Feet for a Box with a Drawer

Feet for a Box with a Drawer

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This large box with a drawer below is my interpretation of this rare form from the 17th century.


This is an excerpt from “Joiner’s Work” by Peter Follansbee. 

Now things differ significantly from the basic box. Let’s start with the feet.

I’m no turner; I think of myself as a joiner who does some turning. I only know turning on the pole lathe, so I can’t guarantee that the methods I use will translate to other lathes. The lathe is a simple machine: a moveable “poppet” slides between the beds/rails of the lathe. One upright extends above the bed. Embedded into this and the moveable poppet are two iron points – these are what the turning blanks spin on. A cord wrapped around the workpiece connects to a long springy pole in the ceiling and a treadle underneath the lathe. Stomp on the treadle and the pole bends, the workpiece turns toward you and you can make a cut with your gouge or chisel, which is braced against a tool rest. Then let up the pressure on the treadle, the pole pulls back and the workpiece “unwinds” so you can start all over again. Very rhythmic.

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The pole lathe, like a shaving horse, is a folk tool. Each one is different, but they are all essentially the same – a means to make the workpiece turn so you can cut it into cylindrical shapes.

I sometimes have turned feet from white oak; but I’ve mostly used maple to great effect (maple turnings are typically stained black, said to be an imitation of ebony).

Start with a billet about 16″ long and almost 2″ in diameter. I turn a foot on one end, test-fit its tenon, then burnish it and cut it off. Then re-center the turning and repeat. Or rough out several feet, trim the first tenon, then cut that foot off and re-center and resume turning.

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My view of the lathe. On the left, the moveable poppet secured between the rails, or bed, of the lathe with a wooden wedge. On the right, one upright extends above the bed to form a fixed poppet. I’ve wrapped the cord around the workpiece and it’s tied above to the pole and below to the treadle. The workpiece spins on two iron points. One is threaded to make fine adjustments. Iron brackets running through the poppets support the tool rest.

The foot is a simple enough shape that I don’t make a pattern stick, but you certainly could. I just mark the 2″ height of the foot, with about a 3/4″ long tenon beyond that. Define the shoulder that separates the foot from the tenon with a gouge and skew. If you have a parting tool, that’s an excellent tool for this step. Someday I have to dig mine out and sharpen it, but in the meantime, I use the skew and gouge approach. The foot consists of a pear-shaped cylinder, a cove and a collar. I scribe a line defining the collar and cut in under that with the gouge to begin shaping the cove. I alternate coming in from the left and right to help open up the cove.

After roughing out the shape, a few light shavings bring the final smooth shape to completion. The best surface comes from the skew chisel.

For me, turning is always a lesson in “enough is enough.” I often have a tendency to think I can go back one more time to make it better. This sometimes works, but more often results in disaster. The pole lathe is helpful because it allows me to make mistakes more slowly than a faster lathe.

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Here I roughed out several feet, finished the tenon on the left and will cut that foot off and repeat.

The feet have 1/2″-diameter tenons that fit through two 5/8″ x 1-1/2″ x 16″ slats of oak. I usually turn green wood, so I leave the tenons a bit thick so that when they shrink they will fit 1/2″ holes bored through the slats.

Leave the tenons extra long, too, but with a slight taper toward their ends. Size the tenons by forcing this tapered end into the hole (a test hole in dry hardwood is best, rather than risking deforming the actual piece). This burnishes an impression on the tenon.

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Now the foot is secured in the slat. For my lifetime at least.

Then pare the tenon down to this impressed area. These can go back on the lathe for this trimming, or you can just shave them with a knife or chisel. This is another one of those patience things – if you hurry and drive in a too-tight tenon, it can split the thin, narrow slat. Once the feet are tenoned into the slats, split the protruding tenons from above, then drive a wooden wedge into each split to secure the feet in place.

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I bored a pilot hole for these nails, reaching through the box bottom and just into the box sides.

Saw and pare them flush. Then bore pilot holes through the slats from below and nail these foot assemblies to the bottom. Depending on the thickness of your bottom boards and foot assemblies, your nail might reach through the bottom and into the bottom edge of the box ends.

Meghan Bates

 


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