Friday, April 19, 2013

How do you decide if you've found a quality piece to refurb?

In my last post, I showed you a desk/vanity that got the Old White, refinished top treatment.  What I didn’t talk about was what made her such a great find on CL. 

As I share snicks and snacks of my life, I guess coming from a furniture family is something that would be relevant to this blog.  My grandfather and father started a retail furniture business in 1949.  As I was growing up, I heard all about Thomasville, Drexel, Henredon, Pennsylvania House, Broyhill  and the High Point Furniture Market.  I had the good fortune of working in the store for 25 years .  We were a medium to high end retailer and I eventually became the buyer for all of our upholstery and case products (wood furniture).  Since we regarded customer service as essential to our business model, buying good quality furniture was key.  I learned the value of dust covers, dovetail joints, solid versus chip core, and quality veneers versus yucky veneers.

Today, let’s talk today about dust covers , dovetail joints, glue blocks and drawer glides.  Wow!  This is some thrilling stuff!  

Dust covers are the horizontal dividers between drawers.  They are a sign of quality because they add to the strength of the piece.  Additionally, they provide a service by reducing the amount of dust that is passed from one drawer to another!  Thus the name “dust cover”!  

Dovetail drawers are another sign of quality.  Have you ever pulled out a drawer only to have the front of the drawer become disconnected from the body of the drawer?  Rarely does that occur with dovetailing.  The joints are interlocked in such a way that it makes it very difficult for the front to become dislodged from the rest of the drawer.  

The dovetailing gives us a clue as to the age of the piece.  The first picture posted of a dovetailed drawer has hand carved joints as opposed to the second picture where the dovetailing fits into the joints perfectly, as if done by machine!  I’m not sure of the history of when the manufacturers introduced the process of dovetailing by machine…perhaps  somewhere in the 1930s  - 1950s?  Nevertheless, dovetailed drawers are always a good sign of quality.  So if you find a piece like Dixie (not known as a high end manufacturer), check out the construction first before judging the name brand.

Last, but not least is the center rail under each drawer, commonly known as a drawer guide or drawer glide.  Once again, at the onset of machinery in the industry, quality furniture manufacturers introduced the wooden drawer guide to aid in the smooth and straight movement as drawers were opened and closed.  They also added triangular glue blocks for additional support to each drawer. 

As the industry found more efficient ways to mass produce furniture, they found ways to cut corners to lower their costs.  In this modern day, how often do you see solid woods, dovetailed drawers with dust covers and wood on wood drawer guides?  Some of the very high end manufacturers still maintain that level of quality, but the massed produced pieces have moved away from such quality. Here’s a more modern piece with metal drawer glides and glued drawer fronts: 

As you scour through thrift stores, answer Craigslist ads or attend yard sales, I encourage you to pull out those drawers!

I hope this wasn’t too boring of a post.  I try hard to find quality pieces to rehab.  It gives me such pleasure knowing I have found a gem, given her new life and found her a home where she will be loved and in turn will serve her new owner well.

Thanks for stopping by! 



  1. What a GREAT post! I've only recently started buying old pieces of furniture to restore, and knew about the dovetail joints on drawers, but I'd never heard of dust covers before, and was VERY interested to see the underside of the drawer with guides on. I shall certainly have a better idea of things to look out for now, so a very useful post, many thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Judi in the UK

    1. Hi Judi!
      I am so glad you found this information useful. I bet you find some really cool things over there in the UK! Keep in touch...and if you post some of the things you've done, please send me the link! I love to see what others are doing!