By Tim Johnson
Though it looks modern, the original version of this three-legged stand was built almost two hundred years ago in a Shaker community. Simple, purposeful and elegant, this stand is an outstanding example of Shaker design. Like the Shakers, we’ve embraced simplicity and innovation in our version of this timeless American classic.We’ve devised jigs to handle difficult steps like fitting the dovetail joints and shaping the boldly curved legs. We’ll show you how to turn the tapered column step-by -step. We’ll also show you how to glue up a great looking top.
Tools and materials
You’ll need turning tools and a lathe with 20-in. spindle capacity for this project. You’ll also need a tablesaw, a jigsaw or bandsaw, a router, a router table and a pair of tin snips. A jointer and planer are recommended, but not essential (you can have your stock milled to thickness at the lumberyard). Also necessary are a pair of round-over bits, a pair of straight bits, a 1/2-in. dovetail bit with a long shank, a flush-trim bit with a top-mounted bearing, a 1-1/4-in. template guide and a 1-in. Forstner bit (see Sources, below).
Make the column (Fig. A, Part A, below) from a 2-1/4-in. turning square (see Sources, below) or by laminating 3/4-in. stock. You’ll need two column blanks (one is for practice and setup). In addition, you’ll need about 10 bd. ft. of 4/4 cherry for the top (B), subtop (C) and legs (D). We spent $105 for our lumber, including the turning squares.
Prepare the column blank
You don’t have to be an expert to turn the column. The curves are gradual, there are only a couple of abrupt transitions, and only one of the diameters is critical (see Oops!, below). Practice your technique on the extra blank. (You’ll use it later to set up the dovetail jig.)
First, make the square blank round (Photo 1). Hold the roughing gouge firmly on the tool rest and gently engage the spinning blank, slightly above its center axis. Then slide the gouge along the tool rest. Repeat the motion, making slightly deeper cuts with each pass. You’ll feel and hear the difference when the blank becomes round. Turn the last 3 in. of both ends to 2-in.-diameter cylinders (Photo 2).
Use the column template (Fig. A, Detail 2, below) to make a story stick. The story stick allows you to transfer key reference points to the column blank (Photo 3). Make sure the ends of the stick and blank are flush when you mark the reference points. At these points, cut in to the final diameter with a parting tool (Photo 4).
Shape the column
Remove waste along the entire length of the blank as you shape the body and top (Photo 5). Finish the tapered body by reducing diameters until your reference cuts disappear (Photo 6). Switch to a small spindle gouge and finish the cup-shaped top (Photo 7).
Sand the shaft and top (Photo 8). Coarse paper (100 grit) can actually change the profile, so be careful or aggressive, as your situation demands. Each step up through the grits leaves smaller, less noticeable scratches. 280-grit scratches are so small they’re hard to see. If you soften the crisp transition between the neck and the cup while sanding, reestablish it with the parting tool.
Define the column’s base with a scored line at the top of the legs (Photo 9). On the original stand, this line served as a stop point for cutting dovetails and fitting the legs. Now it’s simply a visual design element.
Finally, turn the top tenon (Photos 10 and 11). Its length and diameter must be sized exactly (see Oops!, below).
Make a jig and a protractor
The column has to be indexed (Photo 12) before you can install it in the jig used to cut the three dovetail sockets (Photo 13 and Fig. B, below).
To index the column, make a simple 120-degree protractor on a piece of 1/4-in. stock by scribing intersecting arcs around a circle. Drill out the center and fit the protractor over the column’s tenon. Mark both the circumference and the index points so you can drill the pilot holes for the indexing screw.
Drill out the holes made by the lathe in the ends of the column to make pilot holes for the jig’s mounting screws.
Rout dovetailed sockets
Each socket takes three steps to complete, and each step requires three routing passes (Photo 14 and below) Step 1 creates a wide flat surface to shoulder the leg. Step 2 removes waste and Step 3 creates the dovetail.
Using your practice column, set up for Step 1 and make a test cut. The bit leaves a rounded shoulder at the top, which acts as a stop for the leg. The top of this shoulder should end at the center of the V-cut on the column (Fig. A, Detail 1, below). If it doesn’t, simply reposition the top of the jig on the base so it will. Make additional cuts to set the depth so the bit leaves as wide a flat surface as possible.
When you rout, remember two things: First, always orient your router the same way when you operate it in the jig, in case the bit isn’t exactly centered inside the guide. Second, if the slot on your jig ended up a bit wide, make two passes so you can bear against both edges. Your routed surfaces and sockets will be slightly wider, but this won’t affect the strength of your joints.
Dovetail the legs
Using a template (Fig. A, Detail 3, below), lay out the legs on straight-grained blanks that have one end mitered at 45 degrees. For strength, the grain should run diagonally across the leg, from the dovetailed end to the toe. Miter the other end of your blanks after the legs are laid out, so they’re all the same size. Make an extra leg blank to use while setting up the router table and test-fitting the joints.
Another jig makes it easy to rout dovetails in the legs (Photo 15). To make this jig, fasten a 5/8-in.-thick block with 45-degree miters to a 24-in.-long support board. Make sure the block and board are flush at the bottom. Rout one face of the blank on the front edge of the mitered block and the other face on the back edge. When you fasten the blank to the jig, make sure the screws don’t go through the leg’s profile.
Install the dovetail bit and set the height, just a hair less than the depth of the dovetail sockets. Then set the fence to make shallow scoring cuts on all of the blanks. Otherwise one side of each blank will tear-out badly, because you have to rout against the grain. Reset the fence, make one full-depth pass on each side of your test blank and test the fit. The dovetailed leg should slide into the socket without binding or rattling. Make any necessary adjustments and rout the dovetails.
Shape the legs
Use your leg template to make a jig for shaping the legs (Photo 16). Using double-faced tape, install a rough-sawn leg in the jig and rout the outer profile first. Go easy, because you’ll be routing against the grain at the start. When you rout the inner profile, you go against the grain at the end.
Round the top of the legs using a bit with a pilot (Photo 17). Note: The 5/16-in. piloted router bit shown in the photo is no longer available. Use a 5/16-in. roundover bit with a bearing instead, and set it slightly lower in the table, so rounding over the first side of the leg leaves sufficient surface for the bearing to ride on when you round over the opposite side.
Assemble the base
Notch the leg dovetails so they’ll slide all the way into the column (Fig. A, Details 1 and 3, below). Saw away most of the waste, then pare the top shoulder flush with a chisel. Now glue the legs in place (Photo 18).
Grab your tin snips and cut out the metal plate that reinforces the dovetail joints from a small sheet of “solder tin” (about $2 at hardware stores). Drill pilot holes and fasten the plate (Photo 19).
Glue up the top boards
There are lots of ways to arrange boards (see “Fake a Single-Board Top,” below for one) but here are a couple of guidelines. First, make sure your top doesn’t feature a glue joint smack-dab in the middle. Three boards often look better than two. Second, avoid a “herringbone” appearance by orienting your boards so the grain slopes in the same direction. Determine the slope by viewing the edges of each board.
Fake a Single Board Top
Complete the top
Cut out the top on the bandsaw or with a jigsaw. Make the subtop the same way, or turn it on your lathe, using a faceplate.
The top doesn’t have to be perfectly round (most old tops aren’t), but its edge should be rounded smoothly, without notches or flat spots. A disc sander is great for truing up a rounded edge, but a belt sander mounted in a jig will do the job, too. If you have to smooth the edge by hand, use a sanding block and start with 80-grit paper.
The top’s edge is rounded over on the router table, like the tops of the legs. Because of the top’s round shape, you have to rout against the grain, which often causes tear-out (Photo 20). You can also take other simple steps to reduce tear-out. First, make sure your bit is sharp. Second, make sure your variable-speed router is set to operate at its highest speed. And finally, don’t rush.
Don’t fasten the subtop with screws. At least one is sure to go all the way through the thin top. Instead, glue the two tops together (Photo 21). Tack the subtop in place or hold it with finger pressure until the glue gets tacky. Then apply cauls and clamps. When you glue the top and base together, adding weight is the easiest way to “clamp” them (Photo 22).
Aerosol spray lacquer is perfect for this project. It’s fast, easy and it looks great. It won’t darken the top’s end grain, like oil finishes, yet it allows cherry to darken naturally beneath the finish.
(Note: Sources may have changed since original publication date.)
Seven Corners Hardware, 7corners.com, 651-224-4859, 1-1/4" o.d. template guide, #42021, $12.95.
Infinity Cutting Tools, infinitytools.com, 877-872-2487, 1/4" Roundover Bit with Brass Pilot, #38-003, $20.90; 5/16" Roundover Bit with Bearing, #38-285, $28.90.
Freud, freudtools.com, 800-334-4107, 1/4" Straight Bit (1/4" shank), #04-108,
14-degree Bevel Dovetail Bit (1/4"shank), #22-124, $20.80.
Classic Designs by Matthew Burak, tablelegs.com, 800-843-7405, 2-1/4" x 29" Solid Cherry Turning Square, #S1029, $14.95.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Detail 1: Dovetail and Socket
Detail 2: Column Template (1'' grid)
Detail 3: Leg Template (1'' grid)
Detail 4: Metal Plate
Fig. B: Jig for Dovetailing the Column
Fig. C: Jig for Shaping the Legs
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2004, issue #106.
Click on any of the images to view a larger version
1. Turn a rough cylinder using a 3/4-in. roughing gouge. You’ll have to relocate your tool rest at least once.
2. Turn down to 2-in. diameter on both ends using a parting tool and a caliper to establish the correct diameter.
3. Mark reference points on the blank from a shop-made story stick.
4. Cut in to final diameter at all the reference points, using a parting tool and a caliper.
5. Gradually shape the column with a 3/4-in. spindle gouge, using the cut-in diameters for reference.
6. Finish the tapered body with a continuous smoothing cut.
7. Finish the top with a 3/8-in. spindle gouge. Work downhill, rotating the gouge to continue cutting as you bear in.
8. Sand everything smooth, starting with 100-grit paper and working through 280 grit.
9. Cut a shallow V-groove to mark the top of the legs and the base of the column.
10. Establish the tenon at the top with a parting tool and a caliper.
11. Cut the tenon shoulder at a slight inward angle so the tabletop will sit flush on the shoulder’s outer edge.
Oops!: I Made the Tenon Too Small
12. Divide the column into three equal sections so you can index it in the dovetail jig (Photo 13). Drill pilot holes at the three index points.
13. A simple indexing jig registers the column so you can rout dovetailed sockets for the legs.
14. Rout dovetail sockets in three steps (below), using a template guide and three different bits. To complete each step, you have to index the column at each socket location. Horizontal and vertical reference lines drawn at each index point allow you to return to exactly the same location for subsequent steps.
Routing dovetail sockets
15. Rout dovetails in the leg blanks. A simple jig allows you to rout both faces. Make an initial scoring cut to eliminate tear-out. Then reset the fence and rout the dovetail.
16. Shape the legs on the router table using a jig (Fig. C, below). One side of the jig creates the outer edge, the other side shapes the inner edge.
17. Round over the top of the legs. To prevent kickback, hold the leg against a start pin when you engage the bit. Move away from the pin and bear against the pilot as you rout.
18. Glue the legs into the column. Slide each leg into the socket and seat it against the routed shoulder.
19. Reinforce the leg joints with a shop-made metal plate, just like the Shakers did.
Photo 20: Wet the edge of the top before you rout. It may seem goofy, but this technique really minimizes tear-out, especially on this round shape, where you have to rout against the grain half of the time.
21. Glue the subtop to the top with the grain running the same direction, using a centered circle for positioning.
22. You don’t need clamps to glue the top to the base. Just add weight.