Fit for a QueenComments (0)
This article is from Issue 1 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Petite and shapely, prim and proper, the beauty of this scaled-down Queen Anne table is in its built-in curves, not added-on details. Perfect as a display table, it adds subtle grace to any room.
My romance with Queen Anne furniture probably got its official start back in the early ’80s with the appearance of an article by Carlyle Lynch in Fine Woodworking No. 42, in which he described the construction of a three-quarter-sized Queen Anne highboy. I had always liked Queen Anne furniture, but the Lynch piece was the first one I actually set out to build. I didn’t get around to it until 1985, using cherry harvested from a tree taken from our own southern Ohio woods.
Since then, I’ve returned periodically to the Queen Anne genre for customers requesting pieces in that style; other times, I’ve steered customers in that direction to give myself the privilege of revisiting one of my favorite styles.
What draws me to Queen Anne furniture is the same thing that draws me to Shaker furniture: Both rely on purity of form for their appeal, making minimal use of surface detail achieved through moldings and carving. The beauty of this little table is in the shapes of the legs, the apron and the top rather than in any applied detail.
Although I made this particular table for my wife to use as a stand for her jewelry box, it would be used more typically as a display table, perhaps for a vase of flowers or maybe a tall piece of pottery.
This is clearly a Queen Anne table – the cabriole legs terminating in spoon feet, as well as the scalloped top, place it in that genre – but it’s not a reproduction of any period original. Instead, it’s an expression of the Queen Anne aesthetic inspired by two different sources: a photograph of a Queen Anne spice cabinet I saw many years ago, and a serving table in Norm Vandal’s book “Queen Anne Furniture: History, Design and Construction.” From the spice cabinet, I borrowed an emphatic verticality; from the table, I borrowed the general conformation of the cabriole leg and the knee block.
I used cherry for my table because that’s what I had on hand in the required thicknesses, but it would be just as attractive in walnut, mahogany or figured maple. The stock for the apron and the top is standard 4/4", but you’ll need 3" material for the legs, which will be a bit more expensive.
You could glue up the leg stock from thinner material, and I’ve done that for straight legs in which a glue joint is less noticeable, but the sweeping curve of a cabriole leg makes it difficult to hide glue joints. Having said that, I should point out that there’s one unavoidable glue line where the cabriole leg and knee block come together, and that glue line is an inevitable part of any Queen Anne piece possessing both cabriole legs and knee blocks.
From the top down
The first step is to glue up an 18" x 18" x 3/4" panel from 4/4" stock for the table top.
Match your stock carefully to ensure there is no jarring grain transition in the center of the panel, then glue and clamp, as in Fig. 1. Notice that before the glueup, I laid out a pair of 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" cleats on which I put strips of newspaper to keep the cleats from adhering to the panel as a result of glue squeezed out during clamping. The cleats raise the boards being joined to the height at which the clamp heads apply their pressure to the material. If the boards were to rest directly on the pipes, their edges would be well below the pressure points of the clamp heads, which could distort the panel with unhappy results.
To further avoid creating a distorted panel, note how I’ve also laid a pair of cleats across the top of the panel to prevent the pressure of the pipe clamps from buckling it. Again, insulate these cleats with newspaper strips so they don’t end up glued to the panel. You can’t see them in the photo, but I also used small pieces of wood to protect the surface of the panel from the metal heads of the bars.
Tighten all clamps, beginning with the pipe clamps and ending with the bar clamps on the upper cleats. Don’t be afraid to over-tighten. Unless you’re built like the governor of California, you can’t. I turned the screws as far as I could without popping any tendons.
After the glue has cured, remove the clamps and lay the panel on your bench, securing it in place with a bench dog or clamp. There are always discontinuities where the boards in a glued-up panel come together. Like many woodworkers, I ground away at these with a belt sander, which I believe is the most noxious creator of dirt and noise in any shop. The results achieved by a belt sander are rarely satisfactory, because if there is any shifting of your hands during the operation of the machine, the edges of the belt will dig furrows in the panel you’re smoothing. Which means more sanding. Which produces more furrows. Which means still more sanding.
If you’ve ever experienced this, let me introduce you to the Stanley #80; a Christmas gift from my dad several years ago, it’s become one of my favorite tools in part because it has largely replaced the tool I dislike the most, the portable belt sander. It’s easy to set up and almost idiot-proof in operation.
With this tool, I can quietly and cleanly whisk away surface irregularities much faster than with a belt sander. Although I didn’t time myself, I’m sure I spent no more than a minute or two creating the pile of shavings you see in Fig. 2. Imagine how long it would take to remove that much material in the form of sanding dust, not to mention the amount of airborne dirt and noise.
With the top now smooth, transfer the pattern profile and cut it out on the bandsaw (Fig. 3). Clean up any bandsaw marks, then mark the bevels on the edges of the table top. This requires a total of four lines drawn all the way around the table top: two on the edge surface and one each on the top and bottom surfaces. You can see three of the four lines clearly in Fig. 4.
I draw these lines freehand, a process some woodworkers find disconcerting, but freehand work is an important element in the creation of the cabriole legs, so this might be a good opportunity for woodworkers who are unaccustomed to working “by eye” to strengthen this part of their woodworking game.
If you find this approach unnatural, you’re not alone. Modern reliance on machinery has created a mindset among woodworkers that suggests craftsmanship can be measured by the ability to mimic the brutal regularity of machinery. I’d like to suggest a different way to view craftsmanship.
The 18th- and 19th-century craftsmen many of us try to emulate often created shapes freehand, relying on an educated eye to bring those shapes into a harmonious whole. If you have the opportunity, run your hands across the top of an 18th-century cabinet. You’ll almost certainly feel the subtle undulations which are the signatures of the hand tools that produced these surfaces. In every original, you will find somewhere the presence of the craftsman’s eye-guided hand.
The bevels can be made by creating planes which connect a line from the top surface and a line from the edge surface. These planes can be crowned or – as I choose – they can be flat. You can make the planes with a file as in Fig. 4, or with a paring chisel as in
Fig. 5, although sometimes grain direction will preclude the latter approach.
I used the bandsaw to rip out my leg blanks. Ideally, I’ll cut these a week or two ahead of time to allow some time for any stresses in the material to manifest themselves before trueing them up on the jointer and thickness planer (Fig. 6).
Draw a pair of baselines with a try square near one end of the leg blank. These are the lines directly below the spoon foot. Then, using the baselines, trace the leg pattern on two adjacent surfaces of each leg blank (Fig. 7).
Notice the extra material at the top of the post (the vertical section of the leg into which mortises will be cut). I leave an extra inch of material on the ends to mount the leg into the lathe. That extra inch will be removed later. Note, too, the locations of the mortises – marked by squiggly lines – that will later receive the apron tenons. These mortises are much easier to cut now, before sawing out the leg profile.
I have a 3/8" mortising attachment for my drill press, but I’ve never had much luck getting the mortising chisel to retract smoothly, so I crumbed out most of the waste with a 5/16" drill bit (Fig. 8), then cleaned up the mortise sidewalls with a 1/2" paring chisel for the sidewalls and a 1/4" mortising chisel for the ends (Fig. 9). Finally, I used a 3/8" gauge block, which is the same size as the tenons I’ll cut later, to test mortise width (Fig. 10).
Before starting work on a set of cabriole legs, you might consider installing a new blade in your bandsaw, preferably one with a fair number of teeth per inch because such blades produce the smoothest cuts. A new blade is important because there are a large number of critical cuts in the leg, and it’s almost impossible to keep a dull blade on the line.
Saw out the leg in one plane (Fig. 11). When cutting the legs on the first plane, it’s important to remove the waste in a single cut, as you’ll need these for the second plane. Tape the cutoffs back into place and remark the adjacent plane where lines are hidden under the tape as in Fig. 12. This will not only give you all your guidelines back, but it keeps the leg stable as it passes through the bandsaw (Fig. 13).
Move to the lathe
The next several steps are done at the lathe, including turning the spoon feet.
This can be a little unnerving if you’ve never done anything like this before, so begin by removing the tool rest and setting the lathe on its slowest speed. Mount the leg blank, setting the knife edges of the drive center in an X you’ve cut into the end grain of waste atop the post. The tailstock center should be set into place at the center of the foot. No incised X is necessary here; pencil lines are enough.
Check to see that everything is tight and secure, then turn the lathe on. If the setup looks good, turn the lathe off, and bring the tool rest into position, turning the leg by hand to be sure it won’t strike the rest. Restart the lathe, again on the slowest speed, then stop it to double-check that everything is still tight. Only now should you pick up a tool and begin to work the foot.
I made no attempt at elegant turning technique when I created these feet, and simply removed the waste with a roughing gouge before going back with a skew to shape the pad and the lower surface of the foot (Fig. 14). Several times during the process, I stopped the lathe and used a drawknife to relieve the back of the ankle. This relief work can be seen on the finished foot in Fig. 15.
This method of shaping the foot on a cabriole leg has been used for centuries, and it is inherently dangerous. If your tool were to strike the spinning leg anywhere but at the foot, it could be ripped out of your hands with disastrous results. As with any woodworking technique, if you’re unsure of your ability, use another method. Although it may take longer, the foot pad can be shaped with a coping saw and rasps.
At this point, you could remove the work and remount it in a shaving horse or conventional bench vise to do the hand-tool shaping, but if your lathe has an indexing head that allows you to lock the leg into a single position, you can shape the leg right on the lathe.
First, remove any bandsaw marks with a plane on the convex surfaces and a spokeshave on the concave surfaces. A rasp will also work in either location. Follow this with a drawknife to create the round on the front of the ankle (Fig. 16). Pay close attention to grain direction and work slowly, as too much aggression here can ruin the leg by breaking out excessively large chips. I used a wide-sweep carving gouge to clean up the top surface of the spoon foot.
Prepare to spend some time on the shaping of each leg as you work your way from the drawknife to the rasp, and through various sandpaper grits. And as you create these surfaces, remember that you’re working by eye, and make regular checks of the leg’s various profiles to see that you’re creating pleasing lines that run all the way from the knee to the foot.
Transfer the apron pattern to your stock, cut it out on the bandsaw and clean up bandsaw marks on the scallops. I thicknessed the apron tenons with a stack of dado cutters on my radial arm saw, but this can also be done on the table saw. Don’t try to bring them to their finished thickness; instead, leave a bit extra to remove later when you fit them to their mortises.
Hold the apron-tenon stock up to the mortises and mark the final dimensions (Fig. 17). The marks can be lengthened using a try square, with the waste between the tenons removed at the bandsaw.
Please note: It is very important that the bottom of the top tenon and the top of the bottom tenon are undercut by an extra 1/8 " at each location to allow a bit of movement when the apron parts shrink. They will shrink across their width – drawing the tenons closer together – and if these tenons aren’t undercut to give them shrinkage room, the apron may crack.
Although not visible in Fig. 17, I numbered the end of each apron section to correspond with numbers on the mortises of each leg. This assured that I was always fitting the same set of tenons into the same set of mortises.
Clamp the apron section to your bench to test-fit the post mortises, then use a plane to reduce tenon thickness (Fig. 18). I found the Stanley No. 192 I’m using at a flea market. I was looking for something to plane down tenon cheeks, which this tool does marvelously, but later learned that the 192 is actually a rabbet plane. Still, it works nicely.
When all the tenons have been fitted to their mortises and all parts have been test-fitted without glue to check for problems, start gluing up the two opposite ends of the table (Fig. 19).
My gluing arrangement might seem a little complicated, but it simplifies the process of gluing up assemblies when working alone. I start by clamping the tenoned apron sections to my bench with a piece of scrap underneath to raise it high enough to allow me to get the leg into position on each side. The advantage is this: With the tenoned part clamped firmly in place, I don’t have to hold it steady while working the two legs and two clamps into position.
When the glue has cured, remove the clamps on the subassemblies, then glue and clamp the table together using the final two apron sections.
Once the glue on the two final apron sections is cured, remove the clamps and check the alignment of parts. At least in my shop, the apron sections and the posts never come together perfectly. It’s always necessary to do a little planing to even out these slight irregularities (Fig. 20). In order to stabilize the table while I worked on it, I clamped a length of wood to my bench top, then clamped the table to one end.
Mounting the top
The top is attached to the apron with a pair of cleats. Drill all the through-holes in the cleats before fastening the apron sections. Invert the apron/leg assembly onto the bottom side of the tabletop (notice the protective rug), and install some #10 wood screws through the cleats into the bottom of the tabletop (Fig. 21).
The placement of these screws is very important. First, they must pass through oversized holes in the cleats. This will allow the top to expand and contract in response to seasonal changes in humidity and prevent cracking at the top.
Second, the screws must be long enough to firmly anchor the top without poking through the top surface. In the case of this particular table, with a top thickness of 3/4", the screws penetrated somewhere between 5/8" and 11/16".
Finally, the cleats must be positioned so that their grain direction matches that of the top. This puts the cleats in a position to best resist the top’s natural inclination to cup across its width.
Although not necessary to secure the tenons in their mortises, I added cherry pegs as an accent (Fig. 22).
The next step is to rip and dress a length of cherry to use as knee blocks, transferring the pattern to mark the blocks before cutting out the bottom edge on the bandsaw and cleaning up bandsaw marks with a sanding drum.
As with the legs, I cut off the top edge of the knee block, then taped the waste back into place to hold the block assembly in position, and re-marked it before cutting the adjacent plane on the bandsaw (Fig. 23).
I cut these blocks on the bandsaw, but remember, that puts your fingers close to the blade. You might feel more comfortable cutting the knee blocks on a jigsaw or scroll saw. As always, never do anything in the shop that seems dangerous to you.
I used the disc attachment on my stationary sander to clean up tool marks, then fastened the knee block to a bit of scrap held in my vise as in
Fig. 24. A drywall screw penetrates that bit of scrap. The knee block is turned onto that drywall screw via a hole drilled into the back of that block. With a wide-sweep carving gouge, I roughed in the shape of the knee block before gluing it into place at the top of the leg.
With the table on its side and firmly clamped to the bench, I used a paring chisel to fair the block to the leg, then finished up with a rasp and sandpaper.
Before sanding, check the lines of the legs and remove any unsightly flat spots in those lines with a drawknife and a rasp (Fig. 25).
Sanding begins with 100-grit and proceeds through a succession of grits up to 320. I then applied two coats of Waterlox, sanding with 320-grit after the first and 600-grit after the second.
You’ll probably want to complete the finish with a good coat of thoroughly buffed paste wax.
Pierce has been a professional furniture maker for more than 20 years. He is the author of 10 woodworking books – including the recently published “Authentic Shaker Furniture” – as well as dozens of magazine articles. His work has appeared in many regional shows, including, most recently, Ohio Furniture by Contemporary Masters at the Ohio Decorative Arts Center.
Legs (4) 3" x 3" x 29-1/2"
Aprons (4) 3/4" x 6" x 11"
Top 3/4" x 18" x 18"
Cleats (2) 3/4" x 3/4" x 9-1/2"
Pegs (16) 1/4" x 1/4" x 1"
Note: These are gross measurements, and include the extra length on the legs which will be cut off after the shaping is completed.
You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In