Tree-Ring Services
Providing tree-ring analysis of live trees and archaeological timbers

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Sources of wood for dating

Historical timber

Before about 1600 most furniture and timber framed buildings in England were made from domestic trees. Oak having the greatest durability of such woods, it is oak in the main which has survived. From the 1620’s onwards English records show an increasing amount of imported woods for furniture. Fortunately in respect of tree-ring dating oak continued to be used for simpler and less expensive works where it tended to be used in the traditional solid construction.

The sawpit method of sawing large timbers that continued virtually unchanged from medieval times until well in to the 20th century

  • Building timbers (Beams, Rafters, Floorboards, Doors and Frames) can all provide material that can enable dating. Check the end of beams where exposed.

Timber Frame House

  • Furniture (tables, cabinets, bureau drawers and chests, etc.) can all be dated. Restoration can often provide the best opportunity for samples to be collected. On most furniture the end-grain is exposed on the back, or the bottom of the legs, though sapwood is rarely present. When identifying the wood in furniture veneers should be borne in mind. Veneers were originally cut with a saw, while thin, true veneers were first cut in the 17th century in France.

17th century staircase, timber felled AD1653-1685

  • Artefacts (violins, clock cases, pictures and carvings) can be dated, but often provide little opportunity to take a sample. Mirrors, pictures and screens frequently have wooden frames, and the common failure of corner joints can often provide an opportunity to access the end-grain. Many older pictures from England and the Continent were painted on thin oak panels. Look carefully around the edges of these oak panels to count the number of rings present.

To repeat our advice, it is important to make a careful record of the location from which the samples have been taken, and also to clearly label all the samples sent to us for analysis to allow interpretation in the final report. Where a sample is taken from is especially important in the case of building timbers, where different features may belong to different periods of construction or restoration. A simple code or number written directly onto all samples with a marker pen should be accompanied by a similarly identified short written description of where the sample comes from.

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Updated: 28/12/2006

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