My Clocks - Fixing up old Clocks

Ticking Clocks
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My Clocks
Project One
This Postmans Black Forest clock from around 1840/50 is the oldest clock in my collection. It came as a Facebook Marketplace purchase, unseen, in a box, and in a number of pieces, As it was only £25 I decided to take a punt on it.

Well I'm glad that I did. Once unpacked the filthy movement appeared to be complete including chains, weights and the original yard long pendulum (albeit folded up to fit in the box!) The glass door was also original and undamaged and set into a hexagonal mahogany case with brass acanthus inserts. This was going to be a long restoration and very different to any other clock that I had attempted.

The wheels were made from turned beech wood with inset brass gears and steel pinions. The plates were also wooden (some say fruit wood) with little pressed brass sheet bearings for the pinions to run in. All the wheels had to be cleaned with methylated spirits and polished with a dremel using various grades of buffing wheels. The wooden arbours still had remnants of silver paint from their original state. I can only assume it was meant to try and disguise the fact that they were wooden. The chains were brightened by rubbing them together in a slightly acidic solution.  The heaxagonal inlaid mahogany face was scraped back to original because it had been badly varnished at some point in time. Again I didn't want to use a chemical strip because of the inlaid brass detailing. I finished it with 3 coats of Briwax polish to create a deep red and bright brass shine. There was still plenty of patina on the clock.

Once re assembled it set off with great gusto. It reminded me of the American ogee clock, and indeed they are historical contempories; both competitors for the cheap end of the market. The wooden wheels were a short lived idea and soon steel and brass wheels were substituted. The timber frames were retained however, and the comparative rarity of these movements is probably explained by their idiosyncratic nature and the fact that it helps to be a carpenter to fix them! The strike is very loud and accompanied by a rattling crescendo of whirring wheels. The noise not being attenuated by any case as such. The bell is very similar to that on a long case clock.

Project Two
This American Ogee clock marked a real departure for me. Firstly, it was a 30 hour weight driven pendulum movement. Secondly, it was a large veneered case with delicate original glass complete with a transfer and a metal painted face. Inside the case I could see the original paper showing the makers details (Ansonia) and the clock setup instructions. Thirdly, it was I thought in a bad way with woodworm, damaged and split veneer and a very dirty case. I couldn't expect too much as I had pulled it from the back of an antique shop from underneath other junk, I had also only paid £22 for it.

Once home I investigated further. The case might have needed work but the movement was pretty clean, and all the original parts were inside the case. I mounted the movement on the test rig after cleaning the pivots/holes and checked the pallets and suspension spring. It ran like a dream but boy was it noisy! The strike was a frantic loud metallic dinging and the clattering gear noise wasn't much softer either. I loved it, but my wife less so...

The case needed a lot of work. The shellac finish had suffered from sun exposure and was bubbled and overly thick. The split and missing veneer would need gluing back and the missing areas filling with colour matched Briwax hard wax sticks.  I decided to rub down the surface with fine wet and dry sandpaper having first stripped off any old wax polish with white spirits. The metal clock face was washed down with warm soapy water but shellac had been spilled on the painted face so very gingerly I used methylated spirits on cotton wool pads to soften and eventually remove most of it taking great care not to strip the original paintwork beneath.

The minute hand had lost its very fine tip so I epoxyed a fabricated replacement tip onto the hand and coloured it in with a fine Sharpie pen. The same pen also touched in missing areas of the hour figures on the face. Finally the case was coated in three coats of Briwax polish to reveal the most amazing deep red rosewood veneer. This fairly early example c1870 of these popular cheaply made clocks had come back to life.
Project Three
This German wall clock made by Gongschlag dates from around 1920. It is a high quality clock with a walnut case, bevelled door glass, and an Art Deco face and matching regulator pendulum. It was purchased for £40 and came with 2 other clocks "thrown in". The movement needed very little attention; a light clean and oil, the case however required a little more work.

The usual clean with white spirit revealed damaged areas of veneer on the top and bottom brackets. There was sun bleaching to one side of the case and the clock face mounting panel. The chipped and peeling veneer was glued and filled with the matching Briwax hard wax sticks. The rest of the solid wood case had a light rub down with 0000 wire wool and a mix of white spirit and Briwax. The grain of the original wood coloured up once more to something like original and  the case was finished with the usual 3 coats of Briwax.

The clock face and pendulum showed areas of black tarnishing. A clean with warm water and washing up liquid removed the nicotine but the dark tarnishing remained. Very careful application of metal polish on cotton wool buds gently pulled some of the oxidation off, but it was clear that some discolouration would have to remain. Well after 100 plus years this was to be expected!

The completed refurbishment has resulted in a fabulous clock which keeps excellent time and has the most sonorous chimes.
Project Four

A 1930s Art Deco Mantel Clock; this nicely designed clock came from my grandma. Yet again it has a spring balance platform, and the simple time only mechanism is an 8 day movement. The clean and strip proceeded without issue, but the case had been sun bleached with raised grain and some discolouration. I decided to lightly rub down the case after removing the old polish and finger grease with white spirit. I started with very fine wet and dry sandpaper and then 0000 wire wool. 3 coats of Briwax brought back the colour and a lovely shine. The clock face had staining from years of sitting over a coal fire. That was cleaned with warm water and washing up liquid on cotton wool pads and ear buds, leaving the marks of age intact but less obvious.
Project Five

This is an English oak cased Art Deco mantel clock with Westminster chimes and strike from around 1930. The movement is about as complicated as a "common" clock will get. There are 3 spring barrels and corresponding gear trains to reset between the split plates following cleaning, and numerous external levers and cams that actuate the various chimes and strikes. This movement also has an auto correct mechanism that after a while will reset the strike to match the time should it become out of sync.

This movement required a thorough cleaning and were it not for the fact that I lost the auto correct mechanism, I would have had it re mantled and working without too much drama. The auto correct mechanism turned up after 2 weeks when I managed to tread on it outside on the patio. It had endured many days of rain and hence become quite rusty, but hey ho! at least I had found it and needed to split the plates once more to pop it in.

As is so often the case, the dark oak stained wood had been badly sun bleached and also had water rings on the top of the case where presumably a plant had stood. The all original clock face and hands required a water and soap clean to remove the nicotine staining. The chrome door surround and glass came up a treat too.

The main issue was the water staining. That required a serious rub down to the original wood which turned out to be a lovely solid light oak construction. At that point I decided to return the whole clock case back to the light oak finish. I'm no great fan of dark oak staining anyway. A fine wet and dry sandpaper brought most of it off, and the finer mouldings had to be treated with wire wool. Once I had it all back looking the same I simply waxed it with the usual 3 coats of Briwax for a lovely smooth finish. Out of my modest collection of English dark stained mid c20 clocks this is without a doubt the best quality movement and case, and considering that it came into my possession as a 3 clock auction bundle for £29 ... an absolute all original bargain.
Project Six

This clock came in as part of a bundled auction purchase. At first glance it looked like a fairly standard English striking mantel clock from around 1950. It was a dark stained blob of a case that had a very raised grain from sun exposure. The face had a chapter ring and was in good condition, however, and the movement looked complete and original.

Upon stripping down I found the pivot hole of the main wheel worn a little oval and so that was re bushed. The rest of the movement went back together without issue and ran very well.

The case needed some further thought; I am no great fan of dark oak staining, and since this case was badly sun damaged I decided to rub it down and see what appeared. The plywood case revealed nothing of note and I decided that I might try to paint the case to match room decor. I had various pots of paint lying around and so I contrasted a deep green with a grey detail on the feet and mouldings. I finished it off with a coat of yacht varnish which gave it a very high gloss. The resulting clock is quite stunning, a mix of old and modern. I left the rear door as original, complete with scratch, to give a hint of historic reference.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's value is close to zero, and it has been prevented from ending up in the tip, and lives on in another guise.
Project Seven

This pretty little mahogany cased mantel clock was a present for my wife and was my first project for restoration. The simple time only movement included a spring balance which is not the best movement to learn on. Many repairers will not touch these jewelled watch type escapements which are so easy to damage and very expensive to replace (often costing more than the clock is worth). Luckily for me my tutor repairs pocket watches, so he was entirely unfazed by this and showed me how to dismantle and clean the pivots and jewelled bearings by using lighter fluid which evaporates leaving no residues. The rest of the movement was cleaned, the pivots and spring inspected, and then re-mantled and  oiled sparingly with clock oil.

The case was cleaned first with white spirit to remove years of wax build up and finger grease, 0000 wire wool was then used with white spirit to further rub down the surface until the colour of the original started to come back and the sun damaged areas of the wood smoothed. Care was taken to not remove all the patina developed over the ages; I did not want a new clock! Finally 3 coats of Bri Wax polish was applied to all surfaces which resulted in a healthy shine and a lovely colourful grain.
Project Eight

This small brass travel clock came through my wife's family. I think it dates from the early years of the c20. I has a hair spring platform balance on top of the movement visible through a rounded glass panel, and the clock had stopped working.

Upon stripping it down it appeared that the problem was in the platform balance. After a full clean of the movement the platform balance was stripped down and inspected. A microscopic pivot on the end of the escape wheel had sheared off and was not present in the jewelled bearing, so it was unrelated to the current strip down. It meant the end of the road for this little clock which had had a hard life, the case had dents, the feet screw threads were stripped and some pivot holes had been punched up during some earlier service. It was economically irreparable.
Project Nine

The second clock to receive the painted finish was this little Napoleon hat time only 1950/60. It had arrived as a bundled auction purchase and was a time only and cheaply made clock.

The movement was stripped, cleaned and rebuilt and it set off in earnest as soon as the spring tensioned. For such a simple movement it has a loud tick so I tried some adjustment with the pallet setting, but it just enjoyed being loud and the thin plywood case only served to further enhance the noise. This I felt was to be a gift for someone else.

The finish of the case was the usual dark oak black stain from that period, so rather than endure another black blob this got the painted treatment, with a light blue case and dark blue detailing on the mouldings. A coat of yacht varnish created a full gloss shine and the brass bezel and face cleaned up pretty well too.

These clocks are ending up as landfill as they are not wanted by todays younger families. This one ended up with my daughter because I chose the colour of the paints to match her sitting room. Another one saved.
Project Ten

My interest in purchasing this clock stemmed from the country of origin: USSR. The maker is Jantar, a huge concern and it is surprising that so few of this makers clocks have made it to the West. Hence I had to have it.

It was yet another Facebook marketplace find but this time from a house just 3 streets from where I live. I got it for £40. It came from out of his garage and from underneath a few other items, so there were scuffs on the case. The face and door glass was perfect and original, as was the pendulum and the key. The door chrome panels were rusty and on closer inspection there was woodworm in the case and door. A quick wind with the key set the movement into motion so that was a big plus as spares would be unobtainable.

The movement was very dirty; a simple time only mechanism with an open spring. A quick clean and oil and wire wool to buff the rust from some components and it sat happily ticking away on the test rig. The case was going to be quite another matter.

I had originally thought from the design of the clock that it dated from around 1930, it was the numerals on the face that looked so Art Deco, I really liked that. There is a factory stamp on the back of the clock (in Russian) that now tells me that it was made in Feb 1975! The softwood case is stained and grained to resemble something like a bamboo stripe. It was also varnished, crazed, split and wormed. The cheap nature of the clock didn't surprise me, even 4 out of the 8 screws holding the door hinges were bent from the time of manufacture. How to treat the restoration?

In the end I checked that the worming was dormant, then filled all the flight holes with a self coloured filler, then I glued the splits and replaced two missing corner braces. A light rub down with wet and dry to key the old varnish but not so far as to damage the stain and it was ready to seal prior to finishing with yacht varnish. I did re touch in some of the graining with a watercolour paint mix prior to applying the sealant.

The high gloss finish and lovely bright clock face have brought this simple clock back to it's best. It keeps time to within a few minutes per week. Perfect.
Project Eleven

This small Art Deco inspired bedside clock was an impulse buy for £12 from a junk shop. I needed a project for class and this fitted the bill. It worked, but the nickel case was very worn and the glass turned out to be acrylic too.

The movement responded to a strip and clean and once wound up set off with its frantic hairspring ticking, amplified by the metallic case. How did anyone sleep with this next to the bed!

The case was polished up and took on a pleasing shine, more brass than nickel. The face and numerals cleaned up with the usual warm water and washing up liquid on cotton wool pads. Parts of the missing numerals were touched in again with a very fine permanent Sharpie, something I do now on most clocks I restore. It may not be my favourite but it is a nice little example from its time.
Project Twelve
Yet another dark stained English mantel clock from the 1950s arrived as part of an auction bundle. The case was sun bleached and the grain was lifted but it did have some applied detailing on the front face that was nice. I decided that this would be offered to one of my sons and painted in colours to match his decor, in this case dark grey with yellow ochre detailing. Once again I used an emulsion paint which was first sealed and then rubbed down before varnishing to a high gloss.

The movement was an English strike and only needed a strip and clean. Many movements get re bushed whilst stripped down despite there being minimal play in the pivot holes, I am not one of these adherents I'm afraid. My view is that cleaned and oiled they will run for decades before any appreciable wear results in re bushing. One of the reasons for this view is that our modern town houses do not suffer from the abrasive airborne dust particles from cigarette smoking or open coal fires etc. that our forebears will have witnessed. The result is that although the oil may thicken in the plate wells over some years, it won't result in the abrasive grinding paste of yore.

Well enough of that. The clock looked the part upon completion and now sits proudly in my son's sitting room.

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