Restoration of a French Clock

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  • #48317
    arutha
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    • Topics Started: 85
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    A few weeks back I was at a friends house, he is the lead guitar player in a band I play with. This guy fixes my amps and anything I cant fix myself on my guitars and never charges me a penny for the labour only the parts. I was chatting with him late one night when he pulled out an old french clock movement. It was mostly in pieces, very dirty and smelt quite strongly of cheap talc powder! I had mentioned to him before that I was repairing clocks and he asked if it was possible to do anything with it as it was his grandfathers clock. It was once in a Boulle type case but that had long since gone. His grandfather had tried to fix the clock but just didnt know how to put it back together and there it had stayed for the best part of 20 years in a plastic tub in bits. I had a quick look through the tub and to my amazement everything seemed to be there, the only thing I could see that was missing was the suspension spring. I took the clock away and the next evening got to work on it.

    The first thing I did was give it a quick bath to get it cleaned up a little so I could see what I was working on. I stripped the Brocot suspension and cleaned it up and then sorted through my suspension springs until I found one that would fit. I did not know at the time if the suspension spring would be suitable as I have four of these french movements and they all have different suspension springs. I got it all cleaned up and put it back together.

    The movement didnt need a massive amount of work although there was quite a lot of rust removal to be done, I spent the best part of two evenings just cleaning the movement. The mainspring (only 1 as it is a timepiece) was in very good condition opening out well and having no tight coils, this was cleaned, lubricated and put back in the barrel. All the pivots polished and only four bushings needed on the plates, both sides of the escape wheel, one on the non winding side of the barrel and the other on the back plate of T2. The anchor only had minor pitting so this was polished out. The escape wheel pivots were both quite badly bent and I had no idea if they would straighten out as the pivots on these french clocks are known for being very hard. I found a collet that was a good fit for the first pivot and set the wheel up in my watchmakers lathe. I then pushed the tailstock runner up almost touching the other pivot and watched it as I turned the escape wheel by hand. Sure enough it was very bent, so I closed my eyes and said a little prayer to the god of pivot straightening and then began to push in the opposite direction very carefuly, just applying a small amount of pressure at a time until it was almost perfect. I then removed the wheel and put the other pivot into the collet and did the same again. It came out perfectly straight. I couldnt belive my luck!
    The screws that held everything in on the front plate had all been put back in the wrong places, the click spring screw pulled straight out, so I established which screws went where and was left with one small brass screw which didnt look original. After a sort through my magic box of screws (its magic because whenever I need a spare screw I always manage to find the perfect screw in this box 😯 ) I found the correct screw and set about putting the whole mech back together.
    I had told my friend that I wouldnt be able to get him a case like the one the clock had been in originally as they are getting quite expensive, but his movement did also come in the Slate French clock cases. I said I could pick one of these up quite cheaply and get it looking quite nice. He was happy with this so I spent an evening on e-bay and found a likely looking donor.

    Won this on an auction for £25.00 including the postage. unfortunately the seller had no idea how to package a clock, tthey just stuck it in a cradboard box with a bit of polystyrene under the back and on the sides. When it arrived I opened the box and the base had broken away :(

    After a quick read-up I found that these cases were stuck together with plaster of paris, there is a debate going at the moment, some say its better to re-fix with epoxy as this will never happen again but some say its best to stick with the plaster as it can be un-done if ever the clock needs re-polishing or some other form of work where complete dismantling would be needed. I chose to go for the original method and bought a box of plaster of paris, mixes up with cold water and you only get 2-3 mins to play with it before it sets. You also need to keep the layer very thin as too much will leave a larger than normal gap between the two pieces.
    The case was then left overnight to dry and let the plaster fully cure. I then took care of a few chips by filling with black milliput. This stuff is great but it is not always very keen on sticking to the slate, you must rough up the edges of where it will be sticking first and if it is a big chip I have seen it suggested that it is worth drilling some small holes and inserting some brass pins so the milliput has something extra to hold on to.
    Once it is all sanded to shape you then need to give the case a good clean with warm soapy water but please do not get it wet as the plaster may come apart, just enough water to wet the surface is all you need. A gentle scourer to help get off all the grime and dirt but nothing that scratches the slate. Again leave the case to dry out overnight and you should be left with something that looks like this…..

    As you can see it has gone a lighter grey than in the e-bay sellers photo and that is quite normal. The next stage it to get some solid furniture polish with bees wax and cover all the marble inlays. This protects it from the black pigment stain which is the next step but only after you have allowed the polish to dry overnight.
    I used the Meadows and Passmore Slate Clock Blacking Kit. It is quite cheap and available on e-bay or through their site. You put on a layer using gloves and a rag being very careful to try and avoid getting any on the marble inlay. Work it in well and then finish off by using a small brush along where the slate meets the marble. Leave overnight to dry. next put another layer of stain on but this time work in straight lines from front to back and side to side. This should even out the finish. Again leave overnight to dry. The next day is the good bit, pleanty of furniture polish and rub it in very well all over the clock. Do not keep turning the rag over, just try and use the same piece as this limits the amount of black dye taken back off of the case. Leave to dry for a couple of hours and then give the whole case a damn good polish with a clean rag. Now comes the gold inlay. If you are lucky you can put a small brass clock pin in a pin vice and gently scrape away the gunk in the inlays to reveal the original gilding. If you dont find any then get the inlays as clean as you can and scrape out as much gunk as you can, this is quite time consuming but is well worth the effort in the long run. Meadows and Passmore reccomend using Liberon Gilt Cream “Chantilly”. Their directions had been great so far so I bought some on Amazon. When it arrived I was very suprised as it was quite solid, I do wonder if I had been sent old stock but there was no way it was going to be painted on. I read on the pot that you washed the brush out with white spirit after using it so I took some out of the pot and put it in a small bowl. I dripped some white spirit on it and mixed until it was thin enough to paint with. You will need a paint brush with about two or three bristles on it as some of the lines are very fine. Dont worry if you go over the edges as once it has dried you can buff over with more polish and any excess will be wiped away, just be careful not to fill the inlays back up with polish.
    The dial was in very good condition and this just needed a quick clean with some warm water and a cotton bud. All of the brass work had to be cleaned which was quite time consuming too but I laquered it all to make sure it stays clean for a while longer. The hands just needed a minor clean, the blueing was still good.
    Now the case was done It was time to put the movement back in and get this baby running. That is you can as long as the straps are intact which mine were not, both the L-shaped bends had been snapped off so I cut some strip from a thin sheet of brass, doubled over the ends and re made the holes and threads before re-bending the l-shapes and then soldered these onto the original straps. You could just epoxy them back on but I made sure I had at least a 1″ overlap so there was plenty of strength where the join was. The front and back were in place and I tightened the bolts that hold it togther but not too tight, i set the pendulum running and made sure the surface the clock was sitting on was level, I then rotated the movement very slightly until it was in beat and then finished doing up the small bolts that run into the straps.
    The grey patches around the inlay on the bottom are just so annoying, once the case has faded to this degree there is no amount of staining to get it back. Shoe polish has been used on these cases but it does not do them any favours, I tried some on the back of a case but it works nowhere near as well as the slate blacking kit. I have even seen some of these cases painted black but you can tell a mile away.
    I timed the clock over a couple of days until it was keeping good time and then I took it back to him.
    he was completely lost for words and I swear I saw a tear well up in his eye. Its that which makes this job so wonderful.
    I am sorry there are not more pictures but I get so carried away with the work I forget to take them. :)

    #52009
    willofiam
    Moderator
    • Topics Started: 75
    • Total Posts: 1437

    That is FANTASTIC Paul, you do nice work, and thank you for the info on how you went about it. You are dedicated and talented, it seems as though you like teaching as much as doing the work, and your good at both. I learn alot from you!!!! I would have to say God has given you a special talent and we are the benefactors of that, :D If I were in your area and needed a clock fixed I would definitely hire you for the job!!!!!! Thanks again Paul. God bless, William

    #52010
    arutha
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 85
    • Total Posts: 1536

    Thanks for the very kind words William, Iam glad you didnt get bored after reading such a long post :)

    #52011
    willofiam
    Moderator
    • Topics Started: 75
    • Total Posts: 1437

    How can you get bored while reading an experts description of a clock refurbishment??????? I’m all ears, ready to soak it all in. :D William P.S. is there a way to save certain posts into a file on my computer????

    #52012
    Bob Tascione
    Moderator
    • Topics Started: 38
    • Total Posts: 1559

    Great post Paul…
    I learned some good stuff here.
    Thanks!

    Hey William,
    You can right click on the post and click “select all” and then right click again and click copy or with windows click somewhere in the post and push Ctrl A to select the entire page and then Ctrl C to copy. Then open Word, notepad, TextPad or any text editor, paste it and save it any where you want. You won’t have the pics with it but all the text will be there. If you want the pics you can right click on a pic and then click “save as” and choose where you want the pic to go. If you put the pics and text file into one folder you can name the folder what ever you want for easy reference.
    Hope that made sense. I just read it again and now I’m confused!

    Enjoy and thanks again Paul,
    Bob

    #52013
    kybill2011
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 16
    • Total Posts: 64

    Great post Paul. This forum offers so much good information. These kind of posts keep me wanting to learn more and more. Keep them coming Paul. Paul, by the way could I get your e-mail adresss if you don’t mind? Bill

    #52014
    arutha
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 85
    • Total Posts: 1536

    Hi Bill, thanks for the kind comments. I have given Bob my e-mail address to pass on to you.
    Thanks again,
    Paul.

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aruthaRestoration of a French Clock