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Carving a Ball and Claw Foot

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Carving a Ball and Claw Foot

These ball and claw feet are for the front legs on a wing back chair for a very petite lady. The clients liked the undercut talons that John Townsend and John Goddard made famous on their carvings. I didn’t like the undercutting they would often do at the top of the ball, because I felt it removed too much wood for the forces a chair must endure. My clients allowed me to use my input and go with a webbed upper ball. I also wanted to do a tapered ball, rather than the stubby round balls you see so often. I felt this would present a touch of petite-ness and femininity.

Here is what I came up with.


(Figure 1)

I started by milling the cabriole leg blanks from 12/4 black walnut, and finished them to 2-3/4” square. The pattern was made out of 1/4“ plywood and was drawn on two faces of the rift sawn blank. (Figure 1).


(Figure 2)

The mortises were cut on the FMT, and then both faces were cut on the band saw. I made one extra leg just in case I messed up and needed a “do-over”. (Figure 2)


(Figure 3)

The “cabriole” shape of the leg was sculpted and the block for the ball and claw remains. Note that there is extra “meat” on the knee for the upper leg, relief carvings later.


(Figure 4)

The first step is to lay out the guide lines on the bottom of the foot. These will be used at each step of the carving. I shaved off about 3/32” from each side of the block to make the ball and claw a little more refined.


(Figure 5)

I start by carving the front two faces and using the outer circle as a guide to form a cylinder. This outer circle is the widest circumference of the ball. By leaving the corners, you can see the claws start to form.


(Figure 6)

The leg on the right shows the front two faces and the one on the left shows the back two faces which are done a little bit differently. I can’t carve a vertical cylinder on the back of the ball because the location of the “ankle” forces the formation of the back webs on top of the ball.


(Figure 7)

Now I return to the front of the ball and start to shape the cylinder into the desired shape of ball. This design is a “tapered” ball, so the apex is set high and the top is rounded in to form the front webs and the bottom is more of a straight taper down to the smaller circle on the bottom layout lines.


(Figure 8)

After the balls are shaped, the claws are rounded to match the shape of the ball. I used a compass to mark the height and location of the knuckles.


(Figure 9)

After a lot more work, the knuckles are sculpted, the cuticles are cut, the talons are carved down, and the tendons and webs are refined at the top of the ball.


(Figure 10)

Next, I undercut the talons. Now this is where things get scary! I made a Popsicle stick template to draw the cut zone on both sides of each talon. Using a 3/8”, #4 gouge and a ¼” bench chisel, I carefully carved a way the wood under each talon.


(Figure 11)

After some riffler filing and some sanding, I sprayed some mineral spirits on the foot and this is what it looks like.


(Figure 12)

And yes! I did carve two of them.

I have carved ball and claw feet before, but never any this intricate.

John A. Fry

Chisel and Bit

Custom Crafted Furniture

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