One of the most important points in the construction of good furniture is the way the different joints are made, as careful workmanship here is absolutely essential if the piece is to last and give good service. An explanation of the details of some of these joints may be helpful. One of the best known joints is the "mortise and tenon," which is a type that was universal in all old furniture. When the end of a board is fastened into the side of another, as in a door frame, a tenon, like a tongue, is cut on one end of the board and fitted into a mortise or rectangular hole that is cut out of the side of the other board. The tenon should fit like a glove into the mortise before it is glued. Often in old pieces a peg was put through from the outside with the end left showing. This is called a "pegged joint" and is regarded as a mark of quaintness and handwork. Pegging of joints is appropriate in pieces of oak, maple, pine, and early walnut dating up to 1740 in design, but is rarely found in mahogany pieces except in very fine chairs where the seat rails join the back posts.
A dowel joint was invented to take the place of a mortise and tenon. Instead of the rectangular tenon on the end of a board, the end is sawed off straight, and a little "pin," or round stick, is put in to join both pieces together. When done in upholstered chair-frames this practice is correct, but dowel construction as commonly practiced in desks, bureaus, and even tables and chairs, is the cheapest known method of joining, and is bad more often than good.
A dovetail joint is used in fastening a drawer side to a drawer front. Pull out a drawer and you will notice a series of little key-shaped notches down the corners. There is no adequate substitute for this joint. It is exactly what its name implies, a projection cut in the shape of a dove's tail, and, like the keystone in an arch, has tremendous strength when fitted into the notch cut to receive it.
In hand-dovetailed drawers, long and short dovetails alternate, and all old pieces have this method of construction. Many old chests were made with dovetail joints at all four corners, and sometimes the ends of an old bureau were dovetailed to the top. If this construction is found on a piece made by a modern maker you may be sure he has a fine appreciation of the highest qualities of workmanship. A machine-made dovetail joint is practically as durable as the handmade joint. It is used on the finest modern furniture, and is, therefore, not a guide to quality of workmanship, but is an infallible guide to the age of a piece as no antique example has machine-made dovetails.
Flush construction is an excellent indication of quality of workmanship. Any chair, table, or cabinet that possesses it shows that the maker has taken extra care and spent additional money for the sake of good tradition in design. Flush construction means keeping the outside faces of two pieces of wood that join each other flush or smooth to the touch. In upholstered furniture, correct tying of the springs is another important thing to be considered. In the best upholstered furniture springs are tied by hand eight or ten times, and this work is an art in itself.
[Note. - Simplified Practice: The purpose of simplified practice is to eliminate waste, and the cooperation of the Division of Simplified Practice of the U.S. Department of Commerce with manufacturers, distributors, and users has reduced the variety of sizes, dimensions, patterns, and models of many materials and articles. The varieties of beds, springs, and mattresses have been reduced from 78 to 4, bed blankets from 78 to 12, sterling-silver flatware from 190 to 61. Other recommendations by the Division may follow later.]