Learning how to make a ball and claw foot

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Blog entry by Rev. Jim Paulson posted 05-21-2011 11:37 PM 2706 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Carving a ball and claw foot is something I’ve been planning to do for awhile now. Maybe some of you are in the same boat. Here is my progress to date. I’ve cut out a practice lowboy leg in basswood and I’m getting ready for a quiet moment to get out the carving tools. But already, I discovered that just cutting out the profile on the bandsaw was a bit trickier than I had expected. I found that it was easy to overcut even when I thought I had sufficiently stopped short.

But overall, I’m pretty pumped by the instruction I’ve gotten from Mary May on a DVD and by what Chuck Bender, via Popular Woodworking, teaches on shaping the cabriole leg. I think it will be great to master this leg. I’m also excited because I obtained a small amount of 12/4 honduras mahogany. So once I feel good about the work I do on the basswood practice leg(s), I’ll be ready to carve the ball and claw foot in mahogany. Once I get the four legs done, the challenge will be to decide whether to go with african mahogany for the rest of the project (exluding the shell part) or to do the whole project in honduras mahogany. Any advice of that aspect? Note that I am planning to stain the piece to obtain the look of an 18th century piece.



6 comments so far

View WhattheChuck's profile


467 posts in 4898 days

#1 posted 05-22-2011 03:09 AM

Hi Jim,

Honduras mahogany vs. African mahogany—

Well, it’s a mixed bag. The best mahogany can’t be sustainably harvested because it’s old-growth. And it’s not just the mahogany that gets ya—because the value of a single tree is so high, the locals will punch a road in for miles to get one. And then folks come along and burn the rest of the forest down.

Re: African mahogany—Africa is a mess, and there are so many people stealing trees and selling them, and using them to buy AK-47s, it’s almost impossible to find African mahogany without serious blood all over it. WWIII has been going on in the Congo for example for the last 12 years, killing over 6 million people, and part of that war is fueled by—you guessed it—African mahogany, though it is FAR from the only money source.

There is sustainable mahogany, and it’s pretty OK, and if you have to have it, check out the various cooperatives and buy there. You, in a sense, are helping the good guys.

Or just avoid it entirely next time and make it out of walnut. Claro walnut is the best—grown out west, planted by settlers 150 years ago, and naturally in decay from orchards now. Guilt-free, and beautiful.



-- Chuck, Pullman, WA

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Rev. Jim Paulson

120 posts in 4614 days

#2 posted 05-22-2011 06:33 AM

Hi Chuck,
Yep, I agree that the market for exotic wood like mahogany forces us to make ethically sound choices.
Once again, our choices as you correctly point out, reflect our responsibility to care for Creation by example. Whatever small amount of mahogany I consume, the reality of overharvesting and mismanagement of exotic trees is quite sad. I am planning to try carving in walnut too, but unfortunately, mahogany for period pieces is known for more ideal carving characteristics. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, I can master this task in a better choice of wood with less harm to the environment. Great to hear from you and thanks for sharing those points about buying wood from sustainable sources, it is the better response.
Take care,


View a1Jim's profile


118309 posts in 4914 days

#3 posted 05-22-2011 07:30 AM

Hi Jim
I found
to be
with making
a ball and claw foot


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Rev. Jim Paulson

120 posts in 4614 days

#4 posted 05-23-2011 05:02 AM

Thanks Jim. Looks like a great book. Hopefully, I can start practicing on the basswood leg.

Take care,


View sscartozzi's profile


74 posts in 3097 days

#5 posted 08-03-2013 01:49 AM

I had a recent project using African Mahogany. I can’t saw it was the easiest material to work with. I wish I could have found some of the old mahogany. From everything I have read it worked so much better.

-- Steve, Malvern, PA

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Rev. Jim Paulson

120 posts in 4614 days

#6 posted 08-03-2013 01:34 PM

By the older mahogany you probably meant Honduras Mahogany which is harder to obtain and a prize wood for cabinetmakers. It is available through hardwood dealers, but more costlier due to over harvesting. You are not alone in realizing that African Mahogany is more difficult to work with cutting tools. Unfortunately, I don’t have experience with this wood so I can’t be of much help.

Best wishes,


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