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Showroom - Frequently Asked Questions. As the dovetail joint evolved through the last one hundred thirty years, it becomes a clue for the age and authenticity of antique furniture. The type of dovetailed joint, especially in drawers, reveals much about furniture construction and dating. With just a little study of these examples, it is easy to spot true hand made construction vs. The earliest examples are from furniture placed with mummies in Egypt thousands of years ago, and also in the burials of ancient Chinese emperors. For thousands of years, a dovetail joint was created by a skilled cabinetmaker using small, precision saws and wood chisels. Tiny angled saw cuts were followed by careful cutting by a sharpened chisel on both sides to avoid splintering.
In comparison, manually operated hand saws left a straighter pattern. A handcrafted furniture piece does not set it in time as an antique.
Furniture is still being crafted by hand today. However, machine-made evidence does give you a better picture of when the piece of furniture could not be from.
Dating primitive furniture
It can be difficult distinguishing the type of wood or finish used on a furniture piece, but these are important clues. Certain types of woods were favored during different furniture periods.
For example, oak was primarily used in furniture made prior to Aftermahogany and walnut were very popular. Moving into the s, maple and cherry showed up in fine furniture manufacture quite often. Many Victorian furniture manufacturers used mahogany and rosewood through the late s.
Then, aroun oak became popular again. The type of wood used is not an exact indicator of age, but when you tie in the other factors like style and construction technique, you start to get a better idea of the date of the piece.
System for Dating Country and Primitive Furniture, Part One
Original upholstery materials like silk, wool, or cotton were spun and woven into a variety of damasks, satins, and brocades with many different patterns.
A wide variety of materials and fabric designs were favored for upholstery during different periods. Schwartz is an upholstery guide that can help you decipher the styles that align with furniture periods.
Closely review the screws. Screws were not made completely by machine until So if you find a furniture item using screws that have completely rounded shafts, pointed ends, and perfectly finished heads with matching cuts much like a screw you would purchase todaythe piece likely dates to the midth century or later. Screws made from about through the mids were partially machine-made giving the threading a more even appearance.
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But the heads were still finished with hacksaws to add the groove to fit a screwdriver, so no two are exactly alike. The first screws were crafted during the s by blacksmiths using square nail stock that was heated and pounded until it was somewhat round. The tips were blunt and each one was unique.
If you find these hand-finished screws in furniture, investigate other cts of the pieces to see if they appear to match the screws in age. One similarly-dated element is brass hardware. Early 18th-century hardware was cast from molten brass using molds made of sand. This hardware often has inclusions or marks left behind by grains of sand or odd colors from impurities.
Ways to Identify Genuine Antique Wood Furniture
European cabinetmakers continued their hand-cut dovetails well into the 's. Here is an example of an Eastlake chest of drawers with characteristic "spoon" carving and "pin and cove" dovetails from the 's:.
The next technological development in joinery was again American. In the 's, American furniture began to be mass produced, with interchangeable parts and speedy production for the growing and affluent middle class.
This piece is primitive at it's best, standing 6 ft tall, 34 in W and 12 1/2 in D what a presence this cupboard makes in a room. Andy has carefully crafted and payed attention to detail. I hand painted this wearing it slightly to give age. Color shown is plantation red with a mustard cubby. Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for completion. How to Identify the Age of Furniture by the Nails. Nail type is a clue in determining furniture age. Technological System for Dating Country and Primitive Furniture Part 2;. If you are trying to determine the age of a piece of American antique furniture, it will require investigative shawchapman.com closely at the the different elements that make the piece of furniture. Examine the level of work that went into the furniture from the joinery, finishing, knobs, and more.
The slow and laborious crafting and carving, one piece at a time, by a master woodworker was not suited to the new mass market. Steam power, transferred by pulleys and leather belts, operated saws, carving machines and routers that could copy an original pattern exactly.
These routers were ancestors of the electric precision tools of today, and could be used to rapidly cut a machined dovetail joint. A close inspection shows no irregular saw cuts or variation from a skilled craftsman, but rather a precise and identical manufactured machined joint.
These machine-cut dovetails are as strong and long lasting as the hand-made joints, and became the standard of better American furniture ever since the late 's. Here is an early example of machine-cut dovetails on a 's sideboard from a dining set:. Other drawer joints include sliding keyhole or French dovetails that were have been used since the 's.
Here is an oak cylinder roll desk from about with keyhole dovetailed drawers. European cabinetmakers continued to produce hand-cut dovetails through the 's.
Electric power tools, like routers and various types of saws were put into widespread use after World War II in the 's. There was resistance - in England, carpenters unions went on strike over the use of electric saws, fearing the end of their livelihoods.
Nevertheless, by the 's, power tools were used in almost all furniture construction across Great Britain.
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The use of hand tools and hand-cut dovetails is now the province of hobbyists and a few small shops creating authentic replicas of antique furniture. This over-view of the dovetailing techniques should easily help identification and dating of most furniture from the last years. Author Ken Melchert has taught Art History for many years.
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