Carving a Ball and Claw Foot

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Blog entry by John Fry posted 05-09-2008 04:58 AM 46039 reads 61 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

First I want to thank everyone who visited and responded to my last project blog;

A walnut sofa table with Jacobean influences

As always, your comments AND critiques are welcome!

I recently completed a commissioned wing back chair for a very petite lady. It has a lot of carving detail so I though I would post one of the carving elements as a tutorial because this was almost a “project” of its own.

This chair has ball and claw feet on the front legs, and the clients liked the undercut talons that John Townsend and John Goddard made famous. I didn’t like the undercutting they would sometimes do at the top of the ball, as I felt it removed too much wood for a chair’s forces. My clients allowed me to use my input and go with a webbed upper ball and I chose to do a tapered ball, rather than the stubby round balls. Creating something as aggressive as a ball and claw foot that looks somewhat feminine and petite is not easy.

Here is what I came up with.

I started by milling the cabriole leg blanks from 12/4 black walnut, and finished them to 2-3/4” square. The pattern was made out of 1/4 “ ply and was drawn on two faces of the rift sawn blank.

The mortises were cut on the FMT, then both faces were cut on the band saw. I made one extra leg just in case I messed up and needed a “do-over”.

The “cabriole” shape of the leg was sculpted and the block for the ball and claw remains. Note that there is extra “meat” on the knee for the upper leg, relief carvings later.

The first step is to lay out the guide lines on the base of the foot. These will be used at each step of the carving. I shaved off about 3/32” from each side of the block to make the ball and claw a little more petite.

I start by carving the front two faces and using the outer circle as a guide to form a cylinder. This outer circle is the widest circumference of the ball. By leaving the corners, you can see the claws start to form.

The leg on the right shows the front two faces, and the one on the left shows the back two faces which are done a little bit differently. I can’t carve a vertical cylinder because the location of the “ankle” forces the creation of the top of the ball and the back webs.

Now I return to the front of the ball and start to shape the cylinder into the desired shape of a ball. This design is a “tapered” ball, so the apex is set high and the top is rounded in to form the front webs and the bottom is more of a straight taper down to the smaller circle on the bottom layout lines.

After the balls are shaped, the claws are rounded to match the shape of the ball. I used a compass to mark the height and location of the knuckles.

After a lot more work, the knuckles are sculpted, the cuticles are cut, the talons are carved down, and the tendons and webs are refined at the top of the ball.

Undercutting the talons. Now this is where things get scary! I made a popsicle stick template to draw the cut zone on both sides of each talon. Using a 3/8”, #4 gouge and a ¼” bench chisel, I carefully carved a way the wood under each talon.

After some rifler filing and some sanding, I sprayed some mineral spirits on the foot and this is what it looks like.

And yes! I did carve two of them.

I have carved ball and claw feet before, but never any this intricate.

I refer to them as;

Townsend/Fry – Newport/Acton Style Ha Ha!

Hope you enjoy,

-- John, Chisel and Bit Custom Crafted Furniture,

25 comments so far

View RAH's profile


414 posts in 5330 days

#1 posted 05-09-2008 05:14 AM

Well, now that you show me how I could do that, in my dreams. Those are nice and thats why I continue to practice, you do make it look easy.

Thanks Ron

-- Ron Central, CA

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5441 days

#2 posted 05-09-2008 05:38 AM

Great blog. Reminds me of one I saw in FWW a long time ago. I have 4 that I started after reading that article
but never finished them. I will get back to them one of these days.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View jcees's profile


1079 posts in 5252 days

#3 posted 05-09-2008 05:39 AM

Very nicely done. I’m sure the customer is well pleased.


-- When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5338 days

#4 posted 05-09-2008 05:43 AM

Extraordinary!!! PLEASE KEEP US POSTED on your progress?

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View tomd's profile


2232 posts in 5223 days

#5 posted 05-09-2008 06:24 AM

Thanks for the blog and pictures, that was very interesting. Great carving talent.

-- Tom D

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27248 posts in 5275 days

#6 posted 05-09-2008 11:20 AM


Thanks for the tutorial. I have often wondered how these were done. And you have explained it in a clear concise manner with your commentary and pictures.

Thanks for the blog.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View smitty1's profile


33 posts in 5152 days

#7 posted 05-09-2008 11:39 AM

Excellent Presentation John.
Every time I see a Ball and Claw chair I cringe at it intricacy but then I think of Jake Cress and his ‘Oops’ and ‘Self Portrait’. The Townsend Claw has been one of my favorites and although my carving leaves somewhat to be desired, with your tutorial I feel a little more confident in tackling this.
Thanks again,

-- Smitty, Alabama,

View TedM's profile


2002 posts in 5185 days

#8 posted 05-09-2008 12:04 PM

Very nice, thanks for the post! Added to my favorites for when I get around to trying this. Or maybe I’ll just give GaryK a hand with his! :)

-- I'm a wood magician... I can turn fine lumber into firewood before your very eyes! - Please visit and sign up for my project updates!

View Chris 's profile


1880 posts in 5444 days

#9 posted 05-09-2008 02:29 PM

Excellent post and tutorial. Thank You!

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5552 days

#10 posted 05-09-2008 03:18 PM

My hat is off to you and the incredible skills you possess.
Great work!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Dan Pleska's profile

Dan Pleska

142 posts in 5414 days

#11 posted 05-09-2008 03:45 PM

Thanks for the post John. I have been wanting to try a Ball and Claw. This tutorial will surely help. Great work!

-- Dan, West Virginia,

View Phil Clark's profile

Phil Clark

359 posts in 5248 days

#12 posted 05-09-2008 04:45 PM

John – thanks for the tutorial which is now in my favorites file – I like the undercut talon and the shape of the ball

-- Legacy Woodcraft

View daveintexas's profile


365 posts in 5329 days

#13 posted 05-09-2008 05:02 PM

John, I am always amazed when I see your work. It must be great to have the foresight to come up with your design ideas.
But where is the rest of the chair??? LOL
Thanks for posting the blog.

View John Fry's profile

John Fry

74 posts in 5153 days

#14 posted 05-09-2008 05:25 PM

Thanks for the kind words everyone,


The “rest of the chair” post is coming, maybe next week…..But I think you’ve already seen it. ;-)

-- John, Chisel and Bit Custom Crafted Furniture,

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 5165 days

#15 posted 05-09-2008 11:51 PM

About how long does it take for you to carve an incredible piece like this. More precisely do you do this in one or two sessions or is it spread over several…many sessions? I would think detailed work like this must be fairly intense to do and was wondering how you paced yourself on the work.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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