Dating antique dovetails

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.

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Tiny angled saw cuts were followed by careful cutting by a sharpened chisel on both sides to avoid splintering.

One board had tiny "tails," and the other had the larger "pins," carefully measured to match and fit together exactly.

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 joint was created by a skilled cabinetmaker using small, precision saws and wood chisels.

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.

Each cut is exactly like the others, each “tail” and “pin” are exactly matched.

Each cut is exactly like the others, each "tail" and "pin" are exactly matched.

A close inspection shows no irregular saw cuts or variation from a skilled craftsman, but rather a precise and identical manufactured machined joint.

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 1950's, power tools were used in almost all furniture construction across Great Britain.

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.

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