For anyone who is interest in building period furniture (anywhere from 1740s to 1840s) learning to carve the ball and claw foot almost seems to be a “right of passage” in the carving world. I put together these written instructions for a traditional Philadelphia style ball and claw foot. These instructions go with my instructional DVD, and I also provide these to my students when I hold ball and claw carving classes.
I remember one person saying that there are over 158 different styles of ball and claw feet. Now I’m not sure if this person actually went around and did a thorough research and recorded each style, or just counted all the different shapes he saw. But the bottom line is that there are many different types out there – Philadelphia style, Boston style, New York style, etc. Each has their own unique version, and there are many unique versions within each location. The studies on this could be endless – I think you could probably write a very large book going through the history, styles and techniques – just on the ball and claw foot.
But, safe to say, in all ball and claw styles – there is the ball (supposedly representing the pearl of wisdom from Chinese tradition) and there is the eagle’s foot with it’s talons and claws. The Philadelphia is probably the most basic, and most commonly seen.
I always find it fascinating that people who have never picked up a carving chisel before are able to carve a ball and claw foot, once they understand the step-by-step techniques. It can seem pretty daunting looking at it, but if you take each step, finish it completely, then go on to the next step, and finish that completely – before you know it, you will have amazed yourself with a finished ball and claw foot.