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Here are some helpful tips when looking for antique furniture. If you would like to view our catalog of antique furniture, please choose a link in the menu on the left.

You can often date a piece by studying nails and screws. Furniture predating 1790 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 1790 to 1830, were machine cut and finished off by a blacksmith who squared the heads.  From 1830 to 1890 cabinetmakers used headless "machine-cut nails, that are tapered and rectilinear in shape.  Modern "brad" and "penny" nails were introduced around 1890.  Screws were occasionally used in furniture pre-dating the beginning of the machine era (Circa 1830).  Blacksmith forged examples can be identified by inspecting for thin and slightly off-centered slots and off-round heads.

The "circular saw" invented in the 18th century, did not come into wide usage until after 1830.  Thus, boards displaying "circular saw marks" will not be found on furniture pre-dating the "Empire Period" (1830-1850). Unfinished pre-1830 boards cut from vertical motion "ripsaws" will often display small, somewhat parallel, saw lines.

Before the introduction of power driven woodworking machinery in the mid 19th century, lumber was worked by hand. After hand-sawing, cabinet makers dressed their boards with a jack plane and draw knives. On authentic furnishings pre-dating the "Victorian Period," (1850-1910) unfinished non-visible "secondary" surfaces like backboards and drawer bottoms will show evidence of "hand-planing" by feeling for subtle undulating rows in the wood.

Small wooden pins known as dowels can be helpful in authenticating age.  Machine era pins will be perfectly circular and flush to the surface.  Antique dowels are non-round and will protrude slightly from the surface because of shrinkage in the wood they are securing.

Wood shrinks in a direction opposite the grain.  The degree is determined by softness of the lumber, age, and environment.  Therefore, authentic antique furniture can be discerned by inspecting for evidence of: gapping between boards, shrinkage cracking, buckling veneer, protruding pegs and breadboard ends, and legs extending slightly beyond the frame or "skirt." Early circular tabletops will measure somewhat oval, 1/8" to 1/2" longer in the direction of the grain.