Inspired by Icicles
If you’re like me, the first thing that came to mind when you saw this leg was “How was that made? Was it turned? Was it carved entirely with hand tools? Maybe it was made with a CNC machine?” John Glendinning, a studio furniture maker from Montreal, designed this leg for use on a small hall table but started incorporating it into other pieces as well. He was inspired by the asymmetrical form of large, hanging icicles, yet the task of developing it into a strong, beautiful furniture component was a tricky one. The process uses the lathe and hand tools – not to mention a healthy dose of careful planning – to produce this intricate component. Like everything else in woodworking, there’s a process to be followed, and after learning a few secrets it doesn’t seem impossible. Let’s take a detailed look at how Glendinning made this leg. The process might surprise you.
Grain Orientation is Critical
In order to hide the glue lines, make sure to use flat-cut stock. During glue-up the groove will accept two 1" long waxed dowel plugs in either end to keep the blank aligned. They can be removed once the glue has cured.
Random Lengths and Angles
Draw a taper line (red, in photo) on the stock to assist you with turning the overall shape of the leg on the lathe. With a mitre saw, cut the segments with compound angles. Random lengths work best.
To reassemble the segments, use long cauls and lots of clamps. Apply pressure in every direction. Layers of contrasting veneer are glued between each segment for visual effect. The multi-layer sandwich of glued segments gets stacked onto a long, permanent dowel.
With some sandpaper and a hard but flexible pad, sand the surfaces of the segments. Be sure to keep the veneer as the apex of the shape.
Rough Turn then Lay Out
Roughly turn the blank to a taper, following the taper line. Next, mark dark pencil lines at the extremes of each section of veneer, and remove the material between these lines on the lathe. You can start to see the contrast with the solid segments – (cherry, in this photo) and the veneer (maple).
Work to the Veneer
With an assortment of hand and power tools work to the edge of the veneer, removing wood from the segments, leaving a smooth, contoured surface. Ignore the pencil lines at this stage.
Start by breaking out two halves of the leg. Whether resawing from one thick piece or from two thinner pieces, they should be at least four or five inches longer than the finished part so that there is enough material to hold the leg with as you are working it. Each part, when face-glued together, needs to be at least as wide and as thick as the largest diameter of the finished leg. During material selection and machining, the grain orientation is of primary consideration. To best conceal the glue lines use material that’s as close to flat cut as possible. This ensures the glue lines are camouflaged within the straight edge grain.
Machine a groove centered on the inside surface of each half. This groove will accept two 1″ long dowel plugs on either end for alignment of the two halves during assembly. When the leg is reassembled later a permanent full-length dowel is inserted into this groove to assist with locating the segments and to add strength to the structure. During the first assembly, wax the 1″ long dowel plugs and leave enough of a stub outside the blank to grip with pliers. Remove the dowels once the glue has cured.
With the blank squared up, draw a line on one surface representing the overall taper you want to have on the leg. This line will guide you as you turn the blank to a round form. It will also help you keep track of the segments once they are cut to length. Cut random compound angled sections with a miter saw, rotating the blank between cuts. While making these cuts, consider how the angled segments will look when they are reassembled. Alternating different length and angles of segments helps to achieve an interesting overall composition.
With the blank divided into a group of segments, it’s now time to glue it back together in the order they were cut. During glue-up, a piece of veneer of contrasting colour is glued between each segment for visual interest.
Cut the veneer slightly undersize and drill a hole in the center with a brad point bit so the long dowel will fit through the center of the blank. These pieces of veneer will also help keep the shaping process a bit more organized, as you’ll be removing material between the edges of these pieces of veneer. Apply glue to the segments and veneers slices; then, in order, slide everything onto the long length of dowel. Use a number of straight cauls to keep the faces of the segments aligned, and a clamp to apply pressure to either end of the blank. Be sure to use paper between the cauls and the blank so the cauls can be removed when everything is dry.
Turn the blank to its final tapered shape, using your taper line as a guideline. Add pencil lines to the spinning turning to represent the far left and right boundary of each veneer section. Use a gouge to remove some of the material between these pencil lines – just make sure not to remove any of the veneer. While the leg blank is on the lathe, turn a tenon on its end so it can be attached to the underside of a table.
Fine-tune the areas between the veneer pieces with a series of hand and power tools – spokeshaves, chisels, die grinders, rasps, whatever you feel most comfortable with to produce the contours required.
A final hand-sanding with a hard but flexible rubber sanding pad to ensure consistent contours is necessary.
Be sure to have the apex of the point directly over the veneer edge. It will provide a more precise, powerful-looking detail.
To see more of John’s work, go to johnglendinning.ca.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.