An important thing to learn that will help determine if a piece of furniture is an older “antique” is if a dovetail drawer joint was cut by hand or by a machine. It’s fairly easy to tell the difference with a quick look at them. A machine cut dovetail drawer has evenly spaced pins and tails, all looking the same. The earliest machine cut dovetail joints were used during the later part of the 19th century and are common on much of today's furniture.
On the other hand, a hand cut dovetail joint has a finer, thinner look and generally is not perfectly spaced. Hand cut joints were commonly used in both European and early American made furniture and date back to the early Egyptian times. They are still used today by many experienced custom furniture makers.
Dovetail joints are not only used to make a strong joint for drawer construction, but cabinet makers often use them to join the tops, bottoms and sides of cabinet cases, as was done on antique furniture. When you see this hand cut type of dovetail on a drawer or cabinet case, you can be pretty sure that along with “aged” looking wood that the item was made prior to 1870. Keep this in mind when looking for real “period” antique furniture.
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