Sunday, January 26, 2014

Very Rare Seth Thomas 8 Day Column Clock - Case Restoration

The case has been finished for a little while now, (2 weeks?) but I haven't had time to go through my photos, edit them, and write this post until now.

The following are some detailed photos of the case partially disassembled for restoration. The back was removed (it was held in place with dozens of newer, mismatched screws), and the loose lower moulding was set aside.

As previously mentioned, this case had already been repaired using carpenter's glue by a former "restorer". Some of the current glue blocks are not original. This block is newer, and held with 2 screws and lots of yellow glue.

These two small blocks are original, but coated in new glue.

Another photo shows the new block on the left, and the original triangular upper block with an added brass escutcheon pin (nail). You can also see the mess of holes in the top board from the unoriginal screws added to the backboard.

One (of 2) original lower glue blocks, coated in yellow glue.

The next shots show just how loose the case pieces were before restoration.

The entire upper left side was missing the mahogany veneer. Case sides don't always have veneer. Sometimes they are sanded or otherwise polished smooth, and stained/painted to match the surrounding wood, since veneer does not stick very well to the end grain.

Lower left.

Lower right.

The lower right half of the bottom board had come unglued at the lamination joint. This is not a common problem, but it's also not difficult to repair. Also note original hole from the packing crate. If you're interested, you can search for more information on this topic. Basically, a lot of early clocks had holes drilled half way into the top and/or bottom board(s) with wooden pegs, fitted to boards for wooden packing crates (for transportation).

Kind of an odd angle, but this is the bottom front (right) corner, showing a large chip in the veneer.

Again, this is the left half of the bottom board. I chose to remove and replace this entire section of veneer.

This was a complete mess and NOT FUN to remove. What you see below is one of the 4 tops/bottoms of the sides of the case, smothered in yellow glue. This was carefully, and painstakingly removed with a sharp chisel, a little at a time.

Here is the case disassembled for glue removal/cleaning. You can see a bunch of the small little wooden glue blocks at the top.

Simple repairs: reglue the split bottom board, using hot hide glue liberally applied in the crack, and clamped 24 hours.

New veneer to the top left side.

Veneer patch to the top right column block.

Label repairs. A lot of people are afraid to damage labels, and this is with good reason. I have seen a lot of ruined labels from restorers attempting to varnish them, or by using inappropriate glues.

Labels like these are over 150 years old, and must be treated with extreme care. Generally, I don't do much to labels, except for very little "spot repairs" to re-adhere loose portions, or areas that could result in losses down the road. The areas of concern are usually the areas of text, and the areas near the weight tracks, which are usually fairly damaged.

When working on labels, be sure to use a pH neutral glue. There are several options available, and they will either say "acid free" "photo safe" or "pH neutral". These glues are available in liquid, gel, and pastes. I have both a liquid and a paste version, and I find that the paste version works better, since it doesn't soak as much into the dry, fragile paper.

Apply minimal glue, and use a small brush.

These were the spots I repaired:

After: Not a huge difference, but since the backboard was already removed, it was worth the effort to inspect and repair the label.

During the repairs, I decided to replace the glue blocks. I did not like the original assembly method (which used oddly sized double blocks at each corner). I replaced the blocks with stronger single-piece blocks, which were stained, treated, and aged before gluing. The original blocks will be kept with the clock, and all the case pieces were glued with hide glue (which is reversible).

Here is the case completely reassembled, with some of the veneer sections cleaned-up and ready for new patches (bottom arrows). The arrows at the top show one completed patch, and 2 nail holes which will just be puttied/painted.

The door needed attention as well. It was solid in 2 opposite corners, but loose everywhere else. It was disassembled, glasses removed, and reglued with hide glue.

More veneer patches. The veneer on parts of this clock was very thin, and on other parts it was "med" thickness (in between 1/16" thick, and 1/42" standard modern veneer) so I had to use thick veneer, and shave/sand it down to the correct thickness (which is a lot more work).

All the veneer repairs done, with a coat of dark brown stain applied.

Parts of the case (for example, the new top moulding's pine edge) had to be touched-up with additional stain, and paints to match.

Bottom left after patching and first coat of stain.

Top after first several coats of shellac and before any toner was added (not nearly done at this point).

Here is the finished case, after several additional coats of shellac, paint, toner, and flat lacquer, to the repaired areas. I did not want to refinish the case in any way, so I had to get creative with several different products layered together to match the old cruddy finish. It came out quite well, and I still need to take additional photos.


  1. Awesome job Jean. You are good at veneer repairs too.Would you do anything to protect a label from having weights rub against it.

    1. Thanks, and no. I could easily add a Mylar (plastic) over the label to protect it, but I'm not a fan of this. It just ends up looking terrible. The weights rubbing on the label is part of the original "charm" and it's "as the builder intended".

  2. More than I could ever hope to pull off with anything, that looks very impressive JC.

    1. Thanks Jester! It was a fairly straight forward repair job, compared to some of the other ones that I'll eventually be tackling, so stay tuned for those!