Making the Moldings

 The large moldings are roughed out on the table saw, making a series of closely spaced kerfs to a profile drawn on the end of the stock. A period cabinetmaker would have done much the same thing, using a rabbet and plough plane, to remove the bulk of the waste, before switching to hollow and round molding planes. For safety reasons, plan the cuts carefully to leave sufficient support while sawing. After sawing I used various hollow and round molding planes, to refine the profile. Lacking molding planes, the profile could be refined with carving tools and scrapers. When working in mahogany, cherry or walnut, that would be nearly the end of the story, but not so in curly maple. Wetting the wood helped, but the tear out was still pronounced.

  Don’t bother to fully refine the molding until after it has been installed, because the profiles will almost certainly require considerable work to match at the miters. A long secession with a goose neck and  custom filed scrapers, followed by sand paper more coarse than I ever thought I’d use on fine furniture, had the molding ready for finishing. The base molding because of its flowing shape can be sanded using your hand to back the paper, except at the step near the top, but the other moldings should have some sort of shaped block backing the paper to maintain a crisp profile.

  The cornice molding was attached in the same way as the drawer runners. In this case T slots are stopped so they won’t show from the back. The miters and the first couple of inches of the moldings are glued and nailed. The smaller moldings can be run with a router or shaper. The profiles are then “refined” with a custom filed scratch stock, again to remove any trace of machine work.

 I left the cornice molding and the cove below the base molding off until after the case had been rubbed out, to allow me to get a perfect finish at the junction between these elements and the apron/case sides. I pre-finished the bottom edge of the cornice and cove molding but left the final shaping and finishing until after it had been installed. This adds time to the construction, but the resulting finish was worth it (I said I was a fanatic about finishing)



Quarter Columns

  The quarter columns on period examples are not a true quarter arc. Instead they have a radius larger than a true arc. I'm not sure if this larger arc was a design consideration or if stems from cutting the finished turning apart, instead of the practice of inserting paper in the joints and later separating it along the glue lines. My guess is the former, because the paper separated glue up is somewhat finicky process, while sawing is simple and quick. The base and capitols of the quarter columns are turned on the lathe, with the major diameter of 2 7/8".

  My lathe lacked the capacity between centers to turn the columns. To make the columns, I started with a piece of stock 1" thick and 1 5/8" wide. On the wide face, I planed an arc with a radius of 1 3/8". The flutes started as hand carved shallow grooves, and were deepened and refined with a tight radius molding plane. Lacking a molding plane, the flutes could be carefully carved by hand and refined with a scratch stock. I avoid machines to do this, because the hand work captures the slightly undulating lines of the flutes, seen on originals. Any sanding needed, should be done carefully to preserve the crispness of the flutes.  After the flutes are finished a 45 degree bevel was ripped on one edge of the blank, then with the beveled face down on the table, a 90 degree cut was made, forming the quarter column. After being finished and rubbed out, the columns are attached with screws driven from the inside. The column caps are glued in place, so be careful to avoid getting oil or shellac on the glue surfaces.



The Base

 The base is standard pegged mortise and tenon construction, I made the pegs from oversized maple dowels roughly planed to an octagonal shape.


cornice molding
Roughed out cornice molding

Roughed out base molding

Using scraper to refine molding

sanding molding
Sanding cornice molding: note pre-finished edge

carving flutes
Starting flutes with gouge

plane flutes
Using molding plane to refine flutes

Apron showing tool marks

feet with tool
Ball and Claw Feet with tools used for carving



The profiles on the aprons are cut with a jigsaw and the saw marks are removed with files, scrapers and gouges. Here again, by modern standards this seems crude and unfinished, but it is typical of period pieces. The base molding has a piece of secondary wood glued to its inside face, to support the upper case, and form a recess in which the upper case sits. I used my c.1770 DeWalt plate joiner to reinforce the miters with biscuits. The rear of the molding frame has a stretcher dovetailed to the ends of the molding (I’am not sure of the historical accuracy of this detail). The molding is attached to the base with glue blocks, after the finish has been rubbed out. The cove molding below is just glued and nailed in place.


Cabriole Legs and
Ball and Claw Feet


 The ball and claw feet may seem difficult to carve, (I’am only a mediocre carver) but aren’t and don’t require a large set of tools. I recommend a trial run in poplar or pine if you’ve never done a set before. The feet may not be difficult, but they aren’t something you can bang out in a hurry. It took me about 6 hours per foot, (it seemed much longer). This is somewhat slower than when working in mahogany, as much more mallet work was required with the maple.

  In this case, since I was not working to any original, I used the type of leg and foot I find most appealing. I think the feet look best with sharply defined knuckles and a powerful stance. The appearance of the stance is a function of ankle and the rear claw. A somewhat sharp curve from the ankle to the rear claw, and placing the ankle just slightly closer to the center of the ball, gives the appearance of tense foot, almost as if the animal were ready to leap. The sharply defined knuckles are a tad more difficult to carve than rounded knuckles, but worth the effort. Another area that affects the appearance of the foot is the web between the talons. The web should look tightly stretched. The web should also be placed high on the ball, and flow naturally into the ankle. The leg should have fluid but not exaggerated curves. Pronounced curves make the legs look ungainly, looking as if they could not support the case, while legs that are too straight look stilted. Here again, I’d recommend a trial run in an inexpensive wood to see how your pattern looks in 3 dimensions.

  Sawing the legs is a situation where every cabinetmaker has a different approach. Mine is to saw one side, stopping short of cutting the waste free, then switching to the other side, sawing clear through and going back to finish the other cuts. This keeps the layout lines intact and avoids having to tape the pieces back on for subsequent cuts. A well made template and careful sawing will payoff in the ease and speed of shaping the legs. Use spoke shaves, rasps, files, and scrapers to shape the legs. This will go quickly, because very little wood has to be removed.

  The carving of the feet were accomplished with the following tools 5mm No.2 sweep, 8mm No.3 sweep, 10mm No. 9 spoon gouge, 10 mm No. 25 back bend gouge, 4 mm No. 8, 8mm double bevel skew chisel, and a ½” bench chisel. Wetting the wood (I use a spray bottle) will greatly ease the cutting in the hard maple. I experienced only minor trouble carving the maple; the optical illusion of the curl made the facets on the ball hard to detect, and large hogging cuts were not an option, because of the reversing nature of the grain. A light sanding is in my opinion necessary for the best appearance. Sanding can’t be used to overcome poor carving techniques (I wish it could). Sharp tools, properly employed will leave little need for sanding. As noted, it took about 6 hours to carve each foot, but far less than ten minutes of that was spent sanding with 220 and 320 grit paper. Sand only enough to remove the facets on the ball and web, and possibly to refine concave portion between the knuckles because of the difficulty getting a clean cut here. A few tool marks are not only inevitable but desirable.

After the base is glued together, knee blocks are added. These are cut in much the same manner as the cabriole legs. They are glued in place, and after shaping the joint is reinforced a hand forged nails, driven into the leg. There are no knee blocks on the back of the base.


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©2007 by Robert L. Millard
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