Thursday 2 November 2017

Finding the Right Joint for Mid-Century Legs

Today I would like to share some thoughts about a leg-frame construction for Mid-Century style furniture.

Furniture of this period do have pretty often legs set at a 45° angle (vertically) with splay and rake. Additionally they have got an oval or rounded over shape.
Hard to describe. Maybe once again have a look at these samples then you will get an impression.

The phone bench I'm planning to build is no different. It will have got a narrow frame (40mm most probably) and the above described legs. Tapered, rounded over, kind of oval, set at 45° angle.

I was wondering how this will be achieved best and had a look at a lot of pictures I could find.
Well, I had to recognize that the Mid-Century was the period where furniture mass production gained importance. Scandinavian furniture producer have been the first who have invented the flat pack furniture. This all led into the knowledge that screws and dowels became significant for this type of production.
So I found out that most of these frames are butt jointed, having some dowels for reinforcement. Or the legs are simply screwed in.
That is actually not what I want. So I started to investigate if there is a joint which fulfills my wishes.
Hand cut with hand tools, not using dowels, strong enough to sit on.
It was a long search. The first solution I have found was offset dowels. Means the dowels in stile and rail do have different positions. Hmm...dowels, okay if I couldn't avoid them. But you will have to use square stock for the legs. If you are trying to use rectangular stock, you will not have enough meat for the dowel joint. Square stock will mean a lot of shaping work.
Another solution I found is to use a diagonal frame (like a huge cross). Then you can connect rectangular leg stock with a mortise and tenon joint. Not the look I'm aiming for.
But now it's time to put you out of your misery. I found an idea I would like to follow.
For those of you who own "The Woodworker" have a look at volume II page 689, fig.2 and fig.3.

The above pictures are published with the kind permission of Lost Art Press (thx to Meghan).

I had sleepless nights while thinking through it before I got the idea to have a look into this book.
But this made my day. That is what I was looking for. I decided to give that a try.

That said, I went into my shop and grabbed some wood from the scrap box to make a mock up.

First step

You have to make a through dovetail joint to connect all frame parts. For testing I've only done one.

Second step

Glue up the joint and cut off the corner

Dovetail joint with cut off corner

Third step

Cutting the recess into the leg so that the corner of the frame will fit.
Now it is becoming weird and I've made all mistakes you can do with this part of the joint.

Cut out recess

Mr. Hayward is describing it pretty detailed. I'm still not sure if I got every detail to layout the joint.

Fitting the frame into the recess

Anyway, my first attempt came out like shown in the picture. It's far away from looking nice or fitting perfectly. But I'm pretty sure this is the joint I was searching for.

Now as I know this will work, I will make another test version from the wood used in the future including the future dimensions.

If you are interested in this topic and like to see more details, then stay tuned. I will report about it as soon as I get to the stage seriously working on the legs.



  1. great post - problem and resolution!

  2. Stefan,

    Interesting joint and good practice joint. I can see several more practice joints and you should have that sucker nailed. I may have to make a run at making, I can see a couple of uses as a design element.


    1. Hi Ken,
      thx for your words. I think I'm close. I will do the one or other try run the coming weeks.
      Let me know if you have got any result.

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