Antique Furniture Construction

Early antique furniture was primitively constructed out of solid, often re-using old pieces of timber. Up to the early 1700s furniture was mainly built using pegged construction (wooden dowels) or simple mortise and tenon joints, also steel clout nails were seen in pieces of antique furniture. During the 17th and 18th centuries the provincial tradition was often slower to change but the construction was becoming more sophisticated, with finely executed joints and the interior was as well made as the exterior. By the early 19th century the prohibitive expense of craftsmanship, though difficult to improve upon, resulted in the rise of the production of machine-assisted furniture and especially used in Edwardian furniture. Below is details of how different types of furniture construction changed through history.

Chair Construction

Until the end of the 1600s, antique chairs were constructed out of solid timber with pegged tenons. Early English walnut chairs usually had broad, hand sawn rails, but as the 18th century progressed the rails became smoother and narrower. Usually designed with drop-in seats that could be supported on the recessed lips of the wide seat frames (drop in seats), early 18th century English antique chairs are unique in that their legs have tenon joints and are glued but not pegged. The back uprights or were often made of one piece of timber with the back legs, in order to strengthen the chairs. Splat back chairs have uprights that have shaped top rails supported by the vertical baluster splat, similarly tenon joints to top and bottom. The large corner blocks in the corner of Queen Anne chairs were gradually replaced by diagonal cross struts that could also support the drop in seats. This enabled the rails to become increasingly thin and still a good sturdy construction.

Table Construction

Antique tables are traditionally constructed with a fixed top, which is supported on a frame with a frieze and legs. They were initially made in the solid, but from the late 17th century veneering was becoming very popular. The fixed traditional form was very fashionable with ornament but it was not so adaptable to the smaller, lighter tables required for occasional use. The late 1600s saw,  two variations of the traditional form of table: the gate leg table and antique occasional tilt top tables.

Antique gate leg tables are characterized by their hinged leaves, which allows flaps to be supported properly when the gate-leg is rotated through 90 degrees. To provide sufficient strength for the solid drop leaves, the central section is firmly secured to the table frame by numerous glue blocks and often by tenoned joints. This form was adapted in the mid 1700s for tables such as Pembroke tables or drop leaf tables, where the lighter leaves were made making it possible to do veneering on, they were supported by a hinged flap. Tilt top tables have hinged tops, which enable them to be stored away or to the side of a room when not in use.

antique centre tables or antique tripod tables during the 17th century, and on larger breakfast and dining tables of the late 18th and 19th centuries, (tilt top tables) were supported on parallel bearers (cross stretchers), which are hinged to the top of the pedestal support by wooden or, on later pieces, brass screw pegs or pins. The tops were designed to be removable for storage or traveling. Some of these tables have a hinged birdcage attached to the top, consisting of two parallel platforms joined by columns, through which the top shaft or column could be inserted and then fixed by a wedge to the neck. Other 18th century tripod tables display a turned wooden screw that fixes the shaft to both top and tripod base; the legs are often bound together by a metal base.

Drawer Construction

Early antique chest of drawers are characterised by their thick sides or ‘linings’, which were usually channelled so that they could run on bars or runners fixed to the sides of the carcase. The angles were usually nailed together, and were sometimes canted. During the 17th century, iron nailed joints were gradually changed to dove tail joints, whereby two sides are joined together by interlocking, triangular shaped wedges. Earlier drawer linings were large, crude and dovetail joints became increasingly small and tight during the second half of the 17th century. Such  thin drawer linings could no longer be channelled on the sides, and from the mid 17th century runners were placed beneath the drawers at each side; these ran on further bearers attached to the inside of the carcase. While English antique furniture was usually made with dust boards (generally of pine, that divided and sealed each drawer), French and continental furniture was often left open inside the carcase once the drawers were removed.