English vs. French Dovetails - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
 
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post #1 of 16 Old 05-09-2015, 10:26 AM Thread Starter
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English vs. French Dovetails

Greetings,

I am not a woodworker; I'm doing a little historical research. In the incident I am curious about, one person looked at a box made 100 years ago or more, and concluded it was made in France while someone else concluded it was English. My limited reading on dovetails so far, I've found that the full blind dovetails are sometimes also referred to as french dovetails. One source I came across says that as a rule of thumb comparing English, French, and German dovetailed joints English dovetails are the skinniest, German dovetails the largest, and French dovetails are somewhere in between.

So my question is, do certain types of dovetails, as a general but not infallible rule, indicate a certain country of origin in antique (100+ year old) woodwork?

Thanks to all for tolerating what is probably a very naive or unanswerable question (we all have to start somewhere).
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post #2 of 16 Old 05-09-2015, 02:13 PM
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welcome Steve

None of us are over 100 years old, AFAIK, so you may not get an answer to your research here. It's a great subject of inquiry, however. I wish you well AND should you get an answer from outside the forum, please check back in.

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #3 of 16 Old 05-09-2015, 06:08 PM
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In my opinion, both "experts" where just playing it smart.

Back in 1915 anyone could get a train and then a ferry and go to England or France, see the design and copy it. People back then also had books with drawings. Grey's "Anatomy" is older and has like 700 drawings.
So why would a style of Dovetails be an indication of origin when everyone can see it and copy it?

In many YouTube videos I see people from the United States and Canada use French Cleats. Are the United States and Canada parts of France?

The "experts" should had looked for a stamp or signature or a metal plate in the box that the maker might had put there, otherwise you cannot really say with certainty where the box originates from.
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post #4 of 16 Old 05-09-2015, 07:10 PM
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I'm no historian but...

There are many styles of furniture from Baroque, Gothic, Renniasiance etc. which each have their own characteristics. I don't see why a partticular joining method couldn't be trace to a specific maker or a country of origin. For example:
http://bungendorewoodworks.com.au/do...-joint-history

As far as a country specific type of joinery, the Japanese have been making their own types of joints for hundreds of years and are very seldom duplicated over here. They are quite complex and do not lend themselves to mechanized production:
http://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/s...&hsimp=yhs-002





While it may have been possible for a dovetail method to have been copied or modified and brought to other countries, to say it can't be traced remains to be determined.

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #5 of 16 Old 05-10-2015, 09:24 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for those replies. I've read that full blind dovetailed joints are sometimes called French dovetails, do people around here agree with that?

My area of interest is sextant boxes, and I've read that in these types of boxes dovetails (of any kind) were replaced by finger joints around 1900 because the latter were more readily machine-made. Does that seem right?

Thanks...
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post #6 of 16 Old 05-10-2015, 11:39 AM
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Steve, I am a woodworker by trade for 20 years now, but I've never done very much research into its history. Only if a specific job required it. I've researched joinery by its construction and applications, but nowhere in those investigations did I even come upon any history of those joints. So, my point is, the historical aspects of these things are, I think, generally treated as a separate subject from the practicle construction and use of joinery. I have personally never come across a book or magazine article, nor anything else which refers to dovetails by such variations as French, English, etc. From a practical standpoint, it's irrelevant, and the origins are probably convoluted. Some of these basic joinery methods have been around and in use for many centuries, and I would be willing to bet that numerous variations were made in more than one location, based on application, tools at hand, and the maker's own imagination. You may come across a few people on this site who have such knowledge, I don't know. But good luck in your research.
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post #7 of 16 Old 05-10-2015, 11:54 AM
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Here is one take on English vrs. French:
http://www.stanges.com/drawers.htm

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something -Plato

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post #8 of 16 Old 05-10-2015, 12:56 PM
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well I'll be...

The English appears to be a traditional dovetail with individual pins and tails.

The French appears to be a sliding dovetail and can't be placed on the outside corner of a drawer as you might have with a flush surface. The French integrates the drawer face, where the English may or may not.

Great information. Thanks, Frank.

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)

Last edited by woodnthings; 05-10-2015 at 01:03 PM.
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post #9 of 16 Old 05-10-2015, 03:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankC View Post
Here is one take on English vrs. French:
http://www.stanges.com/drawers.htm
That has been my understanding of it also. The French dovetail is also known as a sliding dovetail, just like the picture you posted Frank.

http://www.diychatroom.com/

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post #10 of 16 Old 05-10-2015, 05:15 PM
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I wonder where their information comes from. I might dispute their claims about the poor quality of older glues. Hide glue was probably one of the most common and, mixed appropriately, gives a strong and long lasting joint. But as to the main point, I would be interested to know the source, and where and how those terms came about. Are they historically accurate? Or did they develop somewhere as a result of nationalistic prejudices? Please let us know what you uncover in your research, Steve Lee. I always find language roots to be a fascinating subject.
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post #11 of 16 Old 05-11-2015, 06:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by woodnthings View Post
There are many styles of furniture from Baroque, Gothic, Renniasiance etc. which each have their own characteristics. I don't see why a partticular joining method couldn't be trace to a specific maker or a country of origin. For example:
http://bungendorewoodworks.com.au/do...-joint-history

As far as a country specific type of joinery, the Japanese have been making their own types of joints for hundreds of years and are very seldom duplicated over here. They are quite complex and do not lend themselves to mechanized production:
http://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/s...&hsimp=yhs-002





While it may have been possible for a dovetail method to have been copied or modified and brought to other countries, to say it can't be traced remains to be determined.
Japanese Dovetails definitely look magnificent but I do not wonder why not many people copied them. Japanese really like to make everything hard and beautiful.

Anyway, I still do not believe that a piece from a century ago can be traced back to a country and/or maker beyond any reasonable doubt unless whoever made it left proof on the piece itself. Same thing as painters sign their paintings.

Maybe if we go high-tech CSI and take the box apart and analyze the Hell out of it we might find that the wood contains something that at that time could be found at a certain part of a country or that the oil used was made only in a place on a country somewhere, but the identity of whoever made it, unless they used a very unique and distinct style, will still remain a mystery.

What if for example an English master made it while teaching in France using locally available supplies? Or what if the identity of that maker has been lost?

As for England and France, even in the Middle Ages there were fashions and trends like today so there was a cultural exchange happening all the time all across Europe and if we go further back in time, England and France were more or less the same country. Although I do not know what was the style of the the dovetails William the Conqueror preferred for his boxes and chests, I can speculate that it was something inspired by the Romans, which was inspired by the Celts...

*Wood Archeology*
(When you see an old wooden box, and you get an Indiana Jones feeling.)
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post #12 of 16 Old 05-11-2015, 08:22 PM
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There are other elements besides the joints....

There are many ways an object can be dated and it's history and origin verified. Finishes, glues, joinery, wood type and species, carvings, nomenclature, heights and proportions would would give clues to it's origin. And sometimes even the maker's name if not emblazoned on the piece, possibly a student under his tutelage could have made it if it's very unique.

We don't need to do carbon dating

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #13 of 16 Old 05-12-2015, 10:25 AM
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A good example of how items are identified is the Antique Road Show, it is sometimes quite amazing the small details that the experts point out to verify if an item is authentic or not. I know from personal experience that there are times when they are off base, however this is can be expected as no one person can have all the answers and sometimes a second opinion is needed.

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something -Plato

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post #14 of 16 Old 05-13-2015, 08:16 AM Thread Starter
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Unfortunately, in this case all we have to go on are comments made by two people who saw the box, we no longer have the box. All we know is the box had dovetailed corner joints and that one person thought the box was french, another,that the box was english. The guy who said it was french thought so because of the dovetails, we're not totally sure why the other guy thought as he did. Not much to go on, but I thought maybe to a woodworker this would have some obvious meaning, and as I mentioned, some sources say that full blind dovetails are also called french dovetails. As pointed out in a reply above, sliding dovetails are also referred to as french dovetails, but a sextant box wouldn't have sliding dovetails, so that doesn't seem to be the answer.

Thanks for all the comments and suggestions...
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post #15 of 16 Old 05-13-2015, 10:07 PM Thread Starter
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Here are two articles I dug up, if anyone is interested. Still reading through them myself...

http://www.harpgallery.com/library/dovetails.htm

http://www.toolstoday.com/g-46-dovet...heir-uses.aspx
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post #16 of 16 Old 05-20-2015, 12:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by woodnthings View Post
There are many ways an object can be dated and it's history and origin verified. Finishes, glues, joinery, wood type and species, carvings, nomenclature, heights and proportions would would give clues to it's origin. And sometimes even the maker's name if not emblazoned on the piece, possibly a student under his tutelage could have made it if it's very unique.

We don't need to do carbon dating
Without destroying the piece itself? This would be amazing!

My parents actually have a glassware display case that is about 100 years old but unfortunately it is in very bad shape because it did traveled a lot. I am planning to restore it when I am more skilled and have better tools so if this happens I will go Sherlock Holmes and we will have some Wood CSI.

But still, why would there be anything "unique" in a simple box? Most boxes and other wooden pieces where made for middle class people which is usually the majority of the population and the largest consumer group and so they where made as simply as possible and a century ago they were probably mass produced.

I do assume that the box was nothing special because the beholders where unable to identify it by anything other than the dovetail style.
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