How to Draw & Shape Louis XV Style Legs

Hand holding a Louis XV leg in front of the Oeben prototype table

Five years ago, I wrote these two posts about how I made the legs for the prototype:

At the time I drafted these, I realized my understanding on the topic of Louis XV legs was lacking. Like most woodworkers brought up in English-speaking regions, French styles and techniques are not emphasized (at all?!). I’d have plenty of time to work through the details between the prototype, and creation of the final piece, I told myself. Almost as soon as these were published, however, the feedback came;

“J., the legs are wrong…”

Yes, they were (thanks Ronaldo!).

So, I began to research the proper construction of this not-so-common leg style. I searched the web, asked colleagues, and consulted with my instructors, but no one could point me to adequate resources. (Note: I’m certain this will change with this posting. To all of you about to contact me with references, thank you in advance! Please keep your responses coming, but where have you been for the past five years!) I will take this opportunity to reiterate that I don’t speak, or read French. While I’m certain there is documentation on this subject, it has not been readily accessible to me. French-speaking friends had difficulty finding resources too. Being the case, I approached the situation from a different perspective. What I needed was a craftsman skilled in French techniques, who could speak English. My best bet, I thought, was to search for someone in Québec, Canada.

I was fortunate to make contact with Eric Thériault at École Artebois in Québec City. When we met at his shop in May, Eric was able to help me connect the disparate parts of my understanding. Prior to this, I’d made cabriole legs, and spent three years deciphering Chanson’s chapters on drawing them in the Louis XV style (Traité d’ébénisterie). Based on what Eric and I discussed, I drafted a summary of this process which was published in issue 288 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking (fc_288_22_26_louis_xv_leg.pdf). Perhaps this will save those of you interested in making these pieces significant effort!

Small drawer latch

The only remaining mechanism to be installed is this latch to release the small drawer. Mortised into the main box beneath the small drawer, the task is straightforward, but requires a delicate touch as this area is quite thin and unsupported.

Since the lever profile varies, let’s begin by determining the location for the bolt to protrude. The center should be sufficient for this application. Next, drill and square a hole appropriate to the bolt size. This allows installation of the latch in the correct orientation to define its outline, providing a guide.

From here, it’s simply a matter of outlining the latch, and paring away the material. It is a slow process, but affords control.

From the top-side, the result looks good, even without the latch plate. Once the drawer is installed, the latch will be inconspicuous, just as it should.

I’d like to thank Josh Huether for working with me on the small latch.

Escutcheon plates

I received an unexpected parcel in the mail last week from Keith Turner, a woodworker in British Columbia Canada. Keith was inspired to make his own table after seeing the video from the Getty Museum. He’s also been following my progress, and sent replicas of the escutcheon plates that he cast. He writes:

I do have a background in the mechanical trades and teach at a local Institute of Technology, that is why I am able to cast as we have very well equipped shops. (I used to teach sand casting). These pieces were cast using the lost wax method and I put a blog together at http://lumberjocks.com/Longcase/blog/84378  if interested.

These are one of the components that decorate the carcass side aprons.

I must admit that this is one aspect of the re-creation that I have contemplated the least. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the escutcheons are not identical! Hint: look at the bottoms of the plates.

It’ll still be a while before I have to face this aspect of the project, but Keith’s gift has given me momentary insight into it. Many thanks, Keith!

Main box latch plate

I realized that hadn’t posted about the installation of the main box latch plate…

If you recall from the Getty video, this latch is positioned in the floor of the carcass, and releases with a key-turn in the proper left apron.

Top view of the carcass without the top & main box

This requires a (hardened steel) latch plate be mounted to the underside of the main box.

It is partially mortised to allow the latch bolt to have adequate purchase.

Locating it is fairly straightforward, I ran a pencil along the edge of the bolt to deposit graphite onto it. Then, operated it several times (in an attempt) to leave a mark on the bottom panel. Fortunately, working the main box back and forth also left a large scratch.

Now, for my next trick…

So as you have seen, the table’s mechanisms are (somewhat) working. Where do we go from here?

While there is satisfaction in reaching this point, there is still lots to do with the prototype. The small drawer latch must be mortised into the main box below the drawer opening. It requires two latch plates. There is also the matter of shaping the carcass aprons. I am thinking of leaving this partially complete as a pedagogical sample. I have seen this done before, where each leg shows a different state of progression, to great effect. Unless an interested buyer comes forward, this is my current intention. It would also be nice to create at least one proper Louis XV style leg (refer to previous attempts here, and here) before committing to the final piece!

With the exception of the small drawer latch, what remains is straightforward; almost no fiddling required. It will be nice to have a clear path for a change!

The light at the end of the tunnel could be the headlight of the oncoming train…