Levelling The Legs

WHILE A three-legged table will always have all its legs on the ground and won't rock, it is more difficult to level.The best way is to stand it on a known level surface - I keep a 6ft by 4ft piece of I in MDF, levelled as a reference surface, on the workshop floor - and check with a spirit level.

Wedge up one or two feet as necessary to achieve the level, and adjust until only one foot is wedged to retain the level, reducing the other two feet by that amount.

TOPI Underside of table showing brace connecting the column to the top

"I drew the leg freehand in chalk until I was happy with the shape and curves, pencilled it in, then cut it out as a pattern"

far right: Ease the legs into their housings with glue as a lubricant

RIGHT: Routing the dovetail housings while the column is mounted on the lathe, using a simple Jig to spending time making a jig for what is essentially a small one-off job, I did this by hand. Mark the width and depth of the bevel, sharpen up the smoothing plane, clamp the work to the bench and, with a coarseish but comfortable set to the plane, remove the bulk of the waste. When close to the lines, re-sharpen and set the plane, finishing to the line -much more satisfying than all that noise and dust!

To finish off, round over the top edge of the top to 6mm ('Am) radius with the router and soften the bottom edge with a sanding block.

Brace preparation

Position the brace on the underside of the top with the grain running at right angles. Prepare four slots - or oversized holes with spacing washers to allow for movement - for the screws.

As this wood was kiln-dried quarter-sawn, and the diameter of the top is quite small, the amount of movement is also likely to be minimal.

In this case I used,a hole countersunk from each side; this provides a neat result with enough purchase to hold the top down, and allows some side-to-side movement.

Put the brace aside for later fitting to the column.


Cut the column blank to size and turn it to shape -a gentle tapering curve from top to bottom looks less severe than a straight taper and is more compatible with the double curved legs.

right: Fig i Only six components make this table

The fixing peg on the top is best finished with a sizing tool to ensure a good all-round fit. Using the sizing tool on the leg recess as well achieves a good straight line for the leg joints.

Leg joints

The running dovetail housing for the legs is most easily cut while the column is still on the lathe. For this I think it is worthwhile making a simple jig -1 have had full value out of mine!

The precise arrangement depends on lathe and router, but the principle is a fixed stand attached to the lathe, supporting a sliding table to which the router is attached. This enables a housing groove to be cut in the leg recess.

Use of a reference point or indexing on the lathe enables work to be turned through 120° twice to make the three housings.

To achieve a dovetail housing first remove most of the waste with a smaller straight cutter before a final pass with a 13mm

"This joint is a bit fiddly to achieve, but a little cautious practice on pieces of scrap helps avoid disaster so make haste slowly!"

Fig 1 Leg dovetail Joint detail - note the top of dovetail Is angled

('/2in) dovetail cutter. This avoids overloading the router, and/or breaking the dovetail cutter - the whole dovetail shape must be cut in one pass; the undercut does not allow a number of shallow passes to be made.

The resulting housings, 13mm (•/2in) wide at the bottom of the cut by 13mm (V2in) deep, could be cut by hand with a fine tenon saw and finished with a chisel, but they would take very careful marking out, great care, a long time and are unlikely to be as accurate as those cut with the router.


Cut a piece of hardboard

270mm (lOVzin) wide by 260mm (lOin) high and mark the outline of the leg on it through the diagonal - this results in the tenon end for the running dovetail being at right angles to the base of the foot; be sure to allow for the dovetail tenon on the width.

I drew the leg freehand in chalk until I was happy with the shape and curves, pencilled it in, then cut it out as a pattern.

Cut out three legs from 19mm (3/4in) stock, ensuring the grain direction runs at 45° top to bottom. This gives maximum strength by avoiding short grain anywhere. Round over the edges right: Fig i Only six components make this table

"Do not let any oil build up on the surface as it will quickly look syrupy and spoil the effect -

less is best"

desired effect radius, and finish.

Dovetail tenon

To fit the legs to the column either the shoulders of the leg tenons must be undercut to allow for the curve of the column or the column's face must be flattened with a sharp chisel. I find the latter much easier.

A 3/4in chisel centred over the housing should give the exact width of face required. This joint is a bit fiddly to achieve, but a little cautious practice on pieces of scrap helps avoid disaster, so make haste slowly!

With the dovetail cutter that was used for the housing, and the router mounted on its table, set the fence so that each side of the leg tenon end can be run against it to cut each side of the tenon.

This is not as difficult to set up as might be thought - perform test runs to check fit by using some scraps of the stock from which the legs were cut. In the absence of a router table, the router can, with extreme care, be used hand-held with its side fence on the leg, this being held in a vice.

The top of the dovetail should be angled to match the sides; fitting the housing end left by the rotary dovetail cutter, see illustration.


Apply glue to the inside of the dovetail housing and, using the glue as a lubricant, slide the legs into position. Make sure they are pushed tightly home, and leave to set.

Glue and fit the central hole in the brace over the peg on the column; pull down and strengthen the joint by countersinking two 1 '/2in No. 8 screws through the brace, down into the column, either side of and parallel to the peg. Leave to set.

Lastly, with the top face down on a soft, padded surface, screw the brace to the top through the prepared holes.


All pieces should be finished and sanded as far as possible before assembly. Before fuming, all surplus glue must be cleaned off, particularly from around the joints. Check the whole piece carefully for marks, blemishes, rough spots, raised grain etc.

Prepare a polythene tent to fit over the table, ensuring that it is clear of all surfaces of the table, and place about 5fl oz of 880 ammonia in a container inside. If in a reasonably warm place, leave overnight, if cold, leave for 48 hours.

Oiling really suits oak. Apply a liberal coat, refreshing it as necessary until it will take no more; wipe off all surplus, buff and leave to dry in a warm, dry place for 24 hours.

Give a further light coat every 24 hours until the desired effect is achieved; four or five coats are usually enough. Do not let any oil build up on the surface as it will quickly look syrupy and spoil the effect - less is best.


Though a relatively simple piece with only six components and six joints, it is interesting, demanding and rewarding to make.

The fumed and oiled oak is resilient and ages well. The inevitable marks and bruises that will occur can be 'oiled in' to give real character with time and tender loving care! ■

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