A well turned leg can make an ordinary leg extraordinary. To put the icing on the cake, just add flutes. Flutes are a decorative element that’s been around for thousands of years. Think of all those fluted columns scattered about ancient Greek and Roman ruins. The fact that fluting is still used today is a testimony to the visual interest it adds to a column or leg.
Traditionally, flutes are cut by hand with a fluting chisel. In the hands of a skilled carver, the results can be outstanding. Unfortunately, some of us have limited carving skill; one slip of the chisel and an entire leg becomes firewood. A friend who builds traditional furniture came to my rescue when I needed to flute the legs on a mahogany game table I was building (Photo 1). He taught me a technique that utilizes a simple shop made jig and an old file to scrape rather than carve the flutes. What I like about this system is that it guarantees straight, evenly spaced flutes. I find scraping goes faster than my ability to carve and that’s an added benefit. Scraping also prevents tear-out and leaves a surface that requires minimal sanding. You still need to employ chisel work to clean up and define the beginning and end of each flute, but the chances for messing up the whole leg with a slip of the chisel are greatly reduced.
The legs for the game table are 3″ x 3″ square with a long fluted section on the lower section (Photo 2). With a complex leg like this, I always start out turning and fluting a practice piece. Typically, I’ll glue up a couple of 2 x 4’s to make the blank. This gives me a chance to refine the design and develop a strategy for the tools and techniques I’ll use to turn the leg. It also gives me a chance to double check the size and spacing of the flutes I will make on the final legs.
The first thing you’ll need is a simple guide box (Photo 3). Build the box from stiff plywood. Size the base to fit over your lathe bed.
Construct a sled from a length of ordinary 2 x 4 (Photo 4). The beauty of this technique is the use of an old file as a scraper. Once you have the size and spacing of your flutes figured out, grind the profile on the end of an old file. Use a burnisher to roll a hook on the file in the same way you would a bowl scraper.Turn the legs and sand smooth.
Secure the guide box to your lathe with clamps (my lathe has wooden ways that allows me to use screws instead of clamps). Use your lathe’s indexing system to lock the leg blank on place. Set start and stop blocks to define the flute length. Drop the 2 x 4 sled on top of the leg at the start block and scrape in one continuous motion from top to bottom (Photo 5). Repeat until the scraper no longer cuts which tells you the flute is fully cut. Then, release the indexing pin and rotate the leg to the next position. Repeat the process until all the legs are fluted.
Use a standard fluting chisel to define the beginning and end of each flute (Photo 6).
All that now remains is a little light sanding (Photo 7) and you’re legs are done. Happy fluting.
Photos By Author