He did some creative thinking and solved the problem not by duplicating the dovetail joint but by inventing another type of joint entirely that was at least as good as the dovetail and could be made by machinery.The joint he came up with has several colloquial names – scallop and dowel, pin and scallop, half moon – and all describe the new joint, which looks like a peg in a half circle on the side of a drawer.
A skilled cabinetmaker could turn out 15 or 20 complete drawers a day.
On a really good day, the machine could turn out 200 or more and work more than one shift, if necessary.
One of the first things to be looked at when trying to determine the age of a piece of older or antique furniture is the type of joinery used in the construction of the piece.
Knowing the history of the technology of various periods goes a long way toward explaining clues about the age of furniture and none is more important (or accessible) than the type of joint used to secure a drawer. The interlocking dovetail joint came into general use in the William and Mary period in the late 1600s and very early 1700s and for the first time allowed the construction of reliable drawers, a device with extremely limited use or convenience until then.
Commonly used in woodwork joinery, they can act as a useful tool while dating our furniture.
Until the 1880s, all furniture dovetails were cut by hand using a chisel and hammer.Dovetail joints, named due to their resemblance to the bird’s tail, were first used as far back as ancient Egyptian times where they are found on the furniture entombed with mummies.They were first used in English cabinet making in around 1650.At about the same time machinery that did simulate the handmade dovetail was perfected and by 1900 the Knapp joint had completely disappeared from the American furniture scene. His book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for .95 plus S&H.So now you know – without a doubt – that a piece of furniture with those odd little drawer joints was made between 18. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ( S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ( S&H).Some progress had been made by the use of jigs to help guide the hand-powered saws in their cutting but essentially the dovetail was the last hold out of hand work in a machine era.