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Dovetails are interlocking carved wood ts used in cabinetry to connect two pieces of wood -- drawer fronts and sides, cabinet or cupboard corners.


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Early antique furniture was primitively constructed out of solid, often re-using old pieces of timber. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Dating drawer joints tradition was often slower to change but the construction was becoming more sophisticated, with finely executed ts and the interior was as well made as the exterior. By the early 19th century the prohibitive expense of craftsmanship, though difficult to improve upon, resulted in the rise of the production of machine-assisted furniture and especially used in Edwardian furniture.

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Dovetail ts often hold two boards together in a box or drawer, almost like interlocking the fingertips Dating drawer joints your hands. As the dovetail t evolved through the last one hundred thirty years, it becomes a clue for the age and authenticity of antique furniture. The type of dovetailed t, 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 t 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. When the t is expertly executed, it is a thing of beauty, and a secure ing of two boards that can last for centuries.

A little glue cements the connection, and a good dovetail t has great strength and durability. This secretary desk from about was built by a good country carpenter, notice the dovetails on the side of the drawer, and holding the top and side planks together as well. Hand cut dovetails were used to hold the sides of drawers together, but also to the structural members of case furniture.

Hand made screws and nails were relatively expensive and could rust and expand, sometimes cracking the wood they secured. Glues Dating drawer joints the period sometimes weakened.

Dovetails have great strength, holding pieces of wood in perfect alignment over long periods of time. This lavishly hand-carved cabinet from about shows structural dovetail ts on the back side.

Simpler country furniture often had larger dovetails, or even a single tail and pin. This country pine cupboard from the 's has big country dovetails:. These were cut with a jig or pattern, and an apprentice could create a very well fitting and attractive t.

Popular here into the 's, these ts never gained acceptance outside of the U. 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:.

How to identify furniture of the s by its dovetailing

The next technological development in ery 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. The slow and laborious crafting and carving, one piece at a time, by a master woodworker was not suited Dating drawer joints 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 t. A close inspection shows no irregular saw cuts or variation from a skilled craftsman, but rather a precise and identical manufactured machined t.

These machine-cut dovetails are as strong and long lasting as the hand-made ts, and became the standard of better American furniture ever since the late 's.

Furniture - tool marks and altered ts confuse age

Here is an early example of machine-cut dovetails on a 's sideboard from a dining set:. Other drawer ts 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.

Colonial woodworking information

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 Dating drawer joints, power tools were used in almost all furniture construction across Great Britain. 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.

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This over-view of the dovetailing techniques should Dating drawer joints help identification and dating of most furniture from the last years. Author Ken Melchert has taught Art History for many years. Return Home Showroom. 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 ery was again American.

Here is an early example of machine-cut dovetails on a 's sideboard from a dining set: Other drawer ts include sliding keyhole or French dovetails that were have been used since the 's.