Dating furniture by nails

Look at the nails used in the construction of your piece of furniture. You need to remove a screw and examine it to be certain it is handmade. Look at where your skin comes into contact with the handle and the area around it.If you're unable to remove any nails, look closely, using a magnifying glass, at the nail head. The cutting of the shaft should be uneven and the end blunted rather than pointed. Years and years of handling and contact with skin oils should leave a patina on both the handles and the surrounding wood.After cutting to length the section was inserted in hole on the anvil called a “swage” block and the head of the nail formed by repeated blows to the top of the nail, giving it the “rosehead” look we identify with hand made nails. This malleability was one of the key factors in the success of the handmade nail; it was so flexible that as it was driven into a piece of wood it followed the internal grain pattern, often in an arc, and thus provided a clinching effect that help hold the nailed joint very tightly.The hand-wrought iron rosehead nails leave a very identifiable clue—a square hole—when they are removed from wood. By the early 1800’s, nail cutting machines were in general use in America.It should have a bit of scarring to show for its time. Round tabletops should be out of round, meaning they should be slightly oval.

If the head is square, but shows little sign of wear, then the nails are not a good indicator on this piece. Does the type of screw or nail correspond with the era the style of hardware represents?

You should look at the screws, nails, wood, joining and hardware.

The condition and quality of materials are used to gauge the age of a piece.

But the most straightforward method of all construction techniques is the use of a fastener, an external device that holds two pieces of wood together without additional shaping of the wood and the simplest fastener is a nail—in essence a tapered metal dowel inserted by the brute force of a hammer blow.

Nails, of course, have been around for thousands of years, but their general application to furniture making is fairly recent.

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