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Woodworking Plans
How to build a Cabriole leg

If you are like most people, when you think of Queen Anne furniture, you think of the Cabriole leg. The Cabriole leg is one of the defining characteristics that is most associated with Queen Anne furniture. It is believed that the design for the Cabriole leg came from an appreciation for the form of animals. There are many different styles and variations of the Cabriole leg. Some styles, like Chippendale, incorporate ornate carvings and shapes into their designs. Other styles are turned entirely on a lathe and barely resemble the classical S shape that is the hallmark of the Cabriole leg.

Despite its complex look and design the Cabriole leg is relatively simple to build, when you know how. The method this plan presents is straightforward and requires a minimal number of tools. In this method we tried to use as few tools as possible. The results are quite similar to techniques requiring a table saw, radial arm saw, band saw, and hand tools. All that you will really need is a band saw and some hand tools. We have included many useful shots of the steps you will need to follow. To speed up download time the images are presented as thumbnails which are linked to full size pictures. Clicking on the frame will take you to the larger picture.

What you will need:

Band saw
Spokeshave
Masking tape
Sandpaper
Pattern (included in this site)
Pencil
Belt Sander - Optional
Bastard File - Optional

Anatomy of a leg
Click on the image
to learn more
about the parts
of a Cabriole leg.
The first thing we do is select a pattern for our leg. The design you plan to use for your Cabriole leg will vary depending on the piece you are building, the material you are using, and personal tastes. There are an infinite number of variations on the curves and lengths of a Cabriole leg.
One thing to keep in mind when designing your pattern is that the straighter the S profile of the leg shaft the stronger the leg. Imagine pressure being exerted down the leg. Is the pressure traveling in a straight line to the floor? The diameter of the leg in its thinnest part is also important. You need to leave enough material so that the leg is still structurally sound.
It is best to test a pattern on a piece of scrap wood before "going to production". I have included a sample pattern that is suitable for a chair, coffee table, or other small project. Click on the image at right (6k) to view the pattern. You may then print the leg, save it, or use it as a basis for your own design.
Leg Template
Cabriole Leg Pattern
Click on images
to enlarge

Step 1 - Trace the pattern
The pattern included requires a wood blank approximately 3 1/2" x 15". You can reshape the pattern to match the size of the blank you are using.
Note: Be sure the blank is square and smooth.
First: Place the pattern against the blank, slide it up and back as far as possible and trace the design onto the wood. Try to align the pattern so that the grain's natural "flow" is down, towards the foot. This will make it a lot easier to shape the leg with the spokeshave later
Note: The terms, "with" and "against the grain", refer to working parallel to the grain. Working "Across the grain" means you are cutting perpendicular to the grain. Look closely at the blank to see which way the grain "goes" so you can work with the grain.
Second: Move the pattern to the adjacent side, flip it over, slide it back and up, and then trace it. Make sure your lines are dark enough.
Tip: To hold the pattern in place while tracing use a thumbtack near the top and bottom or masking tape.
Tracing the leg
Tracing the leg

Both sides traced
Both sides traced
Click on images
to enlarge

Step 2 - Cut out the leg post
Now that you have your blank laid out, it's time to shape it on the band saw.
First: Cut into the blank near the foot. Do this on both sides. The cut is made perpendicular to the length of the blank. You can use a radial arm saw set to the proper depth, if you have one.
Second Cut down the blank, parallel to its length. Do this on both sides. Use the widest bandsaw blade you have, and try to cut as straight as possible.
Third: Take the blocks of wood you just cut off and tape them back onto the blank using masking tape. The best way to make sure they are secure is to wrap the masking tape around the blank several times. You will need to tape each scrap you cut off the blank back on as you work. This is because some of the lines you will need to cut are on scraps. Also, it is difficult to cut the blank squarely without the scraps in place.
First cut
First Cut

Second cut
Second Cut
Click on image
to enlarge

Step 3 - Cutting the blank
After you have finished cutting the post it is time to cut the body of the leg.
First: Start with the top part of the curve and work your way towards the foot on the front side. Second: Move to the back side of the leg and start at the foot and work towards the top of the blank.
Third: Finish off the small section at the back of the foot. (you may discard this scrap)
Fourth: Tape the scraps back onto the blank. Retrace the line where the tape covers it up.
Fifth: Repeat the cuts on the other side.
Cutting the front
Cutting the front

Cutting the back
Cutting the back
Click on image
to enlarge

Step 4 - Shaping the blank
After you finish cutting both sides of the blank you can remove the tape. You should now have something that looks like a rough Cabriole leg. Now it is time to shape it.
First: You will need to securely mount the leg, by the post, to your worktable. A clamp or padded vice works best for this.
Second: Use your spokeshave to shape and smooth the leg and gradually bring it to shape. This is done by using small forward stokes with he spokeshave from the post to toe. If you laid out the leg properly you should be cutting with the grain. Otherwise you are having difficulty working against the grain. If this is the case, you will need to reverse directions. (shape from the toe to post) In shaping a leg, there are no rules. You can use whichever tools you feel work the best. This varies from woodworker to woodworker. I usually use the spokeshave to bring the leg to form and then use sandpaper to smooth it out. Chisels work well for shaping some parts of the leg.
Third: After shaping you will need to sand the leg with a fine grade sandpaper.
Shaping the leg
Shaping the leg

Spokeshaves
Spokeshaves
Click on image
to enlarge

Congratulations! You have made you first Cabriole leg. Now the trick is to make three more that match!. Four of a Kind
Four of a kind

Finished Leg
Finished Leg
Click on image
to enlarge

 

 

 

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