The Anatomy of a Table Leg

The Anatomy of a Table Leg

Posted by galen on Sep 28, 2017

There’s more to the design of a table leg than meets the eye. Each part of the leg is designed for a specific purpose, be it practical or aesthetic. These characteristics can make a big difference to how your leg looks, how it is fixed to your top, and how reliable it is for your application. Many table legs include every characteristic listed here on the Fluted Belville Dining Table Leg, but not all. Contemporary designs tend to favor a clean taper and minimal detailing, while traditionalist designs often include most, if not all, of these characteristics.

Top Block

Are you building a table with aprons? If so, this part of the leg is crucial. Two sides of the block will face out, serving as the corner of your table base. The two inward facing sides are attached to the table aprons, which together creates a sturdy frame to mount your top onto. The bottom of the block sits lower than the bottom of the apron. As a side note, when we mention leg width, we are referring to the width of the top block.


The smile refers to the arced edge of the block, on the top or bottom. The angled cut of the smile is designed to create the transition from the squared block to the turned section. This helps sustain the overall balance of the design.

Cove, Flat, and Bead

The cove is a concave groove cut into the leg, which gives it the elegant, thick to thin proportioning popular in classic furniture. The bead, its counterpart, is a convex arc that protrudes from the leg. At the transition point between the cove and bead, there will often be a flat. This flat gives definition to the design elements. We take special care to ensure the ratio between the indentation of the cove and the extrusion of the bead are equitable, for a well-proportioned look.

Column or Shaft

Many designs feature tapered columns, like the ancient stone pillars of Greece, Rome, and Tuscany. Historians posit that the tapering and the slight outward curve, or entasis, were done intentionally to create visual harmony. With a narrower top, the perceived vertical tilt increases, enhancing the overall visual balance. Arced tapering is most common, but square tapered legs, such as Hepplewhite, Durham, Kent, and Juhl, remain popular styles today. Tapering may seem like a subtle change, but properly proportioned it makes a world of difference.


This characteristic refers to concave grooves recessed in the shaft. Fluting makes the shaft "pop out" from the background. It adds visual interest, accentuates the entasis and adds formality. Spiral fluting, dating back to ancient Rome, adds a ceremonial aesthetic. See our fluted table legs here.

Stretcher Block

In the old days, tables were often treated roughly. For durability, craftsmen added wooden crosspieces at the base of the table. Each stretcher piece was fixed to the stretcher block, to create a sturdy frame holding the legs securely in place. These greatly improved longevity due to increased shear resistance. Tavern owners especially made use of these; they were great for withstanding the occasional bar fight or blundering drunk patron. Today, stretcher blocks may also serve strictly ornamental purposes, when used without stretchers. See our stretcher block table legs here.


The inspiration for most furniture feet comes from animal feet, such as hooves, paws, and talons, as well as forms found in the plant world, such as roots, vegetables, flowers and bulbs. We take special care to match the proportion and design of the feet with the rest of the leg, to keep a consistent overall form.


Furniture feet that end in a toe are typically more delicate and elegant in overall appearance. Some toes may be sheathed with metal, often referred to as sabots (French for shoe). Others forgo the toe altogether, ending merely in a foot. Toes must be proportioned just right to not appear weak or overly cumbersome. When measuring the toe width, such as for metal tips, casters, or sliders, measure the distance of the very tip of the toe. offers a diverse range of legs to choose from. Each of the legs are proportioned to match a variety of heights and weights, for use in different applications. When a particular style is altered, to change the height or weight, the proportions of the entire leg change. We don't simply make the legs larger or smaller overall. At, each leg offered in a particular family is carefully redesigned to be proportioned correctly in coffee table, dining, kitchen, or bath heights and in a range of thicknesses. Our dedicated team of professionals work together to design, scale, modify, and machine each leg. The care we put into each step of the process ensures a final product that is beautifully proportioned.

Since the days of ancient Egypt, lathes have been used to simultaneously spin and carve pieces of wood into beautiful works of art, tools, and more. Many legs are inspired by forms found in nature, such as the curvature of the human body. The beauty achieved by the proper balance of all components is what separates a mediocre leg from a gorgeous design. For more on selecting the right leg for your next project, read How To Choose Your Table Legs.