The Front Legs
Note: When I talk about the many parts of this chair, I name them as if I were sitting in the chair.
As mentioned in the previous class, the front legs just might be the easiest major part of the chair to create.
I also mentioned in the “Introduction” part of this class that I chose to laminate two pieces of cherry for the front legs. So once I had my cherry stock laminated, all I needed to do was to bring that laminated stock down to 1 1/2 inches thick via the thickness planer, and also down to a “strong” 1 1/2 inches wide via the table saw.
My planer does a really nice job of dimensioning the thickness of any stock. (I hardly have to sand it once it comes out the far side of the planer.) I like to leave my stock a bit “strong” as far as widths go, giving me a little fudge room to run the stock through my surface sander to bring it down to final dimensions. (See photo below.) The surface sander does a nice job at removing any table saw blade marks.
(I have since taken delivery of an 8” Grizzly jointer, so that big boy will most likely take over at least some of the duties of my surface sander. No more wood burning!!)
One can debate on whether it’s best to first cut your leg stock down to rough length before dimensioning the thickness and widths, or to run your long laminated stock through your thickness planer first, then cut to rough width on the table saw, and then finally cut to rough length.
Seeing that my Performax surface sander tends to load the sander drum up with unwanted packed, burnt dust coming off of the stock, my general rule of thumb in my shop while using that tool is to run as little amounts of stock through the machine as possible. I’ve had this tool for many years and have tried all the tricks in the book for keeping the drum clean, and it just doesn’t work. Especially with cherry.
So here is what works for me with any project in my shop:
Laminate the stock if that’s in the plan.
Run it through the thickness planer to bring it down to final thickness.
Joint one edge to make sure it’s nice and straight.
Rip the parts to “near” final width via the table saw.
Take those long pieces to my mitre saw station to cut down to “near” final length. I left them about 19-20 inches long for now. Final length is 17 3/4.
Then run these smaller parts through the surface sander to remove table saw blade marks. (I like using the surface sander over the planer or jointer for this process seeing that it eliminates chip-out.)
So this is what I end up with.
The next step I took was to mark an “X” on the ends that will eventually be the bottoms of the legs. (The worst looking end of the leg.) I wanted to make sure that I not only had no defects on the top end of the leg, but I also wanted nice grain markings. The top, or pyramid end of the front leg, will be seen by guests for many years to come.
Now the fun part. Creating the pyramid tops on the front legs. Mr. Rodel’s plans call for a much steeper pyramid than I wanted. I opted for an 11 degree pyramid. So it’s off to the mitre saw.
If your front legs are exactly square, then the pyramids should come out perfectly centered on the tops of all of your legs. I set my mitre saw to 11 degrees left, set my stop at a distance far enough away so that I wouldn’t be taking too much off on this first cut, and then started my cuts. Make your cuts slow…let the saw blade do its job properly. I rushed it a bit, and experienced a little bit of chip out.
Make sure you make your front leg parts plenty long. You never know when you may need that extra length due to mucked up cuts.
Note: In the photo below it appears that my mitre saw blade is also pitched to the right as if I was making a compound mitre cut. This is an optical illusion.
If you look at the leg on the far left in this photo, you’ll notice that my pyramid came out a bit shy of being a perfect peak. If this happens to you, don’t lose too much sleep over this. I discovered that by hitting them with some 400 grit during assembly time, minor flaws like that completely disappear.
It doesn’t take long at the mitre saw station to whip out a nice pile of these chair parts.
This next step is a very important one. Important to me that is. I wanted to make sure that the front and outer face of the front legs had no ugly marks. So after a quick visual check, I’d mark the bottoms of each leg with an “F” for front, and an “R” or “L” for right or left. My markings also made it very easy to layout the mortises that need to made on the inside and rear face of all front legs.
As mentioned in the very first line of each class, I mark my parts as if I was sitting in the chair.
I also made sure that my laminate/glue line was on the front and back face of all front (and rear) legs.
The photo below gives you a better understanding as to how my markings helped with laying out the mortises on their correct surfaces. Note the “F” (front) and “L” (left) on the bottom of this leg, and then note where my mortise (blue tape) markings are located near the top of this leg.
And here are the nine left and right front legs marked with their “front” and “outside” surface markings. (It’s kind of hard to see all of the “F’s”, “R’s”, and “L’s” in this photo…but you get the idea.)
In the next photo you’re looking at the front leg laying on its front surface with the pyramid (top) of the leg to your right. The surface facing you is the inside surface (or right side of the left front leg. (In other words, this is the opposite end of the same leg in the photo 2 photos above.)
The 16 1/2 inch line is where the very top edge of the front rail will be located. (The part that goes under your legs while sitting in the chair.) The cross hash mark at the 15 inch area designates the “center” of the mortise for that front rail. The 16 inch cross hash mark is where the center of the mortise is located for the left side rail. (The part that goes from front leg to rear leg along the left side of your butt while sitting in the chair.)
To make sure that I had all of these marks in their correct locations, I made up some very simple jigs that are exactly 15”, 16”, and 16 1/2” long.
Next I’d place the front leg with its bottom against a solid object, and then place the pencil mark in its correct location for each of the 3 markings.
This photo basically shows what the front “right” leg looks like once it’s marked. A mirror image of the left leg above.
And here are the stacks of my 9 left and right front legs ready to head to the mortising machine. (I also made 3 spares just in case.)
I quickly discovered that my Leigh mortise and tenoning jig didn’t have the ability to clamp down the front leg in a fashion that would allow me to make a safe mortise. These mortises are fairly wide and deep, so you really need to have your part clamped down extremely solid while plowing out this much material with your router. (As you’ll see in the next chapter on “rear legs”, I learned about this the hard way.)
So I whipped up a very crude auxiliary clamping system that got clamped onto my Leigh jig. This gave me a much stronger set up for clamping the workpiece to my jig…making it much safer to rout the two mortises.
Once you have the two major mortises done near the top ends of your front legs, it’s time for one last step. This would be to make the little mortise that holds the tenon for the lower side stretcher.
The lower side stretchers connect to the front and rear leg at an 85.5 degree (or 4.5 degree) angle. I chose to make my floating tenons out of 1/2 inch red oak dowels, so I needed to place a 1/2 inch round mortise in its correct location at its correct angle. Off to the drill press I go.
In the photo below you’ll see a very simple fence/jig made from MDF that was clamped onto my existing drill press table. You’re looking at that table from the left side of my drill press, so I would have been standing on the right in this photo.
The chair leg is up against a rigid MDF fence and is not clamped down in any way. Near each clamp that’s holding my homemade fence system down, you’ll see two stacks of plastic shims marked with “4.5 degrees”. Each stack of plastic shims has 3 shims taped together with “just the right amount” of duct tape. (Hey…what’s a shop without duct tape!!??)
When I placed these two stacks of plastic shims under the leg, the leg was then pitched at an exact 4.5 degree angle. (Of course I zeroed out my “angle toy”…I mean my “Wixey strategically calibrated digital angle-ometer”.)
So here’s the view from my end of things.
The following two photos shows you the non-business end of the leg, and the end that gets the round mortise. Note in the second photo that I placed a clamp on the fence to act as a stop-gauge. This allowed me to make fairly quick repetitive mortises in the legs.
Moving things around just a bit allowed me to make repetitive mortises on the other set of front legs.
Here’s a neat little tip. With the drill press turned off, I’d drop the Forstner bit down onto the leg just far enough to make a dimple. If the dimple was in the correct spot, I’d continue on with drilling the mortise.
By holding the leg down and up against your fence, you’re ready to hit the “On” button. With a little luck, and keeping everything correct, you should end up with a nice little mortise facing in the right direction.
And, it should be at the proper depth.
I just LOVE seeing those piles of parts stacking up all over my shop. :)
See you at the next chapter…
Dale “Gramps” Peterson.
-- If at first you don't succeed...DO NOT try skydiving.