Rift sawn board with straight grain

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I started this project as I do most, with the legs. I chose rift-sawn 8/4 walnut, identifiable by its straight grain running on all four sides, and end grain running diagonally corner to corner. It’s difficult to find this in wide boards, so I usually rip a length from the edge of a plank. I crosscut this three times to provide four blanks. One benefit to this method is that streaks of color in the long grain strip show on all four legs. I chose a distinct grain line as a reference and drew a line parallel to it, the same distance apart on all four legs for consistency.

Cutting board to align grain with reference edge

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I bandsawed to the line, straightening the grain so that it ran parallel to the sides of the leg and perpendicular to the floor.

I jointed this face, and it became my reference for the rest of the milling process.

Boards milled and ready for use

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Normally I would cut the joinery next, while the leg is square. This time, however, I wanted the rails to follow the taper of the leg so I did the shaping first. The taper is subtle, 1/4" over the length of the leg.

Leg with subtle 1/4" taper

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Every time I make a tapered leg, I create a simple jig. I find it easiest to use the line drawn on the leg to set a fence on some scrap plywood. I also fix a stop to the base.

Tapering jig for table saw

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Editor’s note: In the following three photographs, the guard has been removed for clarity.

Second taper cut on leg

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The two outside faces are tapered. The inside face goes up and to the fence and then down and to the fence. Doing it the other way would result in a tapered face being referenced against the jig base for the second cut and would throw off the angle.

Guard has been removed for clarity.

Taper jig in use, blade guard removed for clarity

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I am comfortable holding the stock on the jig by hand, but using a toggle clamp is recommended.

Guard has been removed for clarity.

Using a block plane to clean up the surfaces

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The thickness of the jig base plus that of the leg was more than the capacity of my saw, so I used a block plane to make quick work of the remaining waste.

1. Cutting mortises using a Leigh M&T jig. 2. Finished mortises

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I cut the mortises parallel to the tapered front face. These can be laid out and cut by hand, drill press or mortiser using one of the wedge off-cuts to lift the leg perpendicular to the tool. I am fortunate to have a Leigh jig, which references from the top face.

Book-matched grain for rails

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The rails were made from the remainder of the plank that the legs were sawn from. Again, I paid attention to the grain and centered the parts as symmetrically as I could. The grain was oriented with the arcs pointing up, mimicking the final shape and showing book-matched grain on the top edge.

Cutting the tenons using the Leigh jig. After tenons are cut, waste still needs to be cut off by hand.

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I cut the tenons next. The stock was too big to finish using the jig, so I shaped it to remove the excess material.

Laying out arc on the rail stock

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Next I laid out the arc on the rail stock.

Cutting the curve along the rails

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I band sawed the top to the line.

Using the table saw to cut the rabbet

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While I still had a complete reference edge, I cut a rabbet for the inset top. Cutting it after the top had been roughly shaped ensured that it was deep enough to completely hide the plywood edge.

Legs and rails ready for dry fit

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I band sawed the bottom arc.

Using a bevel gauge to mark the angle for the top of the legs

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Dry fitting the rails to the legs showed where the tops of the rails met the legs and made it easy to find the correct angle at which to trim them.

Cutting the top of the legs on a miter saw

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I cut the compound angle at the miter saw.

Cutting the arc in to the top of the leg

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I cut the tops of the legs to match the arc of the rail. The tops of the side rails were angled to match the angle of the leg tops on the end, and vice versa. In my case, the side rail arc matched an 81° cut to the top of the leg. To ensure the joint looked correct, the tops of the end rails needed to be cut to match. I used the leg to set my bandsaw table.

Cutting the matching arc in to the rail

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The top arc was then sawn again at this angle, with the rail face down and the blade just inside the wood. I tried to take off a minimum amount of material while still maintaining a full-width cut.

Legs and rails being glued and clamped

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A spokeshave did an excellent job of cleaning up the cut and truing the surface. I glued up the long sides first. A clamp across the bottom of the legs ensured squareness.

After the glue set, the assembly was complete.

Adding blocks to reinforce the corner

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I reinforced the joinery with corner blocks. This is a good idea anytime, but it’s essential on children’s furniture.

Finished table from the side

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I cut a piece of ½” Baltic Birch to fit the top.

I’m proud of this design. The grounded appearance of the tapered legs is a nice partner to the airy arches. I’ve adapted the idea to coffee and end tables by laying a solid wood top across the arches. In this case, skip the rabbet and instead use the tablesaw to cut a small flat across the top of the rails. Use the leg bottoms as a guide to angle the saw so that the flat is parallel with the floor. Screws in the middle of the short ends and clips in the middle of the long sides fasten the top yet allow for seasonal movement.

Finished table from the end

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Text and photos by Darnell Hagen

Darnell Hagen got his start in woodworking in high school shop class. He has been working wood for over 10 years, for clients during the days, and for himself on evenings and weekends. He likes the fact that there will always be a new skill to learn and a new technique to try, and that mastery of the trade will take a lifetime to achieve.

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