Looking at antique furniture, we often seek clues for authenticity and age. There are many factors that show true historic construction, but one clue that is often overlooked is the type of nail used to hold the piece together. Nails in antique furniture are often barely noticeable, but they are another key to unlock the history of wooden pieces. The quest for the ideal nail has taken centuries of development. The ancient Egyptians and Romans used organic glue for wood furniture, especially with decorative veneer techniques, but like much advanced technology, glue for wood became a lost art after the collapse of Rome in until the Renaissance, aroun when glue and veneer techniques reappeared. During the Middle Ages, furniture was held together with pegs, dovetails, mortise and tenon joints and a few nails. Archaeologists have found hand made bronze nails from as far back as BC.
Look at the nails used in the construction of your piece of furniture.
To determine if missing nails were antique or if they have been replaced with modern nails, look closely at the shape of the hole and the color of the wood around it. Hand-hammered nails, dating.
If it is square, but not perfectly so, and worn thin, it could mean your piece was constructed before If the head is square, but shows little sign of wear, then the nails are not a good indicator on this piece. Look at the screws. Is the slot off center? If so, the screw could be handmade. Handmade screws were used until around You need to remove a screw and examine it to be certain it is handmade.
The cutting of the shaft should be uneven and the end blunted rather than pointed.
If you see a screw that is evenly cut with a pointed end and little wear to the shaft, the piece is likely a reproduction and may be less than years old. Check the areas around the handles.
Are they more worn than the rest of the piece? Take hold of the handle. Look at where your skin comes into contact with the handle and the area around it. Years and years of handling and contact with skin oils should leave a patina on both the handles and the surrounding wood.
Look at how the handles and hinges were fastened onto the piece. Does the type of screw or nail correspond with the era the style of hardware represents? If the screws look newer or the style of the hardware differs from the style of the rest of the piece, the hardware is no longer a good indicator.
The hardware on your furniture can be used to date the piece, providing it is original hardware. The style will tell you which period the piece represents, but there are literally hundreds of different styles used throughout the centuries. Do not depend only on hardware style to date a piece.
Look on the underside or backside of the piece. Popular styles have been prolifically reproduced over the years and some of these classic styles are still being made today.
With dating furniture by square nails pity, that
The overall style-such as ChippendaleWilliam and MaryQueen Anneor rococo revival -can serve as a potential clue, although, not a definitive one. Once you determine a particular style, look for the signs of aging that would verify if you have an antique or not.
Take a look at the joinery the spots in furniture where the pieces come together. Look at the bottom or back of a piece or inside its doors and drawers. This can provide important clues about whether a piece of old furniture was machine cut or crafted by hand.
That dating furniture by square nails something
Most handmade pieces will have some irregularities on the surface like minor nicks that were made by a hand plane being used to smooth out the wood. These nicks are sometimes even more evident on the back than on the finished, front surface.
If the work looks too even or perfect, it was likely machine-made or machine-cut. Most machine-made pieces date to after the Industrial Revolution after Small matching elements on furniture, such as wooden drawer knobs, chair spindles, or feet on a variety of objects, may have slight differences in the shape.
This can mean that they were handcrafted prior to Machine-made furniture will have components that match more perfectly than those made by hand.
When hand planes were used to smooth woods, they usually left some sort of uneven surface. This is especially evident on the back or underside of pieces made prior to the mids. Hand chisels and wood-shaping tools operated with elbow grease left cuts and nicks in the wood.
In comparison, manually operated hand saws left a straighter pattern. The first nail making machines in North America appeared during the late 's - earlier than one might have guessed. The slitting mill, introduced to England insimplified the production of nail rods, but the real first efforts to merchandise the nail-making process itself occurred between an initially in the United States and England, when various machines were invented to automate and speed up the process of making nails from bars of wrought iron.
These nails were known as cut nails or square nails because of their roughly rectangular cross section. Cut nails were one of the important factors in the increase in balloon framing beginning in the s and thus the decline of timber framing with wooden joints. Kirby Above and shown just below are nails used to secure accordion lath - a plaster base found in a rural U. Below: our green arrow points to the characteristic edge ridge that illustrates a machine made cut-nail.
The red arrow points to a split in the cut nail, characteristic of the effort to align the fibres of iron running down the length of the nail - discussed in our description of nails made after - below. As I mentioned about a different nail in photos on this page, the fact that the delaminating or split in this nail run lengthwise parallel to the nail shank suggest that the nail was of iron whose fibers ran lengthwise, making the nail one probably made after the late s.
Perkins was a polymath described as an inventor, mechanical engineer, and physicist [Wikipedia] who held 12 American patents and another nineteen English patents.
Dating furniture by square nails
His machine for cutting and heading nails was issued when Perkins was just 24 years old. His nail factory was powered by water from the Powwow river in Amesbury Massachusetts.
A ? (16 penny, or 16d) square-cut bright common nail and it's equivalent wire nail cousin. This 16d square-cut common nail costs about 17 cents. The wire nail goes for about 7 cents, based on the Tremont catalog and my local Home Depot, respectively. The square nail is about times as expensive as the wire nail. The simple nail serves as a key to furniture dating. Until about , nails were hand-forged - tapered square shafts and hand-hammered heads. During the 's, cut nails have tapered rectangular shafts and rectangular heads. In the 's, the. A variation of the T-head, the L-head, is the same as a T-head but with half the head cut off. Cross sections of pre nails are generally square; shanks from are rectangular; modern shanks are round. The earliest forged nails are identified by their irregular shanks and hammer marks on both shanks and heads.
Though still used for historical renovations, and for heavy-duty applications, such as attaching boards to masonry walls, cut nails are much less common today than wire nails.
The cut-nail process was patented in America by Jacob Perkins in and in England by Joseph Dyer, who set up machinery in Birmingham. The process was designed to cut nails from sheets of iron, while making sure that the fibres of the iron ran down the nails. Regrettably all of the drawings are missing from the patent scan.
Here we reproduce the photographic copy of Perkins' nail machine patent; the photo itself was made from the original on 3 March Hyde that states the same thing. Can you tell me who is correct? Thanks for the discussion, Bob.
I think that for clarity we should distinguish between actual production of "cut nails" that included manual cutting of nails out of existing sheet iron like a barrell hoopand nail making machines that in turn could produce large volumes of nails. My favorite source, often cited, for the history of nail making is Nelson, but the article above and also the references at the end of this page cite several sources.
To get back to your original comment, citing. The author was discussing, in history of Sutton MA, the "Old Sutton Tavern", an engraving is shown in the book and writes about hand wrought nails used in construction of the tavern:. The clapboards were not added until a later period. The first cut nails produced in America were produced by Edmund Darrow in Federal Writers' Project cited by you.
And a similar but less explicit date crediting the Wilkinson brothers in Cumberland R. Benedict was writing a bit under years after the end of the revolutionary war so was closer in time to the event of interest, but on the other hand the very recent Federal Writers' project may benefit from more extensively-available resources.
Papers cover a wide range of topics all on the common theme of the history of construction, from the ancient world to the present day. We have a discussion of American cut nails and also of the British cut clasp nail, beginning on p.
With some justification, the Americans claim that machine production of cut nails was an American invention. From a simple beginning, the lever-operated guillotine machine patented by the prolific Jacob Perkins in was developed by various independent inventors into a series of efficient cut nail fabrication devices. By water powered nail machines had been developed, although American nail making predominantly relied on manual machines.
All About Nails
Nails of a primitive sort could always be cut manually by a blacksmith from heated barrel hoop or other strip iron and several instances of this resort to basics are recorded in the colony at Botany Bay. Perkins' later machine took the process one step further and cut tapering shanks from a heated iron ribbon.
In order to maintain a taper to the proto shank, the ribbon either had to be wiggled through a shallow horizontal arc or flipped over between each cut.
Perkins' machine was entirely manual, but recent research has shown that at "black heat" of around degC, the shear force of a typical nail shank drops to roughly kilograms. Using leverage.
These simple headless brads have been found in Britain both of iron and steel, and were usually used in flooring or specialist work. In American they would be re-heated and headed separately with either conventional facetted heads or bulbous oval heads would be formed with a hand-held die. Bob Dees said: Thanks very much. His first invention was a tack making machine which he invented at age eighteen and perfected over the next six years.
This made production of tacks, which Thomas and his brother had been previously engaged in making, easier and more efficient at a rate of five-hundred per minute.
Apologise, but, dating furniture by square nails really. was and
NPS cited below. J said:. I was recently repairing an old dresser I had gotten from a thrift store and found some very old looking square nails, which led me here.
The observation that your nail is irregularly tapered from below the head, getting wider, then narrowing again, suggests that it's an early machine-cut nail, perhaps roughly between - according to Nelson in our references. If your cut nail is irregular in shank width and has the "A" type side burrs it's likely to have been made before the late s.
I do not understand why there are fins on the shank directly below the head. I have found coins I the area as far back as Dan, Thank you for the helpful photos of your antique nail. My estimate of the age of your nail is or a bit older, with an "earliest" date of Looking carefully at the irregular-round nail head in your photo and the pinch marks just below the nail head, the earliest we could date this nail might be. I think some early nail making machinery often had a longer life than ascribed by Nelson.
Dating a building with Nails. Before Hand-Wrought Nails; Early Machine Cut Nails (Crude) Early Machine Headed Cut Nails; Modern Machine Cut Nails (source of the illustration above: Thomas D Visser - "Nails: Clues to a Building's History" - See also his book "Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings"). Look at the nails used in the construction of your piece of furniture. If you're unable to remove any nails, look closely, using a magnifying glass, at the nail head. If it is square, but not perfectly so, and worn thin, it could mean your piece was constructed before You can often date a piece by studying nails and screws. Furniture predating will include "rose-head nails," that were hand-forged by blacksmiths. These nails can be identified by their irregular, rose-shaped heads. "Square-head nails," employed from to , were machine cut and finished off by a blacksmith who squared the heads.
In some communities, old nail making machine may have, for a time, continued in production alongside later, more-sophisticated machines producing more-rounded and more-uniform nails. Made in the U. Your nail is large enough that it would not have been later modified by hammering the head to convert to a "finishing nail" that could be countersunk.
In the U. Because the rounded upper nail shank looks regular I suspect this is one of the later members of "Early Machine Headed Cut Nails" nails, - described by your namesake. Nelson points out that these early machine-made nails were more readily available than machine-made finishing nails, and that they were often irregular in both length and diameter or width - something you cannot see when we have just one nail but that we might see if we were examining multiple nails from an old New England building.
A close look at the rectangular sides of the nail shank may show the remains of a long burr along the shank characteristic of early cut nails. The burr remains on the side of the nail that was cut from a flat iron plate that was opposite the descending shear blade. Tapering was produced by "wiggling" the iron plate side to side as the shear descended to cut individual nails. The irregular rounded head was made in a subsequent step by first clamping the nail shank so that the head could be compressed - hence the rounded shank with pinch marks on the upper part of the nail just under the nail head.
Simply excellent dating furniture by square nails necessary the
Photos below: large iron spike found near Elmira, Ontario by Vern M shows laminar splitting along the length of the nail shank, giving an earliest date of I have a spike that was taken out of the old farm house where I was born and raised.
It was located 3. A date was inscribed into the basement wall during construction however it was not done clearly. We cannot determine if it is or I was hoping that you may be able to tell when this house was built by this spike.
The head is quite unique as it appears to have been crimped down in the corners to create a square on the top in a different direction than the base of the head. Any help you could provide would be appreciated. Thanks for the interesting nail photo, Vern. I'd like to see a sharp closeup of the split in the nail. Photos above: fragments of an iron nail appearing to show iron fibers running lengthwise along the shaft of the nail, courtesy of reader Ashley who wrote:.
Determining the age of antiques is half the fun! Learn 10 specific steps to establishing an accurate age for your antique furniture. A single piece of antique furniture is more than a collection of nails, boards, and wood stain. Antique furnishings can tell a story one that may only exist in the imagination of the lucky person acquiring the piece. The first screws were crafted during the s by blacksmiths using square nail stock that was heated and pounded until it was somewhat round. The tips were blunt and each one was unique. If you find these hand-finished screws in furniture, investigate other cts of the pieces to see if they appear to match the screws in age. The Mansfield, Massachusetts Tremont Nail company's historical notes (cited below) indicate that nails have been made (by hand) dating back to B.C. Nails in the s. The denomination of nail sizes based on the price per nails (e.g. ten penny nails or 10d nails) dates from the s.
Can you give me your opinion on these 2 pieces I found. The laminar splits near the nail head suggest old iron, likely to have been forged as early as