinking about some method to jig up the laminate trimmer, Vitruvius spoke to me, through the ages.  He reminded me that I was dealing with a tapered column and that, in order to be correct (in the classical sense) my flutes should be tapered, as well.  And, not only should they be tapered, their dimensioning should adhere to the “rules”, flutes 2x, lands 1x.  After some cogitation, I realized that if I were going to use the router, I would have to be very crafty, indeed, to not only get the taper right, but also maintain the right sweep and depth throughout the length of the flute.

What did I do?  I opted to do it the old fashioned way.  I laid the flutes out, just as the Maestro would have, then I found an appropriate gouge and I began carving.  Yes, it will take longer than it would if I could simply plug in the router, but who knows how long it would take to develop the fixturing; fixturing for four legs?  Plus, this is an opportunity to get some much needed carving practice.  All I have to listen to is the “tap-tap” of the mallet and there’s no dust.  And, architecturally and aesthetically, it is correct.  I’ll finish up with a little radius scraper.  And, by the way, the material is red oak at equilibrium, not known to be the best subject for carving.  But, if your tools are sharp…

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A little finishing up and we”ll be “off to the races”.

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Oh, by the way, most turners will tell you that it’s not a good idea to carve on your lathe.  The bearings, spur and center are not designed for that use.  Plus an appropriate working height for turning may not work well for carving.  That said, just understand that I’m old and kinda lazy, but careful, very, very careful.  So be advised and don’t blame me if you knock the pin out of your live center.

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