It's easy to spot an antique by the drawers, because joints weren't machine-cut until about 1860.

If it has only a few dovetail joints, with pins narrower than the dovetails, then the joint was made by hand.

Never buy an antique, or try to refinish it, until you know what you have.

If a joint was dovetailed by hand, it has only a few dovetails, and they aren't exactly even; if it has closely spaced, precisely cut dovetails, it was machine-cut.

Handmade dovetails almost always indicate a piece made before 1860.

Other good sources are secondhand stores, household auctions, and garage sales.

With furniture, as with anything else, one person's junk is another another's treasure.

There are many different styles of furniture, and each type has distinguishing features.

For the most part, the furniture you'll encounter will probably be limited to traditional English and American Colonial styles; you aren't likely to find a Louis XV chair at a garage sale.

A southern antique is a piece made before the Civil War.

Wherever you look, it's a sure bet that you won't find a genuine antique from 1500 or 1600.

What you may find is a genuine reproduction, and these can be extremely valuable. The first giveaway is the joinery; machine-cut furniture wasn't made until about 1860.

If the piece has drawers, remove a drawer and look closely where the front and back of the drawer are fastened to the sides of the drawer.

Real antiques and many reproductions are extremely valuable, but there are also many imitations.