Knapp Joint

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Project by chucko posted 04-10-2011 07:06 PM 15776 views 15 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I cut this joint on a CNC machine with a .125 end mill. The end piece is 3/4’ pine and the side is 1/2 plywood.

Knapp joint info from: Discover Mid-America — October 2004 — Fred Taylor — Mr. Knapp’s oddity: A new joint.

Visit Fred Taylor website, at 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) than 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 until then. Before this innovation most furniture consisted of simple boxes called coffers 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 that 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 a blacksmith. The early 1800’s saw lots of advancement in machinery for wood working and by the Civil War mechanized furniture factories were on line but the dovetail drawer joint was still a hold up.

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 saws in their cutting but essentially the dovetail was the last hold out of hand work in a machine era.

Several inventors were hard 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 the 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 peg 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 Northhampton, Mass. The investors 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 and work more than one shift if required. The drawer department had finally 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 the 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 machines became a chore but they were still a better alternative to hand work.

At the very height of its 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 it 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 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.

25 comments so far

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3937 days

#1 posted 04-10-2011 07:17 PM

Thank you very much. This is the first good explaination I have read about this joint. I have some antique tables, a dresser and such that my mother purchased about 65 years ago that have these joints, and I have never known what to call them.

View bigike's profile


4057 posts in 4255 days

#2 posted 04-10-2011 07:23 PM

cool joint is there another way to make it besides buying a jig from one of those router bit catalogs I have and of course making it on the CNC?

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View Dusty56's profile


11863 posts in 4654 days

#3 posted 04-10-2011 07:26 PM

Thanks for the history lesson : )
Are you going to build something using the joint now ?

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View saddletramp's profile


1180 posts in 3604 days

#4 posted 04-10-2011 07:44 PM

Isn’t the history of technology fascinating? Thank you.

-- ♫♪♪♫♫ Saddletramp, saddletramp, I'm as free as the breeze and I ride where I please, saddletramp ♪♪♪♫♪ ...... Bob W....NW Michigan (Traverse City area)

View patron's profile


13716 posts in 4307 days

#5 posted 04-10-2011 08:06 PM

here is a router jig
just for this joint

i have a similar one
that goes with the match-maker 3 way tool they sell

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View a1Jim's profile


118153 posts in 4543 days

#6 posted 04-10-2011 08:35 PM

Thanks Chucko
A most interesting history of the knapp joint,thanks for sharing.


View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4081 days

#7 posted 04-10-2011 11:45 PM

thank´s for the history class :-)
with a well written blog
thank´s for taking the time to share it with us

take care


View dedalo's profile


173 posts in 3863 days

#8 posted 04-11-2011 12:38 AM

thanks for the amazing story


View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 4890 days

#9 posted 04-11-2011 01:22 AM


View kiefer's profile


5812 posts in 3633 days

#10 posted 04-11-2011 01:38 AM

nice joint making
on a cnc machine, little out of my range
very nice would like to see a set of drawers done like this !
also good history lesson on the joint
enjoyed it very much !



-- Kiefer

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3659 days

#11 posted 04-11-2011 01:50 AM

Bookmarked for sure! Thank you for the lesson!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View drewnahant's profile


222 posts in 4055 days

#12 posted 04-11-2011 02:53 AM

So now you know that a piece of furniture with those odd little drawer joints was made between 1871 and 1900 without a doubt….. unless made by chucko!

Very cool history lesson. I actually like the look of the joint, it is unique, unusual, and when you tell people that this joint was only common in the late 1800s but skip the history lesson, you just know they will wonder how it was done by hand!

View Hacksaw's profile


185 posts in 4343 days

#13 posted 04-11-2011 04:38 PM

The first time I ever encountered that joint was in a Woodworkers supply of New Mexico catalog about 20 years ago. Back then the machine they had was dedicated to the “pin and crescent” as they called it now it does other joints that look like bunny ears and teddy bears. Thanks for the history without that info I would have incorrectly assumed any piece I saw with that joint was “obviously not an antique”

-- Nothing's just gets expensive

View 58j35bonanza's profile


395 posts in 3659 days

#14 posted 04-12-2011 03:57 AM

That is really neat. First I have ever seen one, but when I do I will know for sure what it is. Thank you for the history on this joint.

-- Chuck

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3596 posts in 4679 days

#15 posted 04-12-2011 05:16 AM


Thanks for such an informative post. We, too, were not familiar with the Knapp Joint.


-- “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin -- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

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