With just a little study of these examples, it is easy to spot true hand made construction vs. The name “dovetail” comes from the appearance of the joint, resembling the triangle shape of a bird’s tail.The earliest examples are from furniture placed with mummies in Egypt thousands of years ago, and also in the burials of ancient Chinese emperors.Commonly used in woodwork joinery, they can act as a useful tool while dating our furniture.Until the 1880s, all furniture dovetails were cut by hand using a chisel and hammer. 3 & 8), though, again, exceptions do crop up (figs. By mid-century, cabinetmakers (with full comprehension of seasonal wood movement) altered the orientation of drawer bottoms from front-to-back to side-to-side (figs. This step not only reduced the likelihood of splits in drawer bottoms (the overall breadth of bottom boards – across the grain – was, in most instances, reduced by about half), but ensured smoother operating drawers, as critically, the drawer sides remained undistorted even if shrinkage across the grain of the bottom boards did occur. Mahogany chest with oak side-to-side bottom boards, circa 1760. With the pursuit of ever finer tolerances, the exposed drawer front end-grain of an otherwise smooth-running drawer could, in winter, absorb enough moisture to expand in height, causing the ends to foul the carcase, or even become stuck (fig.
When the joint is expertly executed, it is a thing of beauty, and a secure joining of two boards that can last for centuries.Because this construction is visible on the surface (unlike mortise-and-tenon and dowel joints, for example), it’s usually easy and quick to determine the rough age of furniture, and its authenticity as a true antique, using drawers.Simply pull a drawer out a few inches, glance at the joinery on the side and feel the drawer bottom underneath – essentially a single motion.In addition, the wood used for the drawer sides and bottoms helps determine whether the furniture is American or European.How a drawer is constructed and the woods used is revealing, but there are two important caveats. Seldom does one clue provide confirmation of anything. The seasonal movement of through dovetails beneath veneer can cause telegraphing (fig. A lap-dovetailed drawer front, on the other hand, presents a flat, uninterrupted and more stable surface on which to veneer.