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Carving a Ball and Claw Foot

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,
Great blog. I've always wondered how that was done.
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