Monday, January 30, 2017

Gingerbread Clock Case Repairs

These are two cases that I repaired a short while ago. They are a Waterbury Niles (the lighter walnut one) bought from a yard sale several years ago, and a New Haven "Merchant Line B" (dark oak) bought locally though Kijiji (similar to Craigslist) not long ago.

Both clock cases needed work, but both were purchased quite inexpensively. The Niles was 60$, and the Merchant Line B was 40$.

Let's start with the Niles. This was the clock as-purchased:

Both top "horns" were broken off, the glass had been replaced (no transfer), the dial was awful, and the hands were incorrect. When I got it home I also discovered that it had been fitted with a New Haven movement. The clock is not valuable enough to spend 100$ to swap the movement for a correct Waterbury one, but I still want to fix it up as much as possible.

Because of the swapped movement, I had a very difficult time tracking down the model and maker. The clock has no label remaining (as is often the case with gingerbread clocks), so I had started my search with New Haven examples. I then switched to Ingraham, and I eventually stumbled on a match. This was very important because I did not know what the missing horns looked like.

Here's a good example of a Waterbury Niles (this one fitted with an alarm):

I have a number of different photos, some with close-ups, and I was able to use those as a pattern.

The New Haven had a broken latch, no glass, and the entire case was loose. In addition, both clock cases were missing their triangular glue blocks behind the crests. Here is the New Haven Merchant Line B as-purchased:

It looks almost like the case has been painted black, or been darkened with shoe polish, but I can assure you that even though it doesn't look quite right, the colour is 100% original.

You will have to excuse my slowly dying camera. It has a hard time focusing properly, and it's honestly on its last leg.

The Merchant Line B is a very interesting clock because the same pattern was cut in at least three different shapes with little regard to the actual pressed design. This particular clock has one of the cut designs that makes the most sense. I will eventually make a whole write-up about the clock and show off the variations once the clock is fully restored.

This clock needed the least amount of work. I took the case completely apart aside from the bracket base, and reassembled it with hide glue. I also cut, shaped, and antiqued a new latch for it. The commercially available latches NEVER fit correctly, and they rarely have the same shape. It's far easier and cheaper to just cut one from thin brass stock.

A new pine glue block was cut to match the existing shadow lines. Pine was used because the entire rear box of the clock is pine. If it had all been oak, then oak would have been used. This particular block is quite beefy and thick compared to others. They tend to be quite randomly sized, so try to match what was there.

I was working on both cases at the same time, so ignore the Niles case for now.

The glue block was then antiqued with acrylic paints to match the colour and patina of the case back and sides.

Here are the repairs to the Nile case.

To repair the horns, it was necessary to remove the top crest entirely. I passed the tips in the table saw (very carefully) to get nice straight and flat joints to glue new walnut blocks. In most cases (99% of the time) repairs are done with hide glue for reversibility, but in this case I believe I used carpenter's glue for a more permanent repair. It's up to you to decide what's appropriate during restoration work. This is a fragile area, so I wanted a very strong repair.

The rear glue block was cut from a walnut scrap, and you can see that this one was MUCH thinner than the one on the New Haven clock.

Using Photoshop, I took one of my source images and resized the image to "life size". I did this by cropping the image flush to the sides of the upper crest and then measuring my crest and making the image the same size. Once the photo on the computer is life size, I then overlay a custom sized grid on the image to match some graph paper. The easier way is to just print the life size photo or a cropped section of the photo to use as the pattern, but my printer isn't working. The image was just copied freehand to graph paper for my pattern. The pattern is then cut out of thin cardboard and traced onto the wood.

A quick trim on the scroll saw finishes up most of the repair. This is the part where you need skill with your tools. The cut outs should be sawn ONLY with no sanding or corrections made to them, which means that they need to be cut accurately in one shot. I've cut thousands of patterns over the past decade and a half, so I have plenty of practice at this. If you're attempting a similar repair, have a skilled cabinetmaker cut the pattern for you. It will make a big difference. Sloppy or crooked cuts are incredibly hard to hide, and if you start to sand or file the edges, it will be very apparent in the finished repair because all these clocks were quickly cut and have rough dark edges on them.

The way that the pressed pattern is applied also makes a big difference. An alarming number of people believe that these clocks were "hand carved" but that is very rarely the case. Some of the very early Eastlake period examples are, but they are the absolute minority. 99% of these are pressed the same way as "pressed-back chairs". The wood is basically fed into a press with a large metal punch that imprints the design into the wood. If you look carefully at the designs, you will see that the fibers of the wood are crushed and often splintered at the edges of hard lines.

For this reason, the best way to make these designs is by crushing the wood as opposed to carving it. Any number of household items can be used as punches. The simple lines on this design were made with a used slot screwdriver.

Note the crushed fibers all look the same across the original section and the repair:

Though additional source photos as well as faint shadow lines, I found that this model had rear braces. Apparently Waterbury must have known that these tips broke easily and these reinforcing braces were added early on.

These are just simple walnut sticks with the ends pared down slightly.

The bottom corner on this clock was also separated, so I fixed that with a bit of hide glue and some clamps. This is a tricky corner to clamp, so a wooden scrap was placed along the back.

The finished repairs were sealed with orange shellac (no stain). The final colour matched pretty well, except that the existing walnut does have a bit of sun fading. The new repairs should eventually mellow with a bit of time.

I have no final photos of the clock yet, but I have replaced and antiqued a new Roman dial, installed a glass transfer, and changed the hands. I am quite happy with the results, and I will try to post a photo soon.

Edit: Finished clock was posted here:

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