Cannon Barrel Legs- Period Furniture with Dennis Laney

In a previous article, I mentioned that Dennis Laney, a highly skilled craftsman of over 60 years, has decided to take me under his wing and pass on the knowledge of building high end furniture pieces. This article, and the ones to follow, will document my journey. Click here for previous article

The first piece Dennis is instructing me to make is a simple and yet very functional piece. It’s the joiner’s stool. The was seen in many homes from farmhouses, to barns, to luxurious mansions.  Standing at 22” tall it can be used as an extra seat for guests. The added inches over a standard chair (18” tall) means it takes pressure off your lower back and lets your legs rest comfortably. It could be used as a step stool to reach the tops of cabinets. A pair of them can be used as saw horses, or can be used to set a coffin on for a wake and funeral. However, I plan building one and using it for an end table next to my evening chair.

Joiner’s stool by Peter Follansbee

The first step to this project is making the legs. The legs are 2” squared white oak and will be turned on the lathe. Now I have been building furniture for 21 years, but I only rarely use the lathe. So it’s fair to say that my skill level is rather low when using this power tool.

Dennis has decided that a classic Cannon Barrel leg shape would be a good choice for this piece.

Cannon Barrel Leg


It’s pretty clear where the shape and pattern of this legs gets its name. On an actual cannon barrel, the diameter is wider in the back and gradually tapers down in size.

My basic understanding of cannons is, this taper help constrict the explosion and allows the projectitle to shoot farther and more accurate.

The cannon barrel also has rings at various places around it. These rings helped in structural strength from preventing the cannon from blowing apart. They also help keep the cannon barrel from warping by dissipating the heat.

These features are also seen in the turned leg. There is a gradual taper from the top of the leg to the bottom. The rings, or beads, are also incorporated into the design, but there are other features as well.

According to Dennis, all turning are either made up of coves, beads, or fillet (flats). Adding the combination of these three simple turning details allows the light to cast shadows into and on the leg  giving it visual eye appealing interest.

A cove is added between the two beads and also one above the foot. The coves add a nice little contrast to the beads on the leg. The fillet acts as a transition to a change. You can see this slightly between the cove to the bead.

The process for turning in this article and video I did in the proper progression order. However, it would be fair to say that one could position the tool rest in one place, do all the necessary turning in that area, and then move the tool rest slowly down the line.  But for the sake of work flow and understanding, I will move the tool rest multiple times.

Before using the lathe, I made a story pole template showing the placement of my beads, coves, flats, and pommel cuts. A pommel cut is the transition between a straight-sided, flat area (usually square) to the round turned portion of the leg.

With the legs having the pommels laid out,  I beginning making those cuts with a skel chisel. These cuts have to be made slow and remove small amounts of wood. Otherwise, the skew chisel can easily get caught into the grain of the wood and get pulled away ruining your piece just as you get started.

With the pommel cut established, the sections in between can be made round. A roughing gouge does fast work of that. But then switch to a skew chisel to smooth out the course turning left behind from the roughing gouge.

Using a pair of dividers, the size of the beads is measured and then transferred to the workpiece. A paring tool is used further define the beads. In conjunction with the paring tool, a pair of turning calipers brings the leg down to it’s reference point of final round size dimension.

With the reference depth made by the paring tools and calipers, the skew chisel brings the stock down to it’s final round size dimension.

At this point the beads are still have square edges on them. However, those edges can be rounded down and smoothed over. To do this a detail gouge is used. Taking small cuts, turn the detail chisel and rotate the chisel at the same time. Slowly remove more material and work to the middle of the bead. Do this on each side of the bead until it has a nice smooth rounded over edge.

With the beads done, the cove is next. Begin on the far edge with the detail gouge turned on the side. As the detail gouge begins making contact with the wood, rotate the gouge as if scooping ice cream, and stop at the middle of the area of the cove. Repeat this same procedure at the other edge of the cove and scoop to the middle.

To make the fillets, the paring chisel is used on the the edges of the cove where it makes contract with the beads.

To form the foot, the detail gouge is used again and the foot is formed the same manner of the beads.

The final things to do is now to create the taper of the cylindrical portion of the leg. Using the skew chisel again, shave away and little more material at the top of the cylindrical part of the leg. This will also form another fillet around the last two beads. Once complete a little sanding is done, and the leg is complete.

Chad Stanton -Professional Furniture Maker

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