How to Turn a Tapered Shaker Leg
Used sanding pads and a neat trick using graphite make for one terrific taper.
Turning a tapered leg that’s perfectly straight and smooth can be a lot trickier than it sounds. While a machine driven by a computer can get the job done easily, putting a person at the end of a turning gouge introduces subtle waves and variations in the leg’s contour that are largely unavoidable. Shaker furniture maker Christian Becksvoort has come up with a variety of simple, effective techniques to account for human error.
Becksvoort starts by defining the first few inches of the turned taper, just below the shoulder. With the beginning of the taper turned round, he goes back in with a diamond point tool to define a crisp shoulder. Next, he uses a roughing gouge to turn the majority of the leg round. Down at the bottom of the leg, he uses calipers to zero in on the bottom diameter, which is naturally less than that of the top of the leg.
After roughing out the leg, Becksvoort dials in the straight taper with the aid of a long block of scrap wood that’s been coated with graphite. By holding the block against the spinning blank, he’s able to mark out the high spots that need further attention. This process is carried out three to four times until an even taper has been achieved along the length of the leg.
At this point, the tool rest can be removed for final sanding. Becksvoort begins with another long block of wood, onto which he adheres 80-grit sandpaper. By using one long, narrow sanding block, he ensures consistent sanding along the entire length of the leg. Next, he switches to used 100-grit sanding belts to further smooth the leg, and finishes off with hand sanding pads ranging from 150-grit to 400-grit. Final smoothing is performed with #0000 steel wool for a polish that’s as smooth as glass.