Dating antique school desk
Here is an early example of machine-cut dovetails on a 1920's sideboard from a dining set: European cabinetmakers continued to produce hand-cut dovetails through the 1930's.
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 1890's.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.Each cut is exactly like the others, each “tail” and “pin” are exactly matched.Genuine hand made dovetails like these were the standard of good furniture craftsmanship until about 1870, when American ingenuity developed the “pin and cove” or round style dovetail, often seen on late Victorian and Eastlake furniture.
These were cut with a jig or pattern, and an apprentice could create a very well fitting and attractive joint. European cabinetmakers continued their hand-cut dovetails well into the 1900's.
Hand made screws and nails were relatively expensive and could rust and expand, sometimes cracking the wood they secured. Dovetails have great strength, holding pieces of wood in perfect alignment over long periods of time.
This lavishly hand-carved cabinet from about 1890 shows structural dovetail joints on the back side.
When the joint is expertly executed, it is a thing of beauty, and a secure joining of two boards that can last for centuries.
A little glue cements the connection, and a good dovetail joint has great strength and durability.
The type of dovetailed joint, especially in drawers, reveals much about furniture construction and dating.