Wall Clock Case Restoration

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Wall Clock Case Restoration:
Louise Biggs fixes and restores a wall clock case.

Louise Biggs fixes and restores a wall clock case

I was originally called in to assess and repair a broken door from a clock case. Upon seeing the clock I found that several other repairs were needed to the case, with the clients requesting a solution to the wobbly pediment. From a distance it looked to be a resplendent little clock just the right size for their hall, and having carefully transported it to my workshop I took a closer look.

Not quite what it seemed
Alarm bells started to ring initially with the fixing of the pediment, which had a narrow peg and a rather large slot. The other major concern was the mix of timbers on show with pine (Pinus sylvestris), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and mahogany (Khaya ivorensis) forming the case. Although beech and pine are used within furniture, etc. it is not typical for them to be polished and visible alongside mahogany.
Nothing seemed to quite add up and on closer inspection I found that all the black applied decoration on the pediment and the finials on the bottom were fitted with car body filler. Many of the joints were loose, and with splits due to shrinkage the construction was not as I would have expected. My conclusion was that the clients valued clock case was a made up piece.
At a further meeting I explained what I had found and my concerns about the clock case. My clients were very upset as they explained that while on holiday in Yorkshire some 25 years ago, they came across an antiques fair in the grounds of a large house and had been looking for a clock. They brought it from a ‘reputable’ dealer and paid a large sum of money (for the time). They had trusted what they saw and heard. With no way of finding the dealer and with its reputation a little tarnished, they agreed to the plan of restoration. As they said ‘they had enjoyed their clock for all those years and despite it not being all what it seemed, they would continue to enjoy it’. Having asked their permission to photograph the restoration as a possible article, they agreed in the hope that other people would learn from their mistake.

The narrow peg and long slot for the pediment

Bottom section with minimal joints and more filler

The top pediment with car body filler which glued the applied decoration

The mix of timbers not usually found polished on show together

Tool list
• Chisels – various sizes
• Mallet
• Block and smoothing planes
• Spokeshave
• Screwdriver
• Mortise gauge
• Drill and drill bits
• Tablesaw
• Planer/thicknesser
• ‘Gents’ saw
• Tenon saw
• Sash and ‘G’ cramps
• Animal/hide glue and glue pot

Stages of restoration

1. With the pendulum removed for transportation, the movement needed to be removed and supported during the restoration process. A waste piece of timber was cut to allow for parts of the movement, with the main part fixed to the board and supported further with masking tape

2. The back panel was removed, the carcase disassembled and the joints cleaned of old glue. On a dry clamping run the split rails pulled up tight, so the carcase was glued, clamped and checked for being square

3. Having dismantled the shaped sections under the main case, the glue joint areas were cleaned up.
The mitres on the curved section did not meet, but neither was it loose enough to take apart to recut the mitres. The alternative was to infill the gaps with thin slivers of beech. Planed to an angle they were glued in place, before being shaped to match using a wide chisel kept flat on the surfaces, which allowed the mitred shape to be formed. The rectangular block, half finial and shaped section could then be re-glued and clamped

4. Holding the various pieces of applied decoration and finials as safely as possible, and without causing further damage, the car body filler was slowly chipped away. This not only ruins the edge of your chisel but tends to leave a residue on the surface of the wood. From past experience I remove as much of the filler as possible before wiping the surfaces with methylated spirits, being careful not to disturb any polished surfaces. The best glue to use is the animal/hide glue as this seems to adhere despite any small residues of filler

5. The finials and applied decoration were then re-glued in position. Where possible I straightened and placed the pieces so this time they were at least symmetrical

6. To stabilise the pediment a piece of card was cut to the width of the pediment and the centre point marked. The centre of the case was also marked and the template cut to shape to form a tenon that corresponded with the groove, while keeping both centre points aligned. The template was then shaped to correspond with the pediment so it would not be seen but give the greatest support, and the edges round off using a spokeshave

7. The pediment and support were then glued and cramped together, keeping the centre marks aligned and the protruding tenons shoulder line level with the bottom edge

8. Using a tenon saw, the tenon was reduced in thickness until a snug fit was achieved into the groove on
the pediment

9. With the carcase re-glued and square, attention was turned to the door. The frame had broken at the corner bridle joints on the bottom rail. For a door that is opened on a regular basis for the clock to be wound, corner bridle joints are a weaker joint than a mortise and tenon and not one I would have expected to find. With the carcase loose, the door had bound on the carcase and had eventually weakened and broken

10. The top rail had separated between the veneer and solid timber. The old glue was cleaned up from the face veneer and the solid frame, this was then ready for re-gluing with the rest of the frame. The tenons of the bottom rail had broken off within the ends of the door stiles and were cleaned out using a narrow chisel. Splitting down the tenons in stages and removing the waste reduced the amount of force on the joint

11. Using a mortise gauge a corresponding slot was marked on the bottom rail, which was then cut out using a ‘gents’ saw and two sections of pine to form a false tenon for the corner bridle joint. These were then glued and clamped in place

12. The door frame was then glued and clamped, checking it was square and when dry the bottom edge of the door was levelled using a small block plane. The door was then re-fitted to the carcase, having previously plugged the worn screw holes. Then three new sections of glazing bead were made in order to hold the glass in the door

13. The repairs to the door were stained and polished to match. The infill slivers on the pediment and bottom were also coloured to match, and the remaining carcase and details checked for any touching out that need to be done. The case was then given a good coat of wax

14. Finally, the back panel was reinstated and the glass fitted to the door. The movement was re-fixed onto the two support brackets and the clock was ready to go home

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