When trying to pin down the age of a piece of antique furniture, hardware can provide important clues that place very clear limits on the period from which it originated. While they are trivially common today, nails used to be an item of some value. In the not so distant past, each and every nail had to be individually and laboriously crafted by a blacksmith. An experienced smith could make a single nail in as little as a minute, which is quite a long time for something that is now churned out by the thousands using modern mass-production techniques. Nails made in the traditional way were cut and hammered from nail stock, giving them a tapering profile with squared edges. As it was hammered, the head would often assume a shape reminiscent of flower petals where the iron flattened around the edges. Toward the end of the 19th century, mass-manufacturing saw the rise of the round nail that we are familiar with today.
They were seldom attempted in quantity much before the William and Mary era , but the sophistication of that period required the use of more screws so the process became more widespread.
Handmade screws of the 18th century started out much as the handmade nails of the period did, as square iron nail stock produced in a rolling mill. In many cases the same smith who made the nails occasionally turned his craft to the making of screws and thereby left us with personal traces of the maker. The smith heated the square stock and then began the process of pounding out a round shaft.
But the form used for the screw was a more or less round shallow depression into which the top of the shaft was hammered flat, producing a screw head. The slot for the bladed screwdriver was cut with a hacksaw. So far so good.
Lacking a cold hardened steel die with which to cut the thread, the craftsman had to cut it himself by hand. This was usually done in laborious fashion with a file. When the smith had the length he thought was needed for the job, he simply cut or snipped the threaded shaft. This entire hand-done process leaves a multitude of clues on the handmade screw, just waiting for our inspection. Starting with the top of the screw, the head, evidence of handwork is abundant.
In most cases the head is not perfectly round and is not centered perfectly on the shaft. The hand cut slot is seldom perfectly centered on the off-center head.
Below the head, on the smooth portion of the shaft above the threads, is the most likely place to find areas that still show a flat side of the original iron nail stock. The screw on the left was handmade in the late 18th century. Note the flat spot on the shaft, the irregular threads, blunt tip and the off center slot. The screw in the center is machine made around It has sharp, even threads, a cylindrical shape, blunt end and the slot is still off center.
The screw on the right is a modern gimlet screw, post , with tapered shaft, even threads, pointed tip and centered slot. Photo courtesy Fred Taylor. The handmade nails of the period derived much of their holding power from the ability to drive the nail through two surfaces and bend it over on the back side, i. But that solution would not work for securing the top on a chest of drawers or table top without either driving a nail through the top from above or clinching it on the top to hold it fast.
The same problem arose while trying to affix a lock to the back side of a drawer. For a nail to hold, it would have had to be driven through the front of the drawer.
The same was true for hinges used under a table leaf. The concept of the screw is an ancient one. Archimedes , the Greek scholar and mathematician of the third century B. In effect a screw is a ramp wrapped around a column. But how to manufacture that ramp on that column by hand?
There are many differences between a handmade and a machine-made screw. The shank of a handmade screw does not taper. The point of the handmade screw is blunt.
Dating antique furniture hardware
By contrast, the shaft of the machine made screw tapers to a point. The threads are cut evenly and they pitch at a different angle than those of the handmade screw. The first machine made screw dates to The first machine made screw with a machine cut slot in its head dates to Click here to view part two of this article.
I frequently see pointed screws on English furniture and small pieces. Does this necessarily mean that the item was made after ? Or was a pointed screw available in Europe esp. Thanks for any help.
I have been perplexed by this for years. You must be logged in to post a comment. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Log in Remember me. This hinge dates to about The hinge in the middle is thinner and was removed from a cupboard made about The hinge on the right is a modern hinge. It was removed from a house when the kitchen cabinets were undated.
The hinge dates to Stamped steel hinges began to appear in I began collecting up and down, pit, bolt, and early circular saws to study saw construction and the marks each type of saw left on the wood it cut.
The four saws on the left are waterwheel powered up and down saws. The circular saw was used to cut clapboards before Modern circular saws spin fast and cut very little wood on each revolution. The next three saws are bolt saws used by some mills to square both ends of a log before cutting boards.
Dating furniture by hardware
The three saws on the right are two-man powered pit saws used to handsaw logs into boards. The tall pit saw was used in a shipyard as a large jigsaw to shape timber for ship construction.Removing Furniture Hardware Tip
For the purpose of scale and size, my garage is eight feet — six inches tall. December 8, at 9: