LumberJocks

The Knapp Joint Appeared in 1867

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Project by ChuckJR posted 02-27-2020 05:09 AM 763 views 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Knapp Joint info from: Discover Mid-America—Oct.2004—Fred Taylor—Mr. Knapp’s; A new joint

Visit Fred Taylor website; at www.furnituredetective.com. For this article and information about his
Book and other columns.

History of the Knapp Joint.
One of the first things to be looked at when trying to determine the age of a piece of older or antique
furniture is the type of joinery used in the construction of the piece. Knowing the history of the
technology of various periods goes a long way toward explaining clues about the age of furniture
and none is more important (or accessible) then the type of joint used to secure a drawer.

Mostly what we see are dovetails of a sort The interlocking dovetail joint came into general use
in the William and Mary period in the late 1600’s and very early 1700’s and for the first time
allowed the construction of reliable drawers , a device with extremely limited use or convenience
type until then. Before this innovation most furniture consisted of simple boxes called coffars or some
type of open shelving arrangement and cabinets with shelves behind doors such as the old court cupboard.

As useful as the dovetail joint started out to be, it did have a serious drawback- it was hard to make by
hand and of course everything of the period was made by hand. By the end of the 18th century some
progress had been made in furniture technology. Rotary saws were on the horizon and all nails were
no longer made one at a time by blacksmith. The early 1800’s saw lots of advancement in machinery
for woodworking and cabinets with shelve behind doors such as the old court cupboard.

While the joint had been refined and perfected it was still too difficult to be made by a machine. Some
progress had been made by the use of jigs to help guide the hand powered saw in their cutting but essentially
the dovetail was the last hold out of hand work in a machine era.

Several inventors were had at work on the problem in the 1860’s and most concentrated on trying to
duplicate the hand made dovetail using a machine- that is until Mr. Charles B. Knapp of waterloo, Wisconsin
applied himself to the task. He did some creative thinking and solved problem not by duplicating the dovetail
joint but by inventing another type of joint entirely that was at least as good as the dovetail and could be made
by machinery, The joint he came up with has several colloquial names – scallop and dowel, pin and scallop,
half moon – and all describe the new joint which looks like a pep in a half circle on the side of a drawer.
If you look at much old furniture you undoubtedly have seen this unusual looking arrangement and wondered
What the heck it was. Now you know – it is a Knapp joint. And knowing that you also get some very valuable
Information about the age of the piece on which you saw the joint. Mr. Knapp patented his first joint making
Machine in 1867. In 1870 he sold the rights to an improved version of the patented machine to a group of
Investors who formed the Knapp Dovetailing Company in Northampton, Mass. The invertors proceeded to
make further refinements in the machine and actually put it into production in a factory in 1871 where it
proved to be a technological miracle. Where a skilled cabinetmaker could turn out fifteen or twenty complete
drawers a day, on a really good day, the machine, on any day could turn out two hundred or more work
more than one shift if required. The drawer department had finely caught up with the rest of the factory.
By the mid 1870’s the great factories were in full swing turning out late Victorian creations consisting mostly
of Renaissance Revival and Eastlake furniture. While not all great factories used the Knapp machine,
Particularly those of Grand Rapids, most of the Eastern factories and other mid Western areas were faithful
Customers of the Knapp Company. Over time maintenance on the machine became a chore but they were
still a better alternative to hand work.

At the very height of the greatest popularity and use, the death knell of the Knapp joint was being
Sounded by a new movement afoot in the furniture design industry and had nothing to do with the soundness or the economy of the joint. Like so many things, its demise turned on sentiment. That
sentiment was the beginning of the Colonial Revival – the resurrection of things in style during the
era of the founding of our country. And a round, technical looking, obviously machine made drawer
joint just did not fit that image, At about the same time machinery that did simulate the handmade
dovetail was the perfected and by 1900 the Knapp joint had completely disappeared from the
American furniture scene.
So now you know that a piece of furniture with those odd little drawer joints was made between
1871 and 1900 without a doubt.





7 comments so far

View Peteybadboy's profile

Peteybadboy

1697 posts in 2625 days


#1 posted 02-27-2020 12:25 PM

Thanks for posting. I have seen this joint in upstate NY and antique shows around the Utica area. I never knew what it was.

-- Petey

View jeffswildwood's profile

jeffswildwood

4337 posts in 2653 days


#2 posted 02-27-2020 01:02 PM

Very informative! You tube has a video on how to make these here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQyOa6RSIWM

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View PaxJen's profile

PaxJen

104 posts in 1332 days


#3 posted 02-27-2020 01:14 PM

Good post! My wife picked up an old oak chest of drawers at a thrift store ($50?). A bit rickety but the Knapp joint drawers have held up well. A picture of an old drawer is below. I am surprised it is so old.
By the way, John Pask invented a nice modern variation on this joint, with a good youtube tutorial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn6HUdJMAYs&t=300s

-- Pax - Maryland

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

3287 posts in 4203 days


#4 posted 02-27-2020 02:33 PM

Our historical society has a piece of Eastlake furniture with Knapp joints. I wondered about that joint and came across this same information – it was a very interesting sequence of events. Good idea to post this!

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile

wildwoodbybrianjohns

1127 posts in 223 days


#5 posted 02-27-2020 02:39 PM

Thanks for the history lessen, Love history.

-- Wildwood by Brian Johns: If you tell the truth, you dont have to remember anything (S. Clemens) Edit: Now where is that darn pencil/ tape measure!

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

16544 posts in 3294 days


#6 posted 02-27-2020 03:18 PM

This isn’t a project post, but rather a forum topic. Congrats on the joint making top three.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Kyle Jones's profile

Kyle Jones

20 posts in 1419 days


#7 posted 02-29-2020 01:27 AM

I have a dresser that belonged to my great-great grandfather with those joints on it. The family lived in Kansas from the 1850s until the turn of the century. That dresser made the trip over the continental divide with them. Thanks for the history lesson

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