Antique Mantel Clock Resto-Mod




Introduction: Antique Mantel Clock Resto-Mod

A few months back I had created an 'ible called “Antique Clock Upgrade” where I had taken an old and empty cast iron clock case and added a new face with quartz movement, LEDs and a SainSmart micro controller to act as a second hand.

Sometime later I had received a great comment by vonlet and it had got me thinking and so this ‘ible is dedicated to vonlet and other likeminded folks.

Thanks J

Step 1: What I Bought...

I found this clock project in one of my favorite antique shops; it’s an antique Waterbury mantle clock (circa 1890’s) that had seen better days and was being sold for only $10.00.

The wooden case was in bad condition, it was:

  • dented
  • split
  • gouged
  • badly repainted

However, it had all of its parts;

  • Waterbury brass clock mechanism (non-functioning)
  • gong
  • striking hammer (it was rolling around in the bottom of the case)
  • hour hand (need to order a new minute hand)
  • Waterbury paper face and dial pan
  • brass bezel with broken glass
  • Sessions clock bob

I could bring the clock back to original (solid black with gold deco) but I wanted a little more so the inspiration for this project came from an amazing clock that I found on Ebay (see pic).The Ebay clock is a functioning French mantle clock with a price tag of $225.

So began the challenge…to make my beat up non-functioning $10.00 clock to be like a proper $225 dollar functioning clock.

Step 2: Planning

What drew me to the Ebay clock was the color (black vs the brown burl)…truly amazing.

Colors picked!

I also had to make a design choice for the clock’s decoration. The Ebay clock is much larger (almost twice as long) than the train wreck that I bought so the extra decoration on the left and right side of the Ebay clock would have to go leaving both side panels on my clock black.

The lack of decoration on my clock may make the clock plain so I plan to add some ornate feet to the clock (there also seems to be some evidence that my clock may have had some feet in the past).

The plan is set; I will be restoring the clock’s mechanism and clock case integrity; then I will modify the exterior with new paint and decoration…a resto-mod project.

Supplies/Parts Needed

  • Cleaning supplies: Simple Green and brass cleaner
  • Paint stripper
  • Sandpaper various grits
  • Wood putty
  • Paint: spray paint and primer, acrylic airbrush paint, artist colors including glaze
  • Automotive wax and rubbing compound
  • Spray polyurethane
  • 2 part RTV molding compound and molding resin
  • epoxy
  • Plexiglas
  • Suspension spring and rod
  • Minute hand
  • Adjustable bob
  • Clock oil

Step 3: Checking Out the Mechanics and Tear Down

I had already pulled out the clock mechanism and started working on it when I took these pictures; however, I have added a couple of pictures of a Gilbert clock. The Gilbert escapement is located at the top of the mechanism where it was easy to photograph. The Waterbury's escapement is located a little lower and between both front and back plate.

I dropped the mechanism into a sonic bath with some Simple Green to clean about a 100 years’ worth of grime and once clean, I took a quick look at the mechanism. The mainsprings were intact with no splits or chips (see Gilbert pic of a broken mainspring), all of the gears and pinions were in place, and the escapement was free (easily turned with my finger) which, mechanically speaking, is a good sign.

So I hooked the bob onto the pendulum rod then pushed the bob to see if the thing worked.

No…it did not.

Then I tilted the left corner of the mechanism up, and then pushed the bob again…it started to tick. It told me that the clock was no longer balanced (pendulum’s swing must be even from side to side – balanced). I then oiled the piece, put a shim under the left side, ordered some parts (new minute hand, suspension spring (mine was crinkled), & bob) and then I let the clock tick while I tackled the rest of the resto-mod.

Next thing to do was to unscrew the dial pan/bezel and the clock’s floor from the clock no major issues there.

Then I had to remove the paint using paint stripper.

After removing the paint, I noticed that the majority of the wood was nice; it had nice a red tint to it and would have been great to refinish with either a stain or a wash for a rustic look (see clock pic of a Sessions clock).

As the majority of the wood was decent, the front face of the case was bad. It was made from a cheap piece of wood that contained several major splits and cracks; so much so that daylight could be seen through the clock. I could have replaced the broken panel but decided fix it up instead and to keep the clock as original as possible.

Step 4: Prepping and Painting

With any painting project, prep work is the most important aspect for a nice finish…the most time consuming and tedious.

I filled all of the dings, gouges, and scratches which included the deco on the bottom of the clock with wood putty then sanded smooth.

I painted the entire piece with a primer then inspected the clock, filled in the spots that I missed the first time then sanded till smooth again.

For the major cracks….they reappeared after I had painted the clock but no worries it was an easy fix.

  • Dig out the putty with an Exacto
  • fill in the voids with large slivers of wood (large enough to fill the entire gap) and glued them in
  • Let the glue dry then shave down the slivers
  • fill the imperfection with putty
  • sand smooth
  • repaint

Once satisfied, I masked the clock with painters tape and paper.

For the black areas I used Tamyia gloss black. Why Tamyia model paint? Short answer…it was on hand and it is a quick drying high-gloss paint. I wet sanded the black paint with a 1500 grit sandpaper and used polishing compound to buff it out. I repeated the process three times to get a good durable finish.

Step 5: Burling

Next thing to do is to figure out how to faux paint burl walnut.

YouTube tutorials were great and they gave me the basics, but, I had to modify the instruction to make it work for my small application. First step is to re-mask the clock to protect the black paint.

I brought out the airbrush to paint a base color for the burl. Rather than painting a flat coat of color, I thought it would be best to have a modulation of color. I used Model Air (acrylic) colors and painted in a crazy eight pattern of motion, creating light and dark areas. I also changed paint colors too – yellow, tan and red-brown.

Once dried, I replaced the airbrush with a paint brush. Three acrylic artist colors were used, red, burnt umber and burnt sienna. I Also used…acrylic glazing.

I mixed the glazing with all of the colors.

I created a graphic illustration to demonstrate my painting technique. Each step in the illustration was created with a white background to show each step clearly.

I used the burnt sienna as the base and painted, not in straight or heavy strokes, but in a light wavy pattern. Then I used a larger clean brush to feather out the pattern using random strokes.I added the red in sparing dabs, and then feathered them out too. Be careful, you don’t want it too red.

The last color to be applied is the burn umber which will make the burl look. I dabbed the dark color on in a pattern that looked organic…random with no repeatable pattern… and then used a clean brush in a twisting motion like I was grinding the color in. Let dry.

Then back to the spray booth so that I can soften the effect with a light coat of the Model Air paint.

For depth I repeated the burling steps two extra times making sure that the burnt umber followed closely (not exact) with the main veins created by the first burnt umber application.

Step 6: Protecting the Finish

I used spray polyurethane to cover the piece. Once dried, I wet sanded with a fine 1500 grit paper, used rubbing compound to bring out the shine and repeated the process one more time.

Once done, I applied car wax it to the clock and buffed.

NOTE: keep in mind that using fine sandpaper will not destroy the finish. It will take down imperfections and buffing the finish out with rubbing compound will bring it back. Also the more times the process is repeated, the deeper the shine.

Step 7: Making the Feet

I have a clock in my collection that has ornate feet (Ansonia clock used in Antique Clock Upgrade), and I decided to use it to make a mold of the clock’s feet using Bare-Metal Foil’s Polytek two part RTV silicone material found at the hobby shop.

  • I placed the original in a container and poured the molding material in
  • Tapped the container to release trapped air bubbles
  • Once cured, I popped the mold out of the container then I cut a slit down the side of the mold to pull the original out
  • After that I placed the mold back into the container, put the lid back on and cut the bottom out of it (my hole for pouring resin was at the bottom of the container)
  • Poured my two part resin in

NOTE: by placing the mold back into the original container I will prevent the resin from running out the the slit and save on a huge mess as the resin is liquid.

I made feet for each corner of the clock and spray painted it with Testor’s copper paint.

Step 8: Getting It Back Together

Before putting the face back onto the clock, I had to sort out a few issues.

  • The glass door/bezel needs to be reattached to the dial pan
  • Replace the glass
  • Cleaned

The glass was held in by a brass ring that was soldered to the bezel with lead in three spots. I had to scrape out the lead to release the ring and glass.

I used the glass as a template to cut a new piece out of Plexiglas. Before placing the Plexi back in, I cleaned and polished both rings.

Instead of using glue to put the pieces back together, I chose JB Weld…a nice stinky epoxy formulated for metal. I also used it to weld the door hinge to the back of the dial pan.

Then I polished the brass around the clock face.

Once the face assembly dried, I reattached the face assembly, the clock floor, and all four feet to the clock.

Step 9: Making It Work

I ordered a few parts from a company called TimeSavers to fix a few issues:

  • The speed adjuster was frozen
  • Suspension spring was crinkled
  • Mechanism was running way too fast (faster than the speed adjuster can fix)
  • The gong hammer was broken off
  • Mechanism will only run if the left side is shimmed by an eighth of an inch

To fix the frozen speed adjuster, I ordered an adjustable Waterbury bob about the same weight as the bob that came with the Clock. The speed of a mechanical clock with pendulum is determined by the length of the pendulum’s swing (how much energy is expended on the swing). The shorter the pendulum, the faster it runs.

I also ordered a new suspension spring and pendulum rod combo; the spring keeps the pendulum moving (the spring is flat and wags back and forth like a dog’s tail). I cut the rod longer than the original to help slow down the clock.

With the longer rod and new bob installed I noticed that the clock was still running too fast (pendulum to short) so I added another length of wire between the rod and the bob. I made a hook at both ends of the new piece to hook into place. That slowed it down enough to allow fine tuning using the nut located at the bottom of the bob.

The original striking hammer for the gong was broken off from the clock mechanism and since I wanted to reuse as much of the original clock as possible I reattached the hammer using JB Weld and a clamp. I made a clamp out of a brass strip, filled it with JB Weld and inserted the hammer between the new pieces of brass – let dry.

With four out of the five issues fixed, I installed the clock mechanism back into the clock case.

With the mechanism installed, the clock stopped working because of the balance issue. I could have slid pennies under the feet on the left side of the clock to make it run but I watched some YouTube videos instead.The clock experts advised adjusting the balance by slightly bending the clock crutch (the suspension rod slides into the crutch and the crutch is connected to verge located over the escape wheel (escapement - see photo of the Gilbert clock); the escapement transfers the energy spent into a measured beat (ticking sound). Energy to run the clock is created by the unwinding of the mainspring; that energy flows up through the gears up to the escapement, then to the crutch controlling the swing of the pendulum. I bent the crutch slightly to the left until I got a steady tick-tock, tick-tock. If not in balance, the swing will not be even and your ticking will not be steadied/measured.

The clock is running and chiming!

At some point in the future I will have the clock serviced and have the mainsprings replaced because the clock is supposed to be an 8 day clock, currently, it is a strong 6 day clock or very weak 7 day clock…but after a hundred years, I’d be weak too. I will then also have to face the music for using JB Weld on the hammer (but hey, it worked).

Step 10: Resto-Mod Done!

I’ve spent about $50.00 in parts and supplies so now my $10.00 clock is a $60.00 that looks like a $225 clock. I am ahead of the game!

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    7 years ago

    As far as it being an antique, it was clearly in such bad shape that all antique value had been lost, so making it look nice again, even if inauthentic, was not, in my opinion, a bad thing. Had a bunch of alterations been made to an early single weight Seth Thomas regulator in good condition, would be a different story.


    Reply 7 years ago

    Agreed. I have several antique clocks and would never dream of altering them.


    7 years ago

    To get the clock back to a full 8 day wind, the movement would have to be rebuilt. More than likely there are some pivot holes that have been worn oblong that is creating extra friction. There is most likely not any need for spring replacement.


    Reply 7 years ago

    The problem for me is to find a good clock shop. The two in my area...not so good. I do know that I will need some bushings replaced but the mainsprings are bad. They were rusted and were crusted over (with what...I do not know). But you would have to see it to believe it.


    7 years ago

    So very interesting! Thank you for sharing this process, and for demonstrating that not all antiques have to be treated as overly 'precious' and ineligible for repair with modern materials. Good job!


    Reply 7 years ago

    Thanks, I figure that some of these clocks were so common that altering one should not be so bad especially one that looked like a parts clock. Thanks again for your comment :)


    7 years ago

    This is awesome


    Reply 7 years ago

    Thanks so much :)