Queen Anne Footstool & Cabriole Leg

Old styles of furniture can still speak to us loud and clear today. The Queen Anne style,
popular in America from 1725 to 1760, is an elegant language of flowing lines and
reverse curves. This footstool is a small-scale example of a very elaborate style. If
you’ve always wanted to try your hand at cabriole legs, which are one of the defining characteristics of Queen Anne furniture, this project is a great place to begin.

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On a historical note, this footstool is not a copy of an authentic antique. Footstools were
not common in the 18th century. I’ve made many copies of genuine Queen Anne chairs,
however, so I scaled down some of my favorite cabriole legs and rails and incorporated
their best features into this footstool. Making the legs is the hardest part of this project, so I’ve gone into detail on how to do it in “Cabriole Leg,” below.

Tools and materials

One appeal of this style is that you get to use both machines and hand tools. You’ll need
a bandsaw to make the legs in addition to the basic machines for working solid wood: a
tablesaw, jointer and planer. I use a tablesaw tenoning jig and a mortising machine to make
the joints, but there are many other ways you can do it. You’ll also need a router to make
rabbets and the molding that runs around the top of the stool. As for hand tools, I turn to
a small number of favorites (see “Cabriole Leg,” below).

Chamfer the inside edge of the rails. This makes them
appear thinner from the outside. Use a router table and
chamfer bit to remove most of the wood, then use a
chisel to get into the corners. Finally, rabbet the top edge
of all the rails.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Shape the leg with hand tools. For complete how-to
information, see “Cabriole Leg,” below.

Glue up the whole stool in one
shot. Measure from corner to corner
to make sure the diagonals are equal. If
they’re not, pull the stool square with a
clamp across the long diagonal. A beveled
block slid over the clamp makes it easier.

Fit a corner block around each leg. Plane or sand the
block so it fits tightly against both rails. Drill screw holes in
the block before you glue it in place.

 

 

Cabriole Leg

Step-by-step instructions
for making an elegant leg.

By Alf Sharp

Cabriole legs revolutionized furniture in the early
18th-century and are still vital today. They look
as if they could come to life at any time and walk
away with an impossibly heavy load. Part of their vitality is
an air of mystery. They puzzle every woodworker who first
sees them and asks, “How do you make curves like that?”

The secret to making cabriole legs
is actually quite simple: One pattern is
used twice on adjacent sides of a square
leg blank. I’ve got a great technique for
sawing that avoids all the hassle of reattaching
the waste pieces in order to
cut the second side. The hard part of
making a truly graceful leg is finding a
good pattern. I’ve made one for a footstool that’s the result of looking
at many good, bad and indifferent legs.
The curves of this leg have just the
right amount of spring.

The first time I tried making a cabriole
leg the results weren’t so great. You’ll
probably have a similar experience. So
glue up some thinner
wood and make
practice legs before you
cut into the thick, expensive wood
that a good cabriole leg should be
made from. Use a hardwood like
cherry, walnut or mahogany for a
practice leg to get the feel of how
your hand tools should work.

 

Power tools and hand tools

Power tools and hand tools
You’ll need two power tools for making this cabriole leg:
a lathe and a bandsaw. Many cabriole legs don’t have
turned feet, but using a lathe speeds the process. Install a
1/4", 4 to 6 teeth-per-inch (tpi) blade in your bandsaw.
This relatively coarse blade may leave a slightly rough
surface, but that’s fine because you’ll continue to shape the
entire leg with hand tools.

You won’t need many hand tools, but each one has to be
very sharp. I use a 1" or wider butt chisel, a mallet, a flatfaced
spokeshave, a medium-coarse and a fine half-round
rasp, a half-round file and a cabinet scraper. Rasps and
files can be expensive, but I’ve found that an inexpensive
carpenter’s 4-in-1 rasp can substitute for all of them.

Begin shaping the leg with hand tools. Remove large
chunks of waste with a chisel and a mallet. I prefer a butt
chisel because its short length affords more control. Firmly
support the leg in a bar clamp held in your vise or clamp the
leg between bench dogs.

Use a medium rasp to slightly round the arrises at the
ankle and below the wing. (An arris is an intersection of two
planes). It’s better to take off too little than too much at this
point (see the cross section of the foot, Fig. D).

Round and smooth the leg with a spokeshave (see the
cross sections of leg, Fig. D). Shave with the grain, take light
cuts and follow the curve of the leg. Check your progress
every few strokes by running your hand down the leg. Then
you won’t inadvertently flatten out the curve. You’ll now have
a leg that has many narrow facets on it.

Remove the rasp marks with a scraper. This works
extremely well on the end grain of the foot and it’s faster than
using coarse sandpaper! Keep the scraper moving around the
leg so you don’t make any flat areas. Once both your hand and
eye tell you the leg is right, sand with 100, 150 and finally 220-
grit paper.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June 2000, issue #80.

June 2000, issue #80

Purchase this back issue.