Furniture fittings on old and antique furniture

The seizure of old and antique furniture can tell something about the age of the furniture, although furniture fittings have sometimes been replaced over time. Valuable seizure had to be surrendered in some times to fund a war. There are many different types of fittings, not only in terms of efficacy, but also the material from which the fittings are made and the design. Material choice and design were mainly determined by the prevailing fashion in time and the country where the furniture came from.

Types and materials

Furniture fittings can be classified by function, such as opening or closing doors and drawers or protecting the wood.

Key plates and entrances

To protect the wood around a keyhole against the key, key plates or entrances are attached. An entrance is a keyhole-shaped narrow edge that is attached to the furniture around the keyhole. Key plates and entrances can be made of metal but also of wood, leather, bone or mother-of-pearl.
Entries, photo: Firefly

Buttons

Round (turned) knobs made of wood or metal, but also porcelain or glass for opening doors and drawers.

Locks and keys

There are different furniture locks:
  • Mortise lock, this is almost completely concealed in a door or drawer.
  • Inlet lock, is placed on the inside of a door or drawer and partially falls into the door or drawer.
  • Cover lock is placed on or against a door or drawer on the inside.
  • Coffin and suitcase lock or claw clasp, when closing a sort of pin with holes or hooks in the lid grips into the matching holes at the top of the lock.

Drawer, door and chest handles

Bowl handles, rings, pullers and handles are usually made of metal, it can be cast or die-cut.

Hinges and splits

Antique storage furniture has "spits" instead of hinges; two metal narrow plates, one with a hole and the other with a pin. The spits with pin are placed at the top and bottom of a door and those with a hole at the top and bottom of the cabinet. Hinges can be placed on the outside of the doors of storage furniture, these are clearly visible, or they are mounted between (actually in) the door and cupboard.

Swivel wheels and sabots

The legs of particularly large or heavy tables, benches and armchairs sometimes have casters attached so that they are easier to move. The wheels are usually made of brass, but also of wood or porcelain. At the bottom of the legs of some storage furniture are "sabots" (French for clog) attached, these are a kind of metal sleeves (or clogs) that protect the veneer of the legs. They were applied from the beginning of the 18th century.

Decoration

In addition to the use and protective function, furniture fittings have a decorative purpose. A piece of furniture was and is sometimes more than a utensil, it can be an art form or a status symbol. From the end of the 17th century, ornaments were also used for decoration only. Fittings were made from different materials; copper, bronze, silver, iron, wood, bone, porcelain, leather and mother-of-pearl. Just like the design of the fittings, the choice of materials depended on the prevailing fashion, country and social class.
Commode of furniture maker Mathäus Funk from 1765 / Source: Mathдus Funk, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Rococo ornaments

A typical example is the batter from the style period "Rococo" between about 1720 and 1770. The shapes of the batter from this period are graceful, with asymmetrically curved S or C-shaped lines, shell motifs and acanthus leaves. Very expensive furniture was decorated with many fire-gilt bronze ornaments, including on the lines, side styles and legs. Some pieces of furniture were almost entirely decorated with ornaments. This batter was later called "ormolu", derived from the French "or" and "moulu" which means ground gold. In France, a method was used to gilt metal (usually bronze) with gold powder and with the help of mercury. After about 1830 this technique was no longer allowed to be used in France due to health risks. During Neoclassicism (late 18th century) and the Empire style period (1804-1820), furniture was also richly decorated with gilt fittings.

Fixing the furniture fittings

Key plates are attached to a piece of furniture with nails or screws and entrances with the help of nails. There are entrances with two small (metal) lips in the top and bottom, which are punched in the wood. Wooden knobs are attached with a wooden pin (with or without thread) and with glue or a wedge, knobs of a different material with a screw or bolt and nut. Drawer or door handles, rings and handles are attached with split pins, screws or a bolt and nut.

To replace

With old and antique furniture, it often happens that furniture fittings are missing. Furthermore, the original fittings may have been replaced in the past by fittings that do not match the style of the furniture. A missing part of the fittings can sometimes be found at specialist shops for furniture restoration. Replacing all the fittings is sometimes the only other solution. For this it is best to choose a fitting that is the same size or larger than the original, so that it can be fixed in the same place and old nail or screw holes of the previous fitting are no longer visible. It is also important that the new fitting matches the style of the furniture.

Video: Antique Finish for Furniture Hardware (February 2020).

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