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Knowing how to date antique furniture hardware can help you learn about the age and history of the antique furniture you collect. Hardware styles and manufacturing methods have changed over the years, and furniture hardware is packed with clues if you know how to look. Examine each piece of antique hardware on your furniture to uncover hints about its age. Take a moment to look at the screws attaching the hardware to the furniture or holding the furniture together.


When you want to refinish old wooden furniture, the best place to look is the family storeroom: Check the attic, basement, garage, or wherever unwanted furniture has collected.

How an antique dressing table can add a timeless feel

You may also discover a real antique or two -- pieces handed down through the family for generations. Other good sources are secondhand stores, household auctions, and garage sales. With furniture, as with anything else, one person's junk is another another's treasure. Antique stores are a good place to find furniture to refinish, but expect to pay for these pieces.

If you're interested in antiques, recent or old, research before you buy anything. Real antiques and many reproductions are extremely valuable, but there are also many imitations. If you aren't sure an antique is really antique, pay for an expert opinion.

Never buy an antique, or try to refinish it, until you know what you have.

In this article, we'll discuss how to assess whether a piece of furniture is an antique and whether it is worth saving through the refinishing process. There are many different styles of furniture, and each type has distinguishing features.

For the most part, the furniture you'll encounter will probably be limited to traditional English and American Colonial styles; you aren't likely to find a Louis XV chair at a garage sale. The basic English and American styles run the gamut from ornate to severely functional, from massive to delicate.

Just remember, if you like it, the style is right. Technically, an antique is a piece of furniture with special value because of its age, particularly those pieces embellished with fine artistry. The age factor is subjective: general antique stores label objects 50 years or older as antiques. Fine antique dealers consider objects years and older to be antique. In the East, an antique is Queen Anne or earlier; in the West, it's any piece of furniture that came across the mountains in a wagon.

How to date antique furniture hardware

A southern antique is a piece made before the Civil Dating antique vanity. Wherever you look, it's a sure bet that you won't find a genuine antique from or What you may find is a genuine reproduction, and these can be extremely valuable. There are several ways you can spot an antique.

The first giveaway is the ery; machine-cut furniture wasn't made until about If the piece has drawers, remove a drawer and look closely where the front and back of the drawer are fastened to the sides of the drawer. If a t was dovetailed by hand, it has only a few dovetails, and they aren't exactly even; if it has closely spaced, precisely cut dovetails, it was machine-cut. Handmade dovetails almost always indicate a piece made before Look carefully at the bottom, sides, and back of the drawer; if the wood shows nicks or cuts, it was probably cut with a plane, a spokeshave, or a drawknife.

How can i accurately date a vintage waterfall highboy and vanity w/ mirror

Straight saw marks also indicate an old piece. If the wood shows circular or arc-shaped marks, it was cut by a circular saw, not in use until about Exact symmetry is another that the piece was machine-made. On handmade furniture, rungs, slats, spindles, rockers, and other small-diameter components are not uniform. Examine these parts carefully; slight differences in size or shape are not always easy to spot.

A real antique is not perfectly cut; a reproduction with the same components is, because it was cut by machine. The finish on the wood can also date the piece. Until Victorian times, shellac was the only clear surface finish; lacquer and varnish were not developed until the mids. The finish on a piece made before is usually shellac; if the piece is very old, it may be oil, wax, or milk paint. Fine old pieces are often French-polished, a variation of the shellac finish. A lacquer or varnish finish is a sure of later manufacture. Testing a finish isn't always possible in a dealer's showroom, but if you can manage it, identify the finish before you buy.

Test the piece in an inconspicuous spot with denatured alcohol; if finish dissolves, it's shellac. If the piece is painted, test it with ammonia; very old pieces may be finished with milk paint, which can be removed only with ammonia. If the piece of furniture is very dirty or encrusted with wax, clean it first Dating antique vanity a mixture of denatured alcohol, white vinegar, and kerosene, in equal parts. The wood itself is the final clue.

Very early furniture -- before -- is mostly oak, but from on, mahogany and walnut were widely used. In America, pine has always been used because it's easy to find and easy to work; better furniture may be made with maple, oak, walnut, cherry, or mahogany. But because the same woods have always been favored for furniture, workmanship and finish are probably a better indicator of age than the wood itself.

Let's look at the differences between basic English and American furniture styles in the next section. Most old wooden furniture you will encounter, most likely, will be either traditional English or American Colonial styles. Let's review the special characteristics of both popular types.

Description: Graceful curves, curved cabriole leg, with no rungs or stretchers; minimal decoration, very simple; scallop-shell mount. Description: Elaboration of Queen Anne; ornate carvings, either delicate or bold; many themes, including rococo, English, Chinese, Greek classic; intricate chair backs. Description: Straight, slender lines; heavy Greek classic influence; fluted columns; delicate low-relief carvings, especially draped garlands.

Desscription: Based on Adam; straight tapered legs; shield- oval- or heart-shaped chair backs; less decoration; delicate carvings. Description: Similar to Hepplewhite and other Georgian styles; straighter, more upright lines; Greek classic influence; lyre -shaped chair backs; inlays and thick veneers. Description: heavy, massive, substantial; dark finish; clumsy des; ornate carvings and decorations; marble tops used.

The following criteria will help you determine if your old furniture is an American-made antique. Description: Hybrid of English styles; square lines; solid construction; heavy decoration and carving. Description: Imported wood; interpretations of Queen Anne and Georgian styles; formal.

How to identify antique wooden furniture

Windsor chair. Description: Interpretations of Georgian styles; Duncan Phyfe variations of Sheraton style; some French influence; heavier versions of English styles. Boston rocker, Hitchcock chair. With any piece of furniture, the practicality of refinishing eventually comes down to one question: is it worth saving?

Once you've found a piece you like, and decided what it is, look at it again to see what kind of shape it's in.

Most old furniture is fairly sturdy, or it wouldn't have survived; but chances are it's also taken a beating over the years. Are the legs even? Is the piece sturdy? Does it wobble? Do doors and drawers work properly? Are the ts well made, and have they separated? Assess the amount of work you'll have to do to restore the piece. Is hardware complete and tight?

Are hinges adequate? Are drawer guides or dust panels missing? Is the wood covered with many coats of paint? If the piece of furniture is in fairly good condition, or if it's definitely an antique, it will be worth your time and effort to refinish. If the wood is broken or badly damaged, there are parts missing, or the ery is inferior, don't waste your time unless the piece is an antique.

How bad does the damage have to be before it makes refinishing impractical?

This depends on how much work you're willing to do, but there are a few guidelines for decision-making. First, look for dry rot or insect damage.

Dry rot cannot be repaired; the rotted component must be replaced, and this is a custom job. Insect damage, if the entire piece of wood is not affected, can sometimes be repaired; if this is the problem, restoration may be worth the effort. To check for dry rot and insect damage, push an ice pick or a knife blade into the wood.

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Whether you use it for its original purpose of putting on makeup and styling your hair or repurpose it as a desk or occasional table, antique dressing tables work beautifully in modern homes.