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Over the weekend I did some basic repairs to a now lone nesting table. It is about a foot and a half by two feet wide if it matters. A leg's dowels had all broken and it was hanging loose. Also replaced two stretchers that had fallen off and were lost for the same reason.

Up until this point I had never looked at the underside of the table and was perplexed by the presence of Roman numerals on the table.

Numbers on table

It is interesting. I would venture that the markings are from a gouge that was gently hammered. It would appear that the mark was present before the wood was stained. I cannot come up with a logical reason why this would be there.

  • It can't be a assembly guide. The top should be the easiest thing to identify and none of the other parts appear to be numbered in a similar manner. If this was some sort of mass manufacturing deal then you would want to match your tables to its parts.

  • I doubt its the table ID within the nest. They would all be of different sizes so each would be easy to identify. There likely were not 8 to start with. The first one would be for a doll house if that was the case.

  • This could be the manufacturers signature but seems odd as it is not a name or a company (pretty sure).

What do you think this is assuming it is not a personal practice?

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  • @grfrazee. I am not so sure that the joinery tag is appropriate here for my case since there are no matching marking on the apron. More tags cannot hurt though.
    – Matt
    Apr 4 '16 at 14:59
  • Yeah, the joinery tag is more related to my Answer than your Question directly, I'll admit. Given the typical usage of these types of markings, I think it's appropriate.
    – grfrazee
    Apr 4 '16 at 15:01
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What do you think this is assuming it is not a personal practice?

Marking mating pieces with numerals is standard practice in timber framing, at least in a historic context. These were often called "marriage marks," for obvious reasons.

marriage marks
(source)

These were an easy way to identify mating components with a standard chisel, which can only make straight lines. Chiseling out the marks would provide an easy-to-see shadow line, unlike pencil or chalk, which would be erased much easier.

Up until this point I had never looked at the underside of the table and was perplexed by the presence of Roman numerals on the table.

Why these are on the bottom of your table is not entirely clear, since it appears that there is no mating piece next to the marks. It could just be that the woodworker used the marks to identify the piece number to keep things straight in his head. Without further context, it's really impossible to know.

I would guess that the woodworker had a curved gouge handy when he made the marks, hence why they're not straight, as they would be if done with a regular chisel.

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  • 2
    The curve is the oddity as roman numerals can normally be made with straight cuts which are easy.
    – Chris H
    Apr 4 '16 at 14:42
  • 4
    @ChrisH, as I said, I would guess that the woodworker had a curved gouge handy when he made the marks, hence why they're not straight, as they would be if done with a regular chisel.
    – grfrazee
    Apr 4 '16 at 14:51
  • 1
    So it is possible then that this is just someone was familiar with framing and this practice followed into furniture making. At least there is an answer in a general sense which was all I was looking for. which can only make straight lines explains why roman numerals are used which satisfies my curiosity as well. Thanks.
    – Matt
    Apr 4 '16 at 15:02
  • I don’t think those are Roman numerals. Maybe random marks or an attempt to spell something? I came upon your question because I purchased a beautiful Antique French bed. Supposedly it’s from the late 1800s. It has ormolu and marquetry. I moved it to a different room and could not reassemble it properly. I’d almost given up when I noticed Roman numerals carved into each of the 4 pieces. I was then able to match the carvings and place the side rails in the correct positions. They fit like a glove. Although they looked identical they had different curvatures & thicknesses. I still wish I had a b
    – Patsy
    Apr 15 at 2:36
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I doubt its the table ID within the nest. They would all be of different sizes so each would be easy to identify. There likely were not 8 to start with. The first one would be for a doll house.

Gee, maybe it's not Roman numeral 8, but rather 1 of 3, a likely number of nesting tables.

Or perhaps it's the 8th set that the maker produced - a small shop experimenting with getting into the big time.

Or, Matt, maybe the maker is of the same sort of person as you, recycled the wood from another project and the marks have nothing to do with the table.

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  • Well this just raises more questions :)
    – Matt
    Apr 4 '16 at 21:53
  • The plot thickens.
    – grfrazee
    Apr 5 '16 at 12:48

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