Author Topic: History of dovetails  (Read 17708 times)

Follansbee

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #15 on: October 30, 2009, 08:07:01 PM »
Hello all. I finally signed up...

re: the dovetail/history thread, a couple of observations. I think one distinction between joiners' drawers & cabinetmakers' drawers is not so much the dovetail, but the way the drawer runs. Most drawers for joined furniture are side-hung. In New England stuff, the drawer sides are typically 7/8" thick oak...makes for heavy drawers. Now what a cabinetmakers' drawers are like is beyond me...but I gather that drawers that run on their bottoms needn't be so thick...

I did look in Adam Bowett's book, (English Furniture: Charles II to Queen Anne; Antique Collector's Club) and he has some great stuff in there about the cabinetmakers in the London Joiners' Company, c. 1660s...he also includes several detail shots of nicely-made d/t'd drawers, not side-hung. I know this is American period furniture, etc and Adam's book is English stuff, but many will enjoy it if it's not something you've already seen.


I think it was Mark that brought up Benno Forman's American Seating Furniture ...a great resource. Buried in this book about chairs is a bunch of stuff about other furniture forms, tools & techniques of the period...
OK, that's 3 things.
My apoligies if I'm rehashing old news.

P Follansbee

jdavis

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #16 on: October 30, 2009, 10:46:25 PM »
I thought I'd share a photo of a rather simple tool chest. It happens to be my favorite  because it shows why its sometimes essential to use nails with dovetails. Evidently, one of the first projects an aspiring apprentice or cabinetmaker is asked to make is a toolchest and perhaps that's the origin of this one. I'm not showing the face with the nails but you can surmise why they are needed. I can imagine the dialog that transpired in the shop when this was made, whether it was between master and an apprentice, joiner, or cabinetmaker. Maybe I like the chest because I did the same thing once myself!
John

dkeller_nc

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #17 on: October 31, 2009, 10:25:18 AM »
Ha!  Hilarious - and man have I done that once or twice myself, usually when I'm working with an irreplaceable matched and highly figured piece of wood.  In those cases, I "adjust" the overall dimensions of the piece. ;-)
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

mikemcgrail

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #18 on: October 31, 2009, 11:23:55 AM »
I would also like to confess to cutting drawer sides on occasion like that. Sort of a furniture-part-dyslexia syndrome. While that is upsetting, I usually just throw these parts away. I have not been clever enough in the past to consider using nails. More upsetting I usually find is the right/left furniture part mistake; two left hand gooseneck moldings will really ruin a feller's day. I know I have had some sort of similar problem with chair legs, too. I like to think I have already made every mistake, unfortunately, I am sure I will make some new one today, if do any work.

Mark Arnold

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #19 on: October 31, 2009, 05:23:43 PM »
John,

The only way I could see that happening is if the guy cut his pins first. Maybe your box is a clue to the age-old question.
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Jack Plane

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #20 on: November 02, 2009, 07:30:16 AM »
John,

The only way I could see that happening is if the guy cut his pins first. Maybe your box is a clue to the age-old question.

Exactly! If the tails had been cut first, this faux pas would not have occurred.

In my experience of restoring 17th century British furniture, early (often crudely fashioned, large single) drawer-side dovetails were frequently nailed in lieu of glue. The dovetails secured the front of the drawer so it didn't pull off when the heavy drawers were withdrawn, and the nails prevented the drawer sides from falling out of the drawer fronts.
Regards, Jack.

ttalma

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #21 on: November 02, 2009, 09:10:49 AM »
Mike Your lucky, Sometime I don't even get my mistakes right the first time so I make them again.
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Bob Rozaieski

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #22 on: November 02, 2009, 11:17:08 AM »
As Mike said, dovetails have been used for thousands of years. There have been items excavated from ancient Egypt that were dovetailed together. However, in American furniture, I think we started to see them as a more dominant or common method of making cases and drawers in the early 1700s in what we would consider the William & Mary style. They certainly were used prior to this time, but I think this is when they began to become more commonplace. Prior to this style of furniture (Jaccobean period?), pieces were lower to the ground, such as joined chests, made with M&T and floating panels. Chests of drawers weren't really all that common prior to the William & Mary style.

The more common use of the dovetail joint during the W&M period and later allowed the pieces to be lighter and subsequently lifted off the floor onto legs. This is when we start to see chests of drawers and high chests becoming more common. Additionally, nails were individually wrought by a blacksmith and therefore expensive, so using dovetails instead of nail was also a way to make a piece cheaper.

msiemsen

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #23 on: November 02, 2009, 11:26:24 AM »
Mark and Jack,
You guys must not be a skilled as I am. I am sure I could screw that up either pins first or tails first. Leaving the waste and chopping out the part I should keep.
Mike
Thanks to Rob for trying to bring the topic back to its original intent.
Mike Siemsen
Green Lake Clock Company
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Follansbee

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Re: History of dovetails and chests of drawers
« Reply #24 on: November 05, 2009, 10:08:25 PM »
Chests of drawers begin to appear in New England household inventories in the early 1640s…and certainly by the 1660s they are frequently found in Boston inventories. The carcasses are joined, i.e. stiles and rails joined with mortise-and-tenon joints, the sides and rear fitted with panels in the frames. The drawers are rabbeted & nailed in most instances; Boston ones usually employ half-blind dovetails to secure the sides to the fronts & backs. Further, these Boston examples often are two-case construction; containing four, sometimes five drawers. The best example is at Yale University, its lower case has three drawers behind doors, the upper case has two drawers – the uppermost is very shallow, the second drawer quite deep. Many of the Boston examples use imported timber.

 

Chests of drawers from outside Boston are also known, some are from Salem, others from an unknown shop in northern Es County, Massachusetts. These chests of drawers are made in one case; and the drawers are rabbeted & nailed. These chests of drawers are made of riven oak, with secondary woods of pine, maple, walnut, etc.

If I did this right, attached is a chest of drawers I made based on some of the northern Es County examples, c. 1670s-1680s.

Two old, but still relevant articles about early chests of drawers are both found in one volume of the Winterthur Portfolio:

Benno M. Forman, “The Chest of Drawers in America, 1635-1670: The Origins of the Joined Chest of Drawers,” Winterthur Portfolio 20, no. 1, (spring 1985): 1-30

Robert F. Trent, “The Chest of Drawers in America: A Postscript,” Winterthur Portfolio (spring 1985): 31-48

P Follansbee


 


jdavis

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #25 on: November 10, 2009, 12:11:36 AM »
Peter, your chest inspired me to change the subject. How did you define the pattern and recess the field in the drawer fronts...set the pattern and punch the field around it or hand route it?

Also,  is the japanning a black lacquer, enamel, or a  traditional mixture. What are the constituents? Was terpentine and asphaltum used?
Thanks,
 John

Jeff L Headley

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #26 on: November 12, 2009, 08:46:40 PM »
I would like to know what "they" called the dovetail before they decided upon dove's. Maybe papyrus leaves. So how many papyrus leaves would you put across a drawer front? I think that for ever papyrus leaf you should have a leaf and a half  the depth before you start your next leaf. How about that for a change of subject?

frangallo

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #27 on: November 12, 2009, 09:56:36 PM »
Or as my brother-in-law calls them-Duckbutts. How many duckbutts do you put on a drawerfront? A rose by any other name smells just as sweet. But possibly not the butt of a duck.
Fran
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jacon4

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #28 on: November 22, 2009, 05:35:28 PM »
Hello Everyone,
I stumbled in here while doing a Google search on "wedged dovetails", over the years i have searched hundreds, maybe thousands of articles on this subject and have yet to find out why or how Germanic woodworkers did this. This obsession started over 20 years when i acquired an American 18th century painted 2 drawer blanket chest made of yellow pine. All of the joinery on this chest, including the drawers & bracket feet have these wedged dovetails, which consists of a narrow wooden wedge driven into the center of the dovetail.  I have included a couple of pic's of the dovetails on the rear of the drawer as that is the only place that has a view of the side of the wedges. Any info anyone has would be very welcome.

jacon4

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Re: History of dovetails
« Reply #29 on: November 22, 2009, 05:42:12 PM »
Here is close up of wedge, i was over limit in above post.