Taliesin Desk Build - How's and Why's #5: Making Legs

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Blog entry by EarlS posted 08-04-2016 02:27 AM 2045 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Time to make some sawdust Part 5 of Taliesin Desk Build - How's and Why's series Part 6: Big Mortises »

It’s been a few more days than usual since I spent any meaningful time working on the desk. Weather has been hot and humid so time in the shop is more like a sauna than a woodshop. A single fan wasn’t keeping me cool and the humidity was wreaking havoc with the wood moisture. Consequently, I broke down and bought an 8,000 BTU/hr window A/C unit. WOW, what a difference in both humidity and temperature.

While I was at it, I also decided that an air cleaner would probably be a big improvement to the dust issue I have in the shop.

I also recently updated my dust collector with 1 micron bags on the top and bottom. There is still dust, but not nearly as much and the fine stuff is not floating around for days covering everything. Now I just need something to catch the chips and dust that comes off the table saw blade and the router when I do hand held work like routering mortises. A clean, tidy, dust free shop is a happy shop!!!

Back to legs: I decided to forgo the large expense of buying legs off the internet that probably were glued up anyway and make my own.

There are a number of ways to make legs. Find a method that you like and that works for the project. Don’t be afraid to borrow someone else’s approach.

One popular way is cutting triangular pieces and gluing them up so the joints are in the corners. Great if you can get the triangles cut perfectly and the glue up super tight. Otherwise there are gaps on the corner that you have to deal with. I tried that on an earlier project and wasn’t satisfied with the results.

There are any number of locking joints that can be used to lock 4 rectangular pieces together with a hollow core, or a solid core. I used that technique when I built the newel posts for the stairs. This is a picture from Google images that shows the details:

However, for most table legs I use the sandwich approach: a couple of boards that have a combined thickness slightly more than the final dimension, in this case I used 2 ea 1-1/2” x 2-3/4” boards that were 31” long and glued them together with Gorilla glue. It seems to do a better job than Titebond when gluing large surfaces together.

After the glue set up, I jointed one side, then planed the other side to a finished thickness of 2-1/2”. The top and bottom are left alone so the sandwich is 3” tall and 2-1/2” wide. I had some left over ¼”x3×31 cherry faces from the Mackintosh Vanity I recently made (see the pattern of using extra materials or approaches from previous projects?) that I glued to the sides of the sandwich using Gorilla glue. Once again, after the glue set up I jointed the top, then set the planer up and planed the bottom until the sides were flush. From there I planed the legs, rotating from side to side, using an “X” to mark the sides so I knew which one was next. The planer takes the “X off so the side with an “X” is always the side that is up when it goes through the planer. A side and the top or bottom can be planed on each depth setting. I repeated the process until the legs were 2 -7/8” square. The joints were nearly invisible on the sides.

I ran the random orbit sander over them with 180 grit to give them a smooth surface for marking the mortises. I also decided which legs would be the front and back legs and how they would be oriented. Each leg was labelled on the top (i.e. “front left”, with arrow to the front side). The joints are located on the sides of the legs so the front side of the front legs are the best looking faces.

Using the detail sheets for the legs and my good Sterritt squares I laid out all of the mortises on the legs. All of them on each leg so I have something to look at to make sure I am routering in the right places on each leg. I write notes and details directly on the various pieces so I don’t miss something. For example – I messed up the length on this mortise and eventually sanded off the pencil lines and redrew it.

Nothing will make you grind your teeth and use bad language than finishing the mortises and realizing that you just made 2 right legs. At that point, you make 2 futons instead of one and sell the extra one. (Yep – learn from your mistakes).

Mortise and tenons hold things together. Next time, with a little editing and the magic of the internet they will all (or most of them) be done…...

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

1 comment so far

View JimYoung's profile


407 posts in 2663 days

#1 posted 08-04-2016 11:45 AM

Hi Earl,

Looking good. It’s nice to see different approaches to the same problem.

You are on the right track in double and triple checking mortise locations. There is a lot of work in the legs and end grill work, and any mistake will put you back at square one.

-- -Jim, "Nothing says poor craftsmanship more than wrinkles in your duck tape"

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