making rope twisted legs

wooden helix, twisted turning, rope twist columns or barley twisted island legs. I don't know how you call them in English but I promised to explain how to make them. First an introduction:

Twisted legs first appeared in the beginning of the 17th century. Soon this kind of ornamental decoration was widely used on the legs of tables, chairs and cabinets. With time taste changed but it would never be abandoned completely. Therefor this kind of decor lends itself to be used on all kinds of furniture for your dolls house. A simple stool becomes a piece of antique with these legs. Or, if you just make one, you can use it as a foot for a sophisticated lamp. Or maybe a coat hanger? Or... The possibilities are endless.

If you take a closer look at twisted legs, you may discover that most of them have only one rope or winding. Run your finger along the winding to find out how many there are.

With this description and a lot of pictures I want to show you how you can make your own. You need some patience and some minor wood skills. But most of all it's essential to measure and mark out precisely. But if you can do that (don't we all, as dolls house lovers?!) there's nothing from stopping you to have a go at it!

What do you need?

- round stock
(in this case 7 mm round)
- a ruler and a sharp pencil
- finely teethed miters saw
- a sharp cutting tool of your own preference
(I used a scalpel, but an excacto-knife is just as good)
- small files, round and/or triangular
- sanding paper (grit 240 and finer)

Really handy is a a jig to hold your round stock. In this case I used a piece of wood with two round sticks glued on it. It will prevent the stock from rolling around whilst working on it.

Draw at right angles to the wood lines with 5 mm distance in between. The closer you want the twists to be the smaller the distance should be and the reverse is the other way round. So if you want them bigger use a distance of e.g. 7 mm.

There's no rule for the distance as it is depending on the thickness of your stock and on how much windings you want. But read trough this story carefully and use the given measurements to do a test piece. Later on you can adapt the principal to your own projects. Take a good look at existing furniture to get an idea of the feel and proportions and see what you like most.

If you have drawn around the length of your stock it is time to decide how many ropes you want. In this case there will be four ropes. Therefor draw 4 lines, parallel to your stock and equally spaced. If you want two ropes you draw two lines.

Now your stock is covered with little compartments, and you have to decide whether you want to make a left- or a right turned winding. Remember that if you want to make, for instance, a four-poster bed it is quit neat if the left post turns to the left and the right post turns to the right. The same principal applies to the legs of a table. That way the hole thing looks nice and symmetrical. Anyway; decision time!

In this case we go to the right. That means you have to make a mark from corner point to corner point, diagonally marking the place where the groove of the winding will come. First make a small mark on the crossing and then gently turn you stock to see where the line has to go to (the next crossing diagonally opposite). Make your way all the way round till all lines are fluently placed.

Now its time to make the cuts. Make sure your stock is firmly placed (I used my simple jig to keep it steady) and use the miters saw to cut the lines no more then 2 mm deep. While cutting turn the wood slowly round and apply only small pressure on your saw. That way you can control the direction and be more precise.

On this left picture I've cut only two lines, but it's more handy if you cut them all in one go. That way you can keep an eye on the width of the ropes and make sure they are all equal.

Most windings are rounded so with the aid of a sharp knife (or any other cutting tool) you to have remove the excess wood gently sloping in the direction of the cut to make a groove. Mind the width of the winding; be sure not to go any further then the middle section. In the righthand picture I've roughly cut out two lines. Here you can see that the highest point of the winding lies just between the two cut lines. So don't pass that point when carving.

Carve gently and slowly and take your time! Do all lines at the same time at this stage. Keep looking to be aware that the width of the ropes/windings stays the same. Carve a small amount at ones, do the whole stock and then return to your starting point and carve a bit more. This way you make sure you only have to make minor corrections and thus obtaining a uniform carving.

When this first stage is finished you can choose how to move on. If you like the look as it is, you only have to sand down your cuts nice and smooth. If you prefer sharper windings to rounded ones you can use the triangular file to change the bevel. Use the jig to support your wood and to control the gentle steering of your files through the wood.

To get an idea of the possibilities I've made an other version. Not with four but with two windings. I've used the same measurement as I did in the first stage (5 mm apart) but I marked out two lines instead of four. Immediately you can see that the windings are twice as closer and more beveled.

I also varied the finish of this second version. Instead of using the triangular file I used a rounded one. The grooves are now rounded which gives a complete other look.

All in all quite a story, but I hope that it's an inspiration to give it a try. It can be used on all kinds of projects. Here I've changed a simple stair pole and made it into a table leg. And I used the same technique on the top post of Nolda's dolls house.

Just to remind you; all pictures can be viewed close up by clicking on them. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.
kind regards



  1. Thank you. I do not know if I shall ever be so brave to try but it's good to know that it is possible.

  2. Thank you so much , Debby. This is such a cool tip.And the way you described it made it seem like even I can try it. The simple and straightforward instructions make this such a great tutorial, I have bookmarked it. I will definitely want to try this although not so soon and hope you don't mind later when I bombard you with questions. I do need to go get a mitre knife and maybe some dowels.Thank you for taking the time to do this!

  3. It's a great tutorial! Lots of background information too, that makes it even better!
    Thank you

    groetjes evelien

  4. Thanks Debby, I have been doing barley twist legs for years and never thought of either the jig or using the saw for the initial cut. Great ideas! I am going to try them next time I do a spiral leg.

  5. Casey, you call them barley twist? Or spiral legs? Thats good to know, as I couldn't find the translation in my dictionairy... learning all the time haha.

    Evelien, thanks!

    Sans, Rome wasn't build in a day neihter. Thanks for bookmarking it, hope it will be of help. If not, i'll keep an eye on my mailbox ;-))

    Rosanne, thank you, your welcom.

  6. I'm impressed, as well!!!

    With your wonderful pics and the instructions seem until easy... I'll see when I try it, haha.
    Thanks for publishing this great tutorial :))


  7. Wow you have incredible talent!

  8. Hi Debby, there is a challenge for you at La Casa Rossa if you want to pick it up. Rosanna

  9. Simply ... incleible. It's fantastic, I love the result is perfect. A great job. Congratulations.

  10. Great tutorial, thank you. I'm bookmarking it so that I can give it a try later.

  11. Thank you all, so nice to see that it is of some use. If not tomorrow maybe some other day.

  12. Wow - thanks so much for showing us how to do this! I never would have imagined that I coulddo someting like this myself; now I can't wait to try it!

  13. This is absolutely wonderful! Thanks for generously sharing your technique.

  14. Thank you Debby! I have been wondering how to do that! I will DEFINITELY be trying that very soon! (As soon as I am back home at my studio! I I hope to read through more of your blog soon!I am currently at the seashore visiting my Dad!)I can't wait to build some barleytwist furnishings for my house! :):)

  15. I love the way they turned out. I like the roof finials too!

  16. Thank you Troy! All of these are merely examples of what you can do with this technique. Bed posts, lamp bases, table legs, you name it... The roof finials were a very characteristic detail from the region that I live in. It's called the 'Zaanstreek' in Holland. Some of the wooden houses here, from the mid 18th till the 20th Century, used to have this elaborated architectural feature. And the Dollshouse I'd build was amongst them :)

  17. I'm in love with barley twist legs and this was VERY helpful! Thank you!

  18. My pleasure, i'm glad to hear it was of help and use to you.

  19. Wow this is the best description I have ever seen.I really think you need to write a book as your directions are brilliant so clear .Ros

  20. very nice and helpful for me. thankyou....

  21. It is called Barley Twist in England. It originated because the English made sweets out of Barley Sugar and twisted them to resemble rope - the sweets and barley sugar was yellow in colour - like the furniture made at at that time - walnut and the like.


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