How to Cut Tapered Legs

Female carpenter using sander on wood in workshop

Hero Images / Getty Images

A taper on a table leg is a design feature found on many table and desk woodworking projects. A taper is an angled cut on one or more sides of a board. Most plans that use tapered legs do not require the tapers to extend the entire length of the leg, mainly because having a square edge on the top of the leg allows for the leg to be connected to the skirt of the table or the body of the desk without accommodating for the angle of the taper.

In many cases, the leg will be connected to the skirt using a variation of a mortise and tenon joint that allows the leg to be held very securely to the structure of the table. In this type of installation, the tapers for the table leg would start either at the base of the skirt or further down the leg, depending on the design of the table. In some cases, the tapers would be on the two outside edges of the table, giving the project a more modern, sleek look, whereas if the tapers are on the two inside edges of the leg, facing the center of the table, the taper would provide more of a classic look.

How to Create a Tapered Leg

A tapered leg can be created in a number of ways. Probably the most simple method for creating a tapered leg is with a tapering jig on a table saw. This type of jig is devised with two longboards placed parallel to one another with their faces mated. The two boards are then connected at the top with a butt hinge that allows the two boards to swing open from one another. At the opposite edge of the boards from the hinged end, a spacer with a bolt and wing nut is attached that allows the boards to be locked into position at a specified angle.

This tapering jig is then placed on edge on the surface of the table saw, with the hinged end facing away from the operator and one long edge against the inside edge of the table saw's fence (inside meaning the side of the fence facing the table saw blade). The board to be tapered is then placed firmly against the opposite (angled) leg of the tapering jig. The angle of the tapering jig needs to be adjusted to match the desired angle of the taper, and then the saw's fence is positioned so that the saw blade meets the table leg at the desired point for the beginning of the tapered cut. The saw is turned on, and the entire assembly of the tapering jig and the board to be cut are pushed forward, keeping the entire assembly intact and the jig firmly against the inside edge of the fence, until the taper is completed. If a second taper is necessary on a different face of the leg, then the jig is retracted, the table leg rotated in the jig and the second taper can be cut in the same manner.

What to Do When You Can't Use a Tapering Jig

In some cases, a table leg may be too large to be cut using a tapering jig. In these cases, the leg may either be too long or the taper angle too severe to use a tapering jig to make the cut. In the cases where the leg is too large to use a tapering jig, another way to cut the taper would be to position and clamp a straight edge onto the table leg to make the tapered cut with a circular saw. To set up this type of cut, measure the width of the circular saw's base from the edge of the base to the edge of the saw blade. Mark the starting and ending points of the tapered cut onto the table leg, and then clamp the straight edge into position on the large table leg at a distance offset from the marks equal to the width from the edge of the circular saw to the saw blade. Once the straight edge is clamped into place at the proper position, use the circular saw to cut the taper.