Hand-cut dovetails appeared late in that century and for the next 80 years or so, dovetails were wide, stubby, and crude. Since wood is an organic material, it shrinks across the grain with age. Handmade screws of the 18th century started out much as the handmade nails of the period did, as square iron nail stock produced in a rolling mill. Mortise and tenon joints were also used in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Chrome and Formica on your furniture? Fred Taylor October 18, One of the most overlooked and least understood clues in establishing the date and authenticity of older and antique furniture is the story that screws can tell about the history of a piece. In many cases the same smith who made the nails occasionally turned his craft to the making of screws and thereby left us with personal traces of the maker. By the end of the s, dovetails became thin and delicate. But the most obvious clue to the handwork is the thread. Game or card tables did not exist in great numbers until the end of the 17th Century. But as the complexity and sophistication of furniture increased in the late 17th century and the use of brass hardware, locks and concealed hinges became more popular, there was an obvious need for a fastener that could hold two surfaces together without having to penetrate the back surface of the second piece.
Probably the easiest to recognize are the curved marks left by the circular saw, circa The screw on the left was handmade in the late 18th century. Mortise and tenon joints were also used in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Windsor chairs were not around before the Queen Anne period. Machine cut dovetails were made from the middle of the s onward. Are all the parts original, or have there been replacements and repairs? On turned parts of furniture, such as chair legs, use calipers to take measurements to check for shrinkage. After the War, the new machine went right to work, turning out virtually identical screws with sharp even threads, but the heads still had to be hand forged and the slots were still cut with a hacksaw, producing slight variations caused by this last bit of handwork. And the overall shape of the entire screw is cylindrical rather than tapered, as is the case in modern screws. Screws are relative newcomers to the production of furniture, primarily because they are so hard to make by hand. Learn to recognize the elements of different furniture styles. On the other hand, hand forged nails and screws with off-center slots and uneven threads can be taken from older furniture and used in a piece made yesterday. The handmade nails of the period derived much of their holding power from the ability to drive the nail through two surfaces and bend it over on the back side, i. The slot for the bladed screwdriver was cut with a hacksaw. If you can locate tool marks on a piece of exposed wood, you might have some clues to follow. The hand cut slot is seldom perfectly centered on the off-center head. Since wood is an organic material, it shrinks across the grain with age. You may not be able to see this with the naked eye, but if you measure a circular table top with the grain and then across the grain, there should be a difference if the table is an antique. It has sharp, even threads, a cylindrical shape, blunt end and the slot is still off center. But how to manufacture that ramp on that column by hand? The same was true for hinges used under a table leaf. Look for age clues in the hardware used. Examine examples of old screws very carefully and they will provide you with a valuable clue to their origin and perhaps to the origin of the furniture in which they are found. The edges are often flat since they were filed into shape, and the tip is invariably blunt since the smith just cut it off. The vertical, crisp, uniform marks left by the band saw are not very deep. In effect a screw is a ramp wrapped around a column. But as the complexity and sophistication of furniture increased in the late 17th century and the use of brass hardware, locks and concealed hinges became more popular, there was an obvious need for a fastener that could hold two surfaces together without having to penetrate the back surface of the second piece.
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