In more ways than one, the legs make the stool. Not only do they hold up the seat in the first place, but they give this Tage Frid-style stool I'm creating its iconic shape.
In an early version, Tage Frid made the legs tapered with four sides. The legs were probably attractive, but to Frid they looked like they belonged to a completely different stool. He decided to make the legs oval to echo the oval shapes incorporated in the seat and back. In the previous installment of this series, I described how to mill the legs for the stool and fit them to the seat with wedged tenons. In this post, I'll describe the process of making tapered legs, including how to shape the legs into tapered ovals and get them ready to be joined to the stretchers. This is a challenging project, but we are in the homestretch!
Follow along with this demonstration to learn the art of making tapered legs for our Tage Frid-style stool.
The legs taper down to ovals that flow well with the rest of the shapes of the stool.
Step 1: Locate the stretchers
With the legs temporarily installed in the seat, set the stool on a flat surface (I used my table saw). The next step is marking the locations on the legs for the centers of the holes to accept the round tenons of the stretchers.
Instead of worrying about how to keep everything level, I decided to rip a piece of plywood to 9” wide and long enough to span the front legs. Put the plywood on edge and it is the height of the center of the stretchers from the floor. Position this plywood against the legs and hold it in place with spring clamps. Draw lines across the fronts of the two front legs. This will establish the angle of the holes to be drilled for the stretchers and insure that the stretchers will be parallel to the floor.
Now move the plywood against the back leg and draw a similar line. With these angles established, prop the legs at a tilt on the drill press table until the lines are parallel to the drill bit and drill ½” diameter holes in all three legs. This is similar to the way I drilled the holes in the seat but easier because you don't have to drill compound angles.
Step 2: Taper the legs on the bandsaw
It’s time to shape the legs into tapered ovals. There are several ways to cut tapers, but for this stool I went with a simple method of drawing them and cutting them on the bandsaw. Mark lines from the shoulder of the tenon down to the end of the legs so that they will be 5/8" thick. For stability, cut the narrow sides first, then draw lines and cut the wide sides, which are tapered to 1”. With all the sides cut, clean them up with light passes on the jointer. A hand plane would work fine as well.
One way of tapering is to draw the lines and cut them with a bandsaw.
These legs have been tapered on the narrow side and are ready to be tapered on the wide side.
Step 3: Round the corners at the router table
To round the corners and make the legs into approximate ovals, I used a roundover bit on my router table. If you try this method, be especially careful to use push blocks because the lower part of the leg is too narrow to hold against the fence with your hand. It’s important that the work be held firmly against the fence and down on the table while making this cut. The bearing of the bit must be lined up perfectly with the fence. Don’t be too aggressive with how much you take off. It’s perfectly fine to make two or more passes, which will insure a safe, high-quality cut with minimal tear-out.
A roundover router bit with a bearing at the top
The bearing of the router bit must line up perfectly with the fence.
Step 4: Finalize the shape with a block plane
With the corners rounded, I used a combination of a block plane and sandpaper to finish the shaping. You could also use a spokeshave or scraper. Once you are satisfied with the shape, sand the legs to 150 grit.
A block plane is a perfect tool for rounding the tapered edges.
The legs taper down to an oval at the bottom.
Onto the stretchers
With the legs shaped and sanded and the holes cut for the stretchers, the next steps are to fit the stretchers to the legs with wedged tenons and shape them. After that, we will be ready to assemble the stool, do a final sanding and give it a durable finish. I hope you are enjoying the process. After all this work, it will be nice to have a comfortable place to sit.