Dating antique screws

Dovetail joints often hold two boards together in a box or drawer, almost like interlocking the fingertips of your hands.

As the dovetail joint evolved through the last one hundred thirty years, it becomes a clue for the age and authenticity of antique furniture.

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One of the first times I was a guest on Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop,” I was explaining the construction of a schoolbox from the book “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” and I had made a terrible mistake. The following statement is pure opinion, but I don’t like to see modern screw heads on furniture that is built in an antique style.

Before we shot the show, Roy explained each shot to the crew that was filming it. It’s like using a plywood back in a reproduction of a 17th-century cupboard. I inherited a huge supply of them from my grandfather’s workshop, who apparently thought along similar lines. So I’ve been buying zinc-plated screws from my hardware store and then stripping the zinc using citric acid. So I was thrilled to learn about Blacksmith, which sells old-school unplated fasteners – including stuff you’ll never find at a typical hardware store.

The use of hand tools and hand-cut dovetails is now the province of hobbyists and a few small shops creating authentic replicas of antique furniture.

This over-view of the dovetailing techniques should easily help identification and dating of most furniture from the last 200 years.

When the joint is expertly executed, it is a thing of beauty, and a secure joining of two boards that can last for centuries.