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Mobilize Your Furniture with Antique Style Casters

A recurring feature of antique furniture is the presence of small brass or porcelain wheels under the feet. Known as casters, they came into fashion in the late 18th century as high-end furniture designers such as Duncan Phyfe started adding them to their tables, servers, and sofas.  While decorative in appearance, they also played an important role in making early American homes more comfortable and efficient.

Homes of that era had fewer rooms, so those rooms often needed to serve multiple purposes - dining, socializing, working, playing and so on. The ability to easily move and group furniture according to task made it possible for these diverse activities to take place in the same space.

In the days before electricity and central heating, casters improved the level of comfort for many tasks. Sofas, chairs, and small tables could be scooted closer to the fireplace for warmth or near a window for better light, making it easier to sew, read or simply converse.

Casters made cleaning homes easier as well.  With wheels, even heavy furniture could be rolled aside to sweep and mop the floors or beat out area rugs. Raising them off the floor also protected wood furniture feet and legs from kicks and from moisture due to mopping.  And finally, smooth caster wheels protected the floors from scratches as furniture was rolled rather than slid across the surface.

Federal era drawing room with tables and sofa on casters for ease of movement

Casters continued to be popular in the Victorian era and remained so throughout the early twentieth century when colonial revival furniture was all the rage.  While casters are less prevalent in homes today, they still provide the same benefits they once did.

How to Select Antique Style Casters

There are many things to consider when choosing casters for your furniture.  If you are replacing a broken or missing caster on an antique piece, examine the remaining ones and look for the same mounting type.  Given the potential difficulty of finding a caster with the exact same dimensions, it may prove necessary to replace all four.  House of Antique Hardware carries a wide selection of antique reproduction casters in brass and iron, with several wheel and finish options.  These vintage style casters are also a good way to add period flair to a newer piece of furniture

If you are adding casters to increase the height of a piece of furniture, such as a chair, desk, or table, pay close attention to the caster's overall height (stated in the product specifications).  Dining tables are typically 29-20" off the floor, and the seat of a chair is generally around 18" off the floor, both for seated comfort and to fit under tables.  Deviating from these dimensions when adding casters may prove awkward or uncomfortable.  Therefore, it is essential to factor the height of the caster into the desired height of the furniture to find the right fit.

Other important considerations are the shape of the furniture leg, the size of the foot, the bottom surface of the foot (flat/rounded), the weight of the piece (and what it will potentially hold), and how often it will be moved.  With so many types, sizes, and styles of casters available today, finding the right one can be a challenge. To simplify the process, we have outlined the options below.  Read further to determine which works best for your specific needs.

Option 1: Stem Style Casters

19th century Empire style table with stem & plate casters

Leather club chair with stem casters

This type of caster is what you most commonly see on antique furniture.  It features a straight metal "stem" or rod that inserts directly into each leg or foot base.  The offset wheel may be brass, porcelain, rubber, or wood, and pivots freely 360 degrees. When comparing stem casters, pay close attention to the wheel diameter, as it impacts how high a piece of furniture is raised off the floor.  Stem casters offer various mounting options – stem only, stem & plate, grip neck, and pivot & plate – making them an excellent choice for virtually all household furniture.

Stem Only

These petite casters are ideal for furniture legs with a narrow footprint (one inch or less across) or with a base that is not flat on the bottom, such as a ball or clawfoot.  To install, simply drill a hole the same width as the smooth part of the threaded post and drive it straight in using a rubber mallet.

Stem & Plate

This traditional stem caster features a coin-shaped plate that helps to distribute the weight and further stabilize the caster. Ensure that the diameter of the plate (typically 1 1/8") is no larger than the diameter of the furniture leg base.  The plate itself is firmly attached with three wood screws.  For a subtle decorative flourish, add a brass trim ring (see below) to each plate.

Pivot & Plate

Rather than screwing directly into the wood, the stem of this antique-style caster is set within a metal socket, allowing it to pivot freely. This added mobility makes it an ideal choice for furniture that is moved frequently. To install the socket, drill a hole in the outer diameter of the sleeve, press it in place, then firmly attach with the three included wood screws.

Grip Neck

As the name implies, this type of caster features a steel socket that loosely "grips" the stem.  Installation is a snap - simply drill a hole the diameter of the socket, drive it in with a hammer until the top sits flush, then push the stem all the way into the socket. Some grip neck casters come with wood or rubber wheels and a ball-bearing, making them a good choice for large and heavy items.

Option 2: Cup Style Casters

Modern chair with antique style round cup casters

Chair with both cup (front) and plate (rear) casters

Cup casters are integrated into the design of a furniture piece, rather than an accessory feature.  The wood leg ends in the brass cup, which essentially becomes the furniture foot.  The wheel is mounted directly to the cup itself, pivoting in all directions.  The tapered cups may be round or square, depending on leg design.  Due to the added stability they provide, cup casters are a sound option for sofas and chairs that see heavy use.

The key factor in selecting a cup caster is the interior dimensions of the cup. Ideally, it will fit like a glove over the leg, with no wiggle room.  We provide the diameter (or width) at the top and bottom of the cup, as well as the depth.  Be sure to take accurate measurements of your furniture legs before you order and anticipate that some adjustment to the leg may be required to fit.

Round-Cup Casters. The degree of taper varies, from virtually cylindrical to nearly conical

Square-Cup Casters. A good choice for tables, chairs, and sofas with tapered square legs

Caster Accessories

From the early 20th century to the present, furniture arrangements within rooms have been much less mobile than in the Federal and Victorian eras.  Since most pieces with casters are never moved, the wheels can leave indentations on rugs and scuffs on wood floors. A solution to this problem is a caster cup, a small round dish that sits under each wheel. They provide a hard and stable surface that distributes the furniture's weight more evenly across the floor surface and helps the furniture stay in place (especially important for seating). Caster cups are available in clear glass or oak, which can be stained to match your flooring.

Trim rings are a decorative accessory that turns a standard caster into a piece of jewelry for your furniture.  For use exclusively with stem & plate style casters, they are held in place by the mounting plate, seated within the ring.  Compare the diameter of the plate with the inner diameter of the ring to find the right fit.

Glass caster cups for protecting floors and carpet

Brass trim rings add a decorative flourish to stem & plate casters

Furniture Toe Caps

Colonial Revival game table with hairy paw feet

Toe caps are decorative metal casings designed to protect furniture feet from excessive wear.  In particular, table feet are prone to dents and scuffs from chairs and shoes, and in the days when wood floors were mopped, from damaging moisture. Made of solid brass, they provide an elegant flourish to the base of many antique tables, chairs and sofas.

Popularized by American furniture designer Duncan Phyfe in the early Federal era, toe caps were again a key feature of colonial revival pieces of the twentieth century.  The most common styles are the plain smooth "sock" and the more whimsical hairy paw foot.  Note - As toe caps are only attached with a small finish nail, they can come loose and eventually become lost.

Finding a replacement toe cap can be a challenge.  First, identify the style you need, then take careful measurements of the foot and look for a cap that most closely corresponds in size. To achieve a good fit, the wooden foot may need to be trimmed slightly (be aware that modifying an antique may impact its value).  If you can not find one that is a close match, or the original caps are damaged, you may wish to replace all four.

Clawfoot toe cap in antique-by-hand

Plain unlacquered brass toe cap

Square leg skirt in antique-by-hand

For help with casters, caps, or other furniture hardware questions, call our Hardware Specialists at 888-223-2545.

Shop All Casters & Toe Caps