Question: How do I turn legs to be the same?
~ Ronald Hitchcock
Answer: Duplicating Spindles
There are several things you can do to help insure that your turned table legs will look similar. Perhaps the most important thing to do is to create a pattern or story stick to follow and guide you in turning duplicates. I create my pattern when I draw the piece I am building and I draw the turned leg full size to make sure I am happy with the curves and design. I then transfer the pattern to 1/8" thick plywood that is cut about 1" wider and 1" longer than the finished dimensions of the turning. I only transfer one half the pattern, placing the center line of the turning on the straight edge of the plywood. I draw square lines from the edge at critical points of the turning. These critical points would be the largest diameters such as tops of beads, and smallest diameters such as bottoms of coves.
These square marks also indicate transition points from concave to convex shapes. Note that you can place as many or as few of these points as you want if that will help you recreate the design over and over. With time you will find that you need fewer of these transition or location points. The full diameter of each transition point is marked from the edge with a pencil line, this would be exactly twice the dimension from the edge. These marks allow for an easy way to size the calipers for that specific location.
If possible, have several sets of calipers to keep set at a specific “numbered” diameter. In my opinion as a spindle turner, you can never have too many sets of calipers! That way you are not changing the calipers allowing error to creep into the turning. Number the marks on your pattern and set the numbered calipers to match the finished dimension.
Prepare your wood carefully, making sure the blanks are all exactly the same length (I always cut them to the finished length before turning) and insure they are square in dimension. Having the blank square in dimension will help insure the transition or pommel, from the square section, where the aprons are attached, to the round section of the turning, will have even and uniform shape. The pommel will also appear consistent on all four corners when you get the blank exactly centered on the lathe.
Plan on milling up a few extra blanks if you are just getting started in spindle turning. Then you can pick the best of them for the table project. I also think it is smart to practice turning in the wood you plan on using for the project. That way, you will become very familiar as to how that species cuts, etc.
After turning the pommels or transition from square to round area, turn the blank to the largest diameter cylinder that your pattern calls for. Once the pommels are done, use your pattern to lay out or mark the locations of the shaping points. See Photo 2. Using a parting tool and your “numbered” calipers part, down to the appropriate diameter. I usually set the calipers about 1/32" larger to allow for final shaping cuts and/or sanding. From here it is just connecting the dots, creating the beads, coves and tapers. I once heard this referred to as “point to point” turning. See photos 4 and 5.
You may have to practice a bit to get the similar legs you need for the project, especially if you are new to spindle turning. Once you do get the first leg that is exactly what you want, keep it nearby to reinforce the shapes you are trying to recreate. In the end, the legs will look similar enough to pass as duplicates. Your eye sees the similar shapes and makes them look the same. Also, if you place them side by side, you definitely will notice subtle differences. However, when you place them on the floor, as they will be when they are supporting your table, you will not see those subtle differences! The only way to get exact duplicates in turning is to have them done on a duplicator lathe. But what fun is that, when you can train yourself to be the duplicator!
~Janet Collins has been a furniture maker, woodturner, and teacher since graduating from the North Bennet Street School furniture-making program in the mid-1990s. Her shop is located in a barn at her home in Ryegate, Vermont, and she teaches woodworking full time at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Janet’s work can be seen at her website: greenmountainwoodturning.com.