Yesterday, John Weigel, of Greensboro, NC came to spend the day with me to learn how to carve a ball and claw for his 3-legged tea table. John spent time at MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts) in Winston-Salem, NC to study a stunning period piece that he wanted to reproduce. They have a fabulous museum with amazing pieces of period furniture and a room full of photos and reference material detailing many pieces of original southern furniture. It is located in Old Salem, which is an incredible place to see in itself.
I had only carved one of these feet (in a project that is not finished yet) so I had the general idea of the process. The technique is quite a bit different than a Philadelphia style ball and claw (seen on chairs, etc) in that the majority of the carving is shaping the front 2 sections of the ball, and not near as much focus on all 4 sides of the ball equally. There is still the issue of locating that awkward point where the ball hits the web, but because there is not as much wood to take away in this area, it is not as “mysterious”. The main thing is to keep that front talon straight and use it as a guide for many of the other cuts. Also, working with grain issues is probably more of a problem because of the way these legs need to be cut for maximum strength – i.e. 45 degree angle grain. If the grain is not obviously visible, it can be a challenge to keep track of it.
I plan on doing a video on this process, as it really is quite a different technique – and a lot of fun! And I think might even be a little easier than the straighter Philadelphia style that is used on chairs, etc.
John has already carved the tea table top – a very ornate top with scrolls and acanthus leaves – very complicated. Now he just has to make the other 2 feet to match the first one! He did great with the first one, the others will be a breeze!