Four Pale, Shapely Legs

Two weekends ago, I turned some legs from green live oak for my Windsor chair. They turned out nicely, but the only problem is that I’ll have to wait at least a month – maybe two – before they’re dry enough to use. I’m the impatient type, so I began considering what my other options might be, and I decided to turn a set of baluster legs from some dry red maple that I can use in the meantime. Though it’s not the preferred wood for baluster legs, I’m convinced that the red maple will be plenty strong. The live oak legs can wait for my second chair.

I started with some 2″-thick maple planks and sawed out a set of 2″ x 2″ x 24″ legs blanks, being careful to follow the grain as I marked them out, rather than the edge of the boards. I popped the square blanks on the lathe and quickly roughed them to round.

legs 004
Four roughed-out leg blanks.

The maple was absolutely delightful to work with after turning the live oak. Long, creamy ribbons of wood spilled from my gouge like strands of spaghetti. I didn’t think dry wood was supposed to turn this well! I never turned much maple since it’s so bland compared to more colorful woods. I didn’t know what I was missing! Compare the maple shavings on the left to the stiff, brittle shavings from the live oak:

The baluster legs required much more skill and attention than the simple bamboo turnings that I did previously. The first one took well over an hour from start to finish, and I still screwed a few things up. I’ll probably need to make a replacement. Nevertheless, it still turned out pretty nice. The second one went much more smoothly, and by the third, I was really in a groove.

I decided to time myself on the fourth leg, but by that time it was well past midnight and apparently my body was letting me know it was time for bed. I had trouble concentrating, had a few “Oops” moments, and the leg didn’t turn out quite as well as my second and third. I think it will still be fine to use, though. My time from start to finish was 25 minutes on the final leg. Elia Bizzarri says he’s able to turn a baluster leg in 10 minutes, so apparently I still need plenty of practice. I hear it gets easier after the first thousand or so.

Can you pick out which leg I’m planning to replace? The error is subtle…

Edited to add: Kylie picked out the goofed-up blank. It’s actually not the mineral streaks that I dislike, though – the chair will be painted, so those won’t show. I turned the bead too narrow and the fillet above it too wide. I’m probably the only one who would ever notice, but the cat’s out of the bag, now. Here’s a closeup:


8 thoughts on “Four Pale, Shapely Legs

  1. Second from the left with the knots?
    Is there anything special you could use the shavings for, other than a nice little fire?

    I’m surprised by how different the green live oak and dry red maple shavings are!


    1. Yep, you picked out the bad one, but those are actually mineral streaks, not knots. And it’s an error I made in the turning that will resign this leg to the scrap pile, I’m afraid. I added a closeup so you can see it better.

      I wish I had a better use for the shavings than a fire. In the past I’ve used them as packaging material when I’ve shipped tools and woodwork that I sold. I really like that use for them – it adds to the experience when you open the package. But besides that, I don’t have many ideas. I always end up with more shavings than uses, so most of them get burned.


  2. I’m enjoying following this process as it moves along. Haven’t made any chairs yet myself, but you know, someday, I can see it happening.

    I really like the look shavings leave on wood when used to burnish a piece. That’s easy to do on a lathe or with any cylindrical piece. I figure there’s an easy way to hold them together in a bag or a box so they can be used more easily of flat pieces of wood too.

    Keep up the good (and interesting) work!


    1. Thanks, Wesley. I’ve definitely used the shavings to burnish my turnings before. That trick works well to bring up a subtle polish, though I didn’t use it on these legs, since they will be painted. For flat pieces, I imagine the forgotten polissoir re-popularized by Chris Schwarz and Don Williams would be a better option, though I haven’t tried it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve also followed the resurrection of the Polissoir with interest. For your chair I imagine it would be a better option. I don’t think burnishing offers any real protection, just a nice shine.


  3. One day I was talking to my father about the purchase of a duplicator attachment for my lathe. He quickly pointed out that it’s the small details that make each turning different that prove that it’s been made truly by hand. With that in the back of my mind I look at the spindles running up the oak staircase in my 100+ year old house and can actually pick out minor differences from one to the next. And with that, I do appreciate the untold stories of that staircase that much more.

    On another note my father also taught me when turning legs, to do 5. Pick the best 4 and keep the spare as an example.

    I never did buy a duplicator attachment and don’t think I ever will…

    Great project – I hope to tackle one someday!


    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Your dad sounds like a wise man.

      On another note my father also taught me when turning legs, to do 5. Pick the best 4 and keep the spare as an example.

      This is especially good advice – I took it myself, though unintentionally! The first leg just wasn’t up to snuff 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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