A leg up

Once the stretchers for our tabouret have been fit, we have to fit them to the legs.  For the bottom stretchers, it’s a relatively straightforward job to cut mortices with a mortice chisel.  Be sure to score around your edges with a knife or gauge to prevent splintering.  DO BE SURE to have some sort of mark on your chisel to know when to stop.  These mortices cut fairly deep into the leg, and it is all too easy (especially in the middle portion of the mortice) to be too enthusiastic in your work and punch out the other side, creating an inadvertent through mortise instead of the blind one that is specified.  Go ahead, ask me how I know this…

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Once the bottom of the mortice is clean and square, make sure that the tenoned stretcher fits as it should.  If you’ve cleaned out the bottom of the mortice sufficiently and by all accounts it should seat fully, do check the cheeks of your tenon.  If they’re a little fat, they will hold everything up, and efforts to force it together may split your leg instead of seating the tenon.

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Once the bottom stretchers are all in place, it’s on to the top stretchers.  Cutting out this open recess is more like cutting out a half-blind dovetail than a mortice.  Saw to the diagonal line from the bottom gauge line on the face side to the back gauge line on the top side.  Then chop down with a chisel and mallet to finish the rest of the recess.

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This joint has a lot of places where it can hang up.  Be patient, and keep at it.  If I were designing this tabouret today, I’d make this a dovetailed tenon, but since we’re reproducing a form, the fit of this joint is more essential as there’s no mechanical aspect to the security of its construction.

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Eventually, all the stretchers will go together.  Once that occurs, we need to bore the bottom stretchers for their pegs.  I clamp everything together (top and bottom stretcher, mind you) before I bore because I want the fit to be correct.  Be sure to clamp a sacrificial backer on because both sides of this hole are outside faces, and you don’t want the edges of your holes to be all splintery.

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Finally, the time will come to glue up the bottom superstructure.  It can take a while to get everything just right, so you’ll want to be sure to use a glue with a longer open time.  If you prefer not to use hide glue, a slow-set epoxy should work better than PVA.  Remember to bevel off the ends of your pegs, as that will make it a much easier job to hammer them through your holes.  If you run out of clamps, (you can never have too many!) then peg the bottom stretchers first.  Then you can use your clamps in a different spot without too much trouble.

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