Where Furniture Meets the Floor

Saber feet

Ogee bracket feet

DURING THE 1980s, when 1 operated a shop in Brooklyn, we received a steady stream of piain-,1 ane chests that had been picked up by interior decorators on then trips to the countryside or abroad. 1 was instructed to give these chests the "Cinderella treatment" — to revitalize them by changing the hardware, possibly adding stringing to the drawer fronts, or maybe making a new top.

By far the most dramatic change took place when I replaced a base.With a new base, a piece would assume a new personality. If] addedjust the right bracket feet, say, a mundane Victorian behemoth could be transformed into an elegant Chippendale-style treasure. The careful selection of the base proved, tune and again, to be critical to the success of the completed piece. And I've found just the same thing to be true in designing my own pieces or adapting period designs.

To demonstrate the impact that different attached bases can have on a basic chest and to show how approachable most are to make, I've built a single, unadorned chest of drawers and fitted it with four different bases: with bun feet, with saber feet, with sled feet, and with ogee bracket feet. All four of these bases are drawn from historical examples, but as you'll see, they can easily be adapted to modern designs as well.


lathe-turned foot that has its origins in Europe, the bun foot is typically held to the bottom of a case by means of a wedged round tenon locked into a hole drilled into the case or into a molded frame below the case. A flattened section at the bottom of the spherical bun gives the foot a firm stance on the floor.

BUN FOOT STARTS WITH a gouge. Turn a rough cylinder, then use a pencil to mark out the major segments of the foot, Including an equator for the foot's sphere.

FINISH WITH A R Use a rasp with a light touch to smooth the bumpy surface left by the gouge and to finish shaping the bun foot.

WRENCHING ACCURACY. To size the round tenon 011 top of the bun foot, hold an open-end wrench against the back of the foot while cutting the tenon to size with a parting tool. When the wrench slips over the tenon, It's the right size.

Why You Need a Base

A chest is essentially a box on a base. The box is where the action is the drawers, the doors, the shelving. So the base, resting right on the floor, might seem likely to fall beneadi our notice. Hut its impact is strong. Frist, it literally lifts the cabinet off the floor. The air it

FOOTED FRAME. The round tenons ofthe bun feet are wedged to holes drilled in a molded frame. The frame is screwed to the bottom of the case.

puts beneath the piece gives the cabinet definition and makes even an armoire appear lighter. Plunked right on the floor without a base, a large cabinet looks stunted and incomplete; it begins to seem immovable, hke a part ofthe building. A Newport secretary minus its bracket feet would be about as impressive as the Statue ofLiberty standing knee-deep in NewYork harbor.


he front feet on a Hepplewhite-style saber-footed base curve both to the front and the sides. The back feet curve only to the side, allowing the case to sit tight against a wall. Mortise-and-tenon joints hold together the rails and feet. Pine blocks strengthen corners. The base is screwed to the case through the blocks.

For the compound-curved front feet, trace the layout template on two adjacent faces (A and B) of a 2%-in. square leg blank. The tracings should meet at the foot's bottom tip. For the single-curved back feet, you need to trace the template only on one side.

FRONT FEET ARE CUT four times. The front feet on a saber-footed base curve to the front and to the outside, requiring four bandsaw cuts. The first two cuts are made with the blank resting on the same face.

BACK FOOT MEETS THE FRAME. Saber feet are often linked with rails to create a strong frame that's screwed to the bottom of the chest. The foot is trimmed flush to the frame with a block plane.

TAPE THE WASTE BACK ON. After making the first two cuts on the front feet, tape the waste pieces back on the feet. This will give you a flat surface on the bandsaw for the second two cuts.

The proper base should not only elevate the case but also enhance the other features ofit. Instead of concentrating all of the detailing on the case and treating the base as an afterthought, I work out the details of the base along with the case.

My choice of a base is influenced by the size and weight oflhe piece. l;or instance. I wouldn't place a massive, mul ti drawer chest on dainty saber feet. Structurally, the feet might not support the great weight oflhe piece and its contents. And aesthetically, a large cabinet supported by diminutive feel

Sled Feet

CRISP CUTS START on a tablesaw. Cutting the shoulder on the front of the sled-footed base is best done on a tablesaw.

RELIEVING THE WASTE. Several bandsaw kerfs cut just to the layout lines of the front of the sled foot will make it easier to maneu ver the wood around the blade for the tight corners of the finish cut.

WEDGE TREATMENT. The back of each sled foot is cut square and flush with the back of the chest. Both feet are screwed to the bottom of the chest.

his base of European origin is made of three main components: two sled feet and a perpendicular beam. The front ofthe feet typically protrude beyond the front ofthe case. A %-in. tenon is turned on each end ofthe beam, and it is secured through holes in the feet with a wedge (see the right photo below).

might bring to mind a sumo wrestler wearing ballet slippers.

From a practical perspective, the lift a base provides also gives better access to die contents ofa piece and protects them from moisture and dirt. In addition, an attached base can simplify construction ofthe carcase and can easily be replaced if it is damaged.

A Base with Bun Feet

The bun-footed base is a lively design that can animate even a very large piece of furniture.Yet widi their low center of gravity and rounded form, bun feet are the sturdiest possible. The base is willing to carry great weight and will oven endure being shoved and dragged across the floor. The ball-shaped feet introduce a nice counterpoint to the rectilinear hues ofa chest.The balls can be full and round, almost forming perfect spheres, flattened hke doughnuts or elongated into cylindrical shapes.

Bun feet originated in Germany and Scandinavia and later were used on Kasten and blanket boxes in America. Bun feel were typically used on fairly massive pieces, but they found their way onto more refined case pieces such as desks and chests during the William and Mary period (1690-1730).

Bun feet are produced on the lathe. In the earliest examples, they were turned from a single block ofwood; later, the block was laminated. Each foot has a stem or tenon at the top that is used for attachment to the case. Below that is a ringlike shoulder and then a narrow neck, called the reel, that swells into the ball. The most difficult aspect of turning a bun foot is executing a nice, round ball. Ifit looks hke a potato, it won't work as a bun foot.

For a typical bun foot, start by turning a cylindrical blank. Mark out the major segments ofthe foot on the cylinder, including a line for the equator ofthe ball and a circle on the end ofthe cylinder to establish the flat portion where the ball will rest on the floor. Turn the reel and the shouIder first and then begin work on the ball.

Seasoned turners often use a large skew chisel to cut a sphere. By pivoting and rotating the tool, they obtain a smooth, arcing surface that requires little or no sanding. If you have less experience on die lathe, you might have better luck with a stout gouge. The surface you achieve may be a little bumpier, but the gouge is less likely to dig in and ruin the job because only a small portion ofthe tool's cutting edge contacts the workpiece. liven so, cut carefully, stopping frequently to check for symmetry

You can use a rasp to perform the final shaping and smoothing. A rasp can be easily controlled and lightly applied to the rotating shape to correct the bun's outline. By varying the pressure, you can control the amount ofwood you remove. And unlike a turning tool, the rasp won't dig into the work. Use sandpaper on the spinning piece to attain the final smooth surface.

There is a foolproof technique for turning the tenon on a bun foot to a precise diameter. From behind the rotating workpiece, press an open-end wrench against the tenon while removing material with a X-in. parting tool.The narrow parting tool is used with a scraping action, so it doesn't require careful guidance and can be held in one hand. When the tenon is reduced to the precise final dimension, the wrench slips over the tenon.

The simplest way to attach bun feet to a case is to drill holes into the bottom ofthe carcase to receive the feet's tenons. But if the ulterior ofthe cabinet or chest will be visible, so will the ends ofthe tenons. In that case, attach the feet to a frame and then screw the frame to the underside ofthe chest. Make the frame of solid wood and cut a profile on its edge, which adds a molding to the bottom ofthe chest.

A Base with Saber Feet

The sleek, graceful saber foot was most popular during the Ilepplewhite period (1 7901805), when Baltimore cabinetmakers used it extensively. But with its hard edges and simple sweep, the saber foot transcends period classification and looks perfectly comfortable on modern pieces.Visually, the saber foot works best with pieces that are moderate to small in size, fairly rectilinear in form, and restrained in detailing. On the right case, a base with saber feet will confer a sense of poised nhnbleness, hke that of a dancer.

When designing saber feet, strive for a smooth, moderate curve. Start by making a cardboard template ofthe silhouette and use the template to trace the silhouette on a square blank. For the front feet ofthe base, which curve to the front and to the side, trace the template on adjacent sides ofthe blank; for the back feet, which curve only to the side, trace the template only on one side ofthe blank. As you design the curve ofthe feet, err on the side of moderation; a curve that looks good on the template will often appear

Profile of Rear Fool

Ogee-molding profile -Scale: 1 square = 'A in.

Profile of Rear Fool

TAPED AROUND A SQUARE BLOCK. To ensure a tight, 90° miter, set the splined-and-glued bracket foot around a squared block of wood. The miter Is held tight with tape until the glue dries.

opular in the Chippendale period, ogee bracket feet are made from sections of tablesaw-made ogee molding. The tight inside curve of each foot is cut on a drill press before the rest of the bracket is cut on a bandsaw. The rear feet are molded on the sides only. Flat pine blocks butt to the end of the rear feet and allow the case to sit tight to a wall (see the drawings below).

SPLINE TIME. An ogee bracket foot is made of mltered sections of moldings and held together with splines. After cutting the corner miter on a tablesaw, the author sets up the saw to cut a groove for the spline, taking care that the height of the spline cut is lower than the height of the thinnest part of the ogee profile.

LOW, INSIDE CURVE. Most of the cutout work on the ogee bracket foot is done on a band-saw. An exception Is any tight, constant-radius curve, such as the one near the bottom of the foot, which is more easily cut with an appropriately sized Forstner bit.

Ogee-molding profile -Scale: 1 square = 'A in.

exaggerated when cut out ofthe blank, because each foot is a compound curve.Too radical a curve can make a foot look like it is straining under the weight of die cabinet. And, in fact, it may well be.The grain is short at the toe, and the farther the toe extends, die more vulnerable it is to breaking off.

The curves are cut on die bandsaw. After cutting one side ofthe front legs, temporardy reattach the cutoffs with masking tape. Then rotate the blank and ctit the odier curve. Clean up the convex curves using a block plane widi a very small throat opening and a very sharp blade. I do any further cleaning up with a card scraper. On the concave sides, 1 begin widi a curved soled spokeshave and follow that with rasps and sandpaper.

Saber feet are often linked with rads, creating a strong frame that can easdy be screwed to the bottom ofthe case. Like table aprons, the rails are tenoned on die ends and fitted into mortises in the saber feet. It is simplest to cut the mortises in the feet while the blanks are still square.

A Base with Sled Feet

Solid and low slung, the sled-footed base suggests—and delivers—stability and strength. It can be used on both low storage chests and towering cupboards. I've seen sled feel on painted Scandinavian chests dating back to the 15th century as well as on early 20th-century English Arts and ("rafts pieces.To me, sled feet conjure up sturdy medieval coffers and cupboards reinforced with iron straps and hinges, or simple rustic furniture built and shaped with httle fuss.

The sled-footed base is comprised of two parallel feel joined by a beam. The front ends oflhe feel typically extend beyond the front ofthe piece and are often chamfered, rounded over, or embellished with an ornamental scroll. A variation on this design that you sometimes see is one that raises the carcase off the feet with legs.

Because the shaped end of a sled foot is in front ofthe cabinet, its shape and finish must be crisp and attractive. Cut the shoulder oflhe scroll on the tablesaw and ihe curved outline on the handsaw, Fair the curves and smoodi them with fine rasps, files, card scrapers, and sandpaper. Start with a fine, O-in. tapered rasp to create a flowing curve without any abrupt dips or blips. Work down from the bottom ofthe shoulder cut to the tip ofthe foot. Next, take care oflhe rough surface left by the rasp with a smooth round file and a card scraper. Finally, sand a bit for a silky surface. Make sure the curving edge is square to the sides, not lopsided. Refrain from breaking the edges, keeping everything crisp and clean.

Because the feet support the weight of the cabinet, the beam's purpose is mainly decorative. Not needing maximum strength, I joined the beam to the feet with round mortise-and-tenon joints.Turn the tenons on the lathe and size them with an open-end wrench to an exact %-in. diameter. Then drill a corresponding hole in the feel to accept the through-tenon. For a decorative touch thai also ensures a tight, cleanjoint, cut a thin kerf into the end ofthe tenon with a dovetail saw and later, when assembling the joint, tap a wedge into the kerf.

A Base with Ogee Bracket Feet

I always have fun with making ogee bracket feet and put great effort into their design. Ogee bracket feel give a rectilinear cabinet a fluid, sculptural touch, catching light and shadow in a pleasing way.This sculptural design was popular in the 18th cenmry and typifies the Chippendale style (1760-1790). Whde displaying ihe sensuous nature oflhe wood, ogee bracket feet give a piece a sturdy, rocklike stance.

By definition, an ogee is a pair of complementary curves that form an S shape. The relationship of these curves can vary to suit your taste.The curves might be the same radius, or you might have a tight convex curve over a wide, shallow concave curve.The only requirement is thai the convex curve be at the top and the concave curve below. A bracket foot with a convex curve at the bottom is called a reverse ogee.

A successful ogee profile will have a lively, curling contour, suggesting fabric unfurling. In addition to the undulating ogee, a bracket foot is defined by the profile at the end of each wing oflhe bracket. Some end quite simply; others end with a flourish of scrollwork. When designing a bracket foot, this end profile is read two ways—as a positive form (die foot) and as a negative form (the space beside the fool) .You can explore this positive/negative relationship by cutting possible profiles in a light material and viewing them against a dark background.


SCREW THROUGH TRIANGULAR CORNER BLOCK. The back feet on an ogee bracket base are not mitered like the front ones. Rather, the ogee bracket butts a flat pine block that will be invisible when the case is placed against a wall.

Rear Fool

I Ogee Bracket Base Feet

Corner block fits flush with top of'

Short grain

Glue block

Vertical glue block helps hold foot together and support weight of case.

There are a few ways to make ogee molding. ] cut the cove with an angled fence on the tablesaw and the convex shape with tablesaw cuts and hand tools. After milling long sections of ogee profile, cut them into 8-in. lengths. Next, designate adjacent pieces to be paired up as feet so that the grain will be continuous around the mitered outside corner of the bracket. The pieces must be marked left and right to produce a pair.

1 often use splines to register and align the joint. To cut a groove into the face of the miter, set the tablesaw blade to 45°. Clamp a scrap to the saw table to use as a stop to register the cut, and use the miter gauge to push the stock. Be careful to raise the angled blade no higher than the thinnest dimension of the ogee profile.

The grain orientation of the spline is critical to the strength of the joint: Th e gram should run across the width of the spline, not along the length.To produce a spline with the correct gram orientation, make a tablesaw kerf into the end gram of a scrap piece of molding. Then cut the spline free on the handsaw. Most of the cutout work for the end profile of ogee bracket feet is done on the handsaw. But to achieve a crisp result for designs that include tight inside curves, 1 begin at the drill press. 1 use whatever bit matches the radius 1 need — Forstner bits or circle cutters—to cut out the inside curves, then I cut the rest ofthe shape on the handsaw.

MARIO RODRIGUEZ Is a contributing edtior to

Fine Woodworking magazine.

Dressing Up a Basic Box

MOSTWOODWORKKRS that I know spend three quarters of their time making boxes ofone sort or another. Boxes for books, clothing, linen and blankets, dishes, cutlery, keepsakes, and odds and ends. We even spend a great deal oftime making boxes for boxes, i.e., drawers for a chest or other case piece.

Designing with boxes is deceptively simple. First you figure out the right size and configuration ofbox or boxes to store or display the desired items.Then you try to make the boxes attractive. A recent request to build a pair ofbedside cabinets for friends allowed me to explore methods of enhancing the basic box.

Wedged between the bed and a wall in many bedrooms, most bedside cabinets don't benefit from exposed j oi ne ry or lovely wood — you don't get much ofa view of either. Trying to think outside the box, 1 started sketching various curvy alternatives, deciding on the simplest of them all—curving the front plane oflhe cabinet along a gentle arc. For centuries simple curves have been used to break the four-square rigidity ofa box without sacrificing the advantages of rectili near const ru ct i on.

A good start, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to add some visual weight to the top and bottom, something a little more


MITERED CORKERS OFTHl" cornice are not 45°. Take angle measurements forthe curved front pieces from working drawings.

DOVETAILS ON THE SKEW. Holmes cuts the dovetails on the skew rather than flattening the face where the joint comes together. While tricky, it adds to the subtle details of superb craftsmanship of the piece.

PLINTH RAISES THE PIECE off the ground. The plinth makes the box look less like a box and provides a structural base for the cabinet.

substantia] than the %-ia.-thick edges of the box. The solutions—a 5-in.-1a 11 plinth and 2-in.-high cornice — are also traditional, even classical. As far back as the Egyptians, architects have used die plinth to raise a box off the ground and, in a sense, put it on display. They added a cornice on lop, like a crown, terminating the structure with a flourish. Furniture makers have used both elements extensively.

My plinth is slightly larger than the box it supports, and simple moldings make the transition between the two elements.

A bead molding announces the beginning oflhe corni ce.'J'h e body ofthe cornice is the same size as the box, but the grain runs horizontally on the sides, setting it off subtly from die vertical grain oflhe box below. Set in slightly from the cornice body, the cove-molded top pane] finishes the job.

Construction Notes

Adding a curve, plinth or cornice is a time-consuming but rewarding way to make something special out ofa simple box. I laminated the curved drawer front and rails for the plinth and cornice out of maple. I resawed the stock to about %> in. thick, then pressed the pieces between male and female forms made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

The plinth rails and legs were joined with mortise and tenons. Joining the curved front rail and leg required some careful layout but wasn't difficult to cut by hand or machine. The molding required slightly different cutter profiles for the curved and straight pieces to ensure an accurate fit at the corners.The molding was glued to the top ofthe rail-to-leg assembly The plinth was screwed to the carcase through slots in the molding. The slots allow for seasonal movement.

The cornice was the trickiest element. 1 assembled the cornice frame, inhering the front corners. I attached the rabbeted cornice top to the frame, gluing the front edge and buttoning along the sides to allow for movement. Next, 1 attached the mitered bead molding to the carcase, gluing it down to the front edge and screwing it to the sides through slots, which allow the carcase to move. Finally, 1 glued the cornice assembly to the bead molding.

ROGER HOLMES is a former associate editor of Fine Woodworking magazine. He lives in Lincoln. Neb., where he publishes books and works wood.

An Elegant Case from Top to Bottom

Construction of this box is straightforward. except for the curved front. Holmes uses slotted holes for the screws where wood movement is likely to be an issue. The piece shown here is 18 in. deep by 19 in. wide by 2814 in. tall.

Cornice Detail

Top. % in. thick, is glued to the cornice frame along the front edge and attached with buttons along the sides and back.






Plinth molding

Groove for buttons

Cornice frame is glued to the bead molding. Front rail is a bent lamination

Bead molding is glued to the case along the front edge

Bead molding is screwed to the cabinet sides. Slots allow for wood movement.

Curved drawer front is a bent lamination.

Side rail

Curved front rail is a bent lamination. Tenons follow the curve of the front of the rail.

Side rail

Stretchers are dovetailed into the cabinet sides.

Curved front rail is a bent lamination. Tenons follow the curve of the front of the rail.

Side rail

Plinth molding is glued to the rails and screwed to the cabinet sides. Slots allow for wood movement.


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