Dating furniture dovetail joints
“The basic rule of thumb is, if the piece was made before 1850, you want to do some homework on whether it should be conserved rather than restored—meaning to preserve and stabilize the piece as it is now,” she says.
“If it’s been in the family a while, it’s worth finding out before you do some damage.” To muddy the waters a bit, there are some more recent pieces by prominent makers—for example, from the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts periods (shown in the photo below) — that command high prices and shouldn’t be touched.
Antique stores are a good place to find furniture to refinish, but expect to pay for these pieces.
If you're interested in antiques, recent or old, research before you buy anything.
Small angled cuts were made, followed by careful cleaning down by a sharpened chisel on both sides to avoid splintering. As cabinet makers refined their skills the joints became smaller and neater.
Real antiques and many reproductions are extremely valuable, but there are also many imitations.
If you aren't sure an antique is really antique, pay for an expert opinion.
Dovetail joints are strong and require skill to produce, so they’re generally a sign of a well-made piece.
Hand-cut dovetails can date an older American piece to before 1890, although hobbyists and specialty makers still use them.