One of the methods for dating antique furniture is by investigating their construction
techniques. Furniture drawers are therefore a great starting point. On chests of the 16th and early 17th century the drawers were nailed
together, with the side linings rebated into the front, as shown in picture 1
During the first half of the 17th century however, fairly crude dovetails were introduced
as shown in picture 2. Note that this drawers have side runners
, i.e. a groove let into the thick side linings, made of oak, acts as a bearing for rectangular section bearers inside the carcase, on which the drawer runs and is supported.
During the second half of the 17th and early 18th century the number of dovetails increased but they remained fairly crude and large (picture 3).
By the time the mahogany period was in full swing, after 1740, the dovetails had increased further and become finer (picture 4). This form has continued up to modern times.
About the time of the transition to walnut, in 1680, the bottom runner
appeared. This was a strip of wood - usually oak - fixed under the furniture drawers at each end which ran on horizontal bearers on the interlinings of a chest. The drawer bottom, whether of pine or oak, ran from front to back as far as grain was concerned. Between the drawer fronts the carcase was flat.
When the change to veneered walnut furniture took place,
a variety of possibilities came about. Initially it is probable that a vertically veneered front with simple diagonal grain crossbanding (a sort of half herring-bone) was used. This was in use from c.1680 to c.1710. However, herring-bone crossbanding
, as shown in the picture on the left, was used from c.1690 to c.1720 and probably was more common. A variation was the use of inlaid boxwood and ebony stringing lines from c.1690 to c.1710. Between the drawers at this time the carcase fronts were covered by the half-round or D-moulding and the double half-round or double-D moulding, with the latter the rarer of this two. Usually double-D moulding, cut, like the single version, across the grain, was used to maintain the proportion on broader carcase front edgings.
About 1710 an alternative form appeared. This was the drawer edged by an ovolo lip moulding
which hid the gap between the drawer and the carcase edge. The carcase front edging was, in this case, flat veneered, obviating the need for D- or double D-mouldings. A disadvantage was that unless the stop blocks at the back of the drawer remained fixed, it was possible to break off the lip moulding by pushing the drawer in too hard.
Concurrent with the lip moulding the cock bead
appeared (picture below). This is generally assumed to have been widely adopted about 1730. The cock bead solved the lip moulding breakage problem and was used on mahogany furniture from 1730 throughout the 18th and 19th century, although plain mahogany drawers without any beading were also common.
The linings used continued to be oak or pine and in later furniture, from about 1770, the bottom was made with the grain across instead of front to back. About 1790 some furniture drawers bottoms had a central bearer introduced and were made in two halves running across again. This continued up to the present day.