Any Arts & Crafts fan is well aware of the need for the quadrilinear leg. The beauty of quartersawn oak grain is such an important feature of the design that it can be the most important element. Due to the nature of the material any board that has quartersawn grain on the face will have flat sawn grain on the edge.
When used on legs, (especially larger legs) common too much of the Stickley style furniture it is necessary to have quartered grain on all four sides of the legs. There are several ways to achieve this detail, which is the purpose of this article.
The first and I believe the earliest method was to make the legs of solid wood and to veneer the flat sawn sides. I don’t like this method due to the abuse that the corners take when banged and bumped with various things during the normal activities taking place in most homes.
The regular thin veneer available for purchase is so thin that it just cannot take the punishment in the long haul. One solution is to make your own veneer, but make it thicker, say 1/8″ thickness. This is a very good solution but it requires a very good band saw, fine tuned, and special skills, a drum sander to smooth up the rough cut edge, and extra care and techniques for gluing it to the leg.
Another method is the router table or small shaper set up with the lock miter bit and to 45o, the corners. This is an excellent solution to the problem and the legs will hold up to the abuse over time. There are a few drawbacks to this method.
First, is the cost of the bit, which isn’t cheap, and the lumber must be flat and straight, for the corners to mate in a crisp point. The set up is time consuming and very precise, adding to the cost. Since most furniture projects have only 4 legs, it is not a cost effective solution to me. It’s really a great solution if you are in production and making 20 to 30 legs, which most of us would never have to do. Clamping the four pieces is also tricky and filling in the hole in the middle of the leg is another operation that has to be done.
Another system is to 45o all sides and then glue the four pieces together with masking tape, then clamp it. This system works and produces a superior leg but the method is precise and you still have to fill in the hollow in the center, depending on the thickness of the sides.
My preferred method is the 1/8″ veneered leg but I don’t make veneer, and glue it to the leg. I developed this system originally for a 2 1/4″ wide leg. I’ve also made 4″ legs and smaller – 1 1/2″ legs. The thicker legs are much more stable when laminated and I would challenge you to find a source for white oak in 16/4. Oak is a difficult wood to dry and very expensive in thicker sizes. I use 4/4 to make up the 2 1/4″ legs which will be explained in this article. The three piece lamination will yield a total thickness of 2 7/16 when the 4/4 is dressed down to 13/16.
I make up 17 quartersawn boards 13/16 x 2 3/8 x the length of the leg. Save best pieces for the latter. I also will mill a few boards the exact same size in poplar to use for clamping cauls on the outsides to allow for extra pressure and to take the dents from the clamps. I glue up groups of three, taking care to use the best grain on the two outside surfaces and I can sort out the least desirable grain on the inside board. I then take the 4 leg assemblies and clamp them all at once with the poplar boards on the outside edges to act as pressure distribution for the clamps. I use pipe clamps as in the photo and put them as close together as possible, alternating on both sides.
After drying overnight, I remove the clamps and dress the legs down to straight and square, using a jointer and planer. First I edge joint the three edges side (flat sawn) to the jointer then plane the other flat sawn edge down to 2″ thickness. Now I’m left with four legs, 2″ x 2 3/8″ with the 2″ side being quartersawn. Now I have five boards from before that are 13/16 x 2- 3/8. I then glue the boards all together between the legs and on the ends, and re-use the poplar boards on the ends as before.
After the glue dries you will have a large slab — all together like a big cutting board. After scraping the ‘squeeze out’ off I rip the legs apart, on the table saw or band saw and make sure I leave at least 3/16 of the thickness of the “veneer” on both edges. You will be left with four legs that are 2 3/8″ x 2 3/8″. Now, use the jointer and planer to dress them down to 2 1/4″ x 2 1/4″ leaving 1/8″ quartersawn veneer on the flat sawn laminated edge.
Always chamfer the corners about 1/8″ and this hides glue lines from the “veneer”.
- It is a good practice to take the time to sort the pieces for color and grain. And to think about how they will look in the finished piece.
- I have my planer set so it leaves no snipe on the boards. If you have snipe that cannot be eliminated, you will have to make your legs longer and cut off the end with the snipe later, keeping all the snipe on the same end. (The snipe will leave voids without good glue adhesion)
- Plastic resin glue is the best glue for laminating. It gives more open time and dries rigid, and dark. Make sure you don’t use out-dated resin glue or test it on some scrap first. Follow the manufactures directions for mixing the power and water, and you will have no problems. I have used polyvinyl glue on occasion and had no problems. But you have to work fast to get the whole thing glued up before it starts to set-up.