In the modern digital era we have lost some of our appreciation for the workings of fine mechanical clocks. Nevertheless there is still some valuing of the artful cases that housed old clocks and the beautiful chimes that sounded throughout the day. The cases that housed these old clocks often require the same sorts of attention that other older wooden items require--regluing of loose joints, rebuilding of lost or damaged parts, or renewing of worn finishes. We don't claim any competence with any of the inner working parts, but we can surely help with the needs of the case. We illustrate a few projects we have helped with on this page.
The only book we know of which focuses mainly on repairing old clock cases is the one we list here. If interested in learning more about this craft, give it a look.
This 1885 vintage Gilbert mantle clock had an original shellac finish that was dirty and crazing. After removing the working clock parts, we cleaned the shellac with an alkaline cleaner. Alkaline also acts as a stripping chemical for shellac, so we essentially removed the outer layer of worn shellac in the process. We restored the original appearance by reapplying a fresh coating of an orage shellac. Shellac is by nature glossy, so the reflective, glossy sheen you see is typical of new shellac surfaces.
The glass door was also swapped. Nothing wrong with the original, the new one seems to fit better with all the leaves and fruit.
The beautiful Seth Thomas clock case to the left wasn't too beautiful when it came in. The most serious problem was that the rift cut red oak face veneer had been removed everywhere but on the belt in the center of the front face, and on the leaves at the four corners of the lower section of the front. Additionally, the case needed some re-gluing and the back panel was gone. The easy parts of our job were to do the gluing, to replace the back panel with a bird's eye maple panel and to recoat everything with a fresh coat of shellac so that it would regain its rich warm luster.
The hard part of the job was to replace the veneer on the clock face, especially considering the fact that the leaves at the four corners needed to have the same veneer as the surrounding frame but rise above the stippled background of the corners. We originally intended to leave the original veneer on the leaves. We discovered that made the job far more difficult. If we replaced the veneer on the leaves too, then the grain on the leaves would match the lines of the grain around the frame, which would be a gain. That is what we ended up doing. We glued the veneer back on, had to cut out the veneer in the corners and around the leaves and trim everything so it looked like no work had been done.
This very tall clock had experienced one of the characteristic ailments that besets many furniture items moved from humid to dry climates: shrinkage and glue failure. You can see that the columns flanking the opening for the clock face had both come off. With shrinkage also come some interesting fitting issues. Those aren't apparent in the photos above but were very much a part of what needed to be done to get this clock working properly again.
In this pair of photos you can see that it was not only the columns that came off of the door to the clock face, but also the glass for the face. The mounts for the glass had also failed and needed to be re-secured so the glass could be fastened in place. In order to secure the mounts, there were two cracks in the door, slightly visible in the photo upper left, one at top center, one at bottom center. Those cracks had to be re-glued so the door did not flex, then the mounts could hold the glass again.
The obvious issues here are the three horizontal framing pieces which had come unglued. You can see the light horizontal stripes where these pieces are missing in the upper photo. The pieces themselves are sitting on the shelf just above. The two columns for the clock face door are sitting on the shelf below. Why did only the horizontal parts pop off? Wood shrinks most in the width and very little in the length. The front face narrowed slightly, the cross pieces did not, the glue couldn't hold them in place.
Here it is, fully put back together. What a grand piece! This is an illustration of how furniture items blend art and function so well. An elaborate case is hardly necessary for an item the function of which is to indicate the current time of day. However, how sterile a life it is when all we have around us is the most minimal and functional objects. With a clock like this you not only see and hear the time, but there are places for the eyes to rest and to ponder and to wonder and to imagine. Life is more than time and more than raw function. Life is a thing of beauty which passes quickly but also is meant to endure. How well this clock illustrates these lofty themes.
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