How Best to Clean a Painted Dial?

JB

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Dec 27, 2006
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How do I clean a painted dial. It doesn't need painting just a good cleaning.
Can I use hand cleaner like I would use on a case?
I don't think mild detergent and water will do the trick.
 

Thyme

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Sep 18, 2006
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How do I clean a painted dial. It doesn't need painting just a good cleaning.
Can I use hand cleaner like I would use on a case?
I don't think mild detergent and water will do the trick.
You can, but first try it on just a small portion of the paint as a test. And be very, very careful with the painted or inked characters. India ink is water soluble, unless it is very aged.
 

Missy

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May 27, 2004
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JB, could you post a picture of the dial that you want to clean?

Missy
 

RJSoftware

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Spray bottle and q-tips. Don't rub hard.
RJ
 

Bubbaloo001

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Oct 24, 2010
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Hi JB,

As far as using detergents goes, a fellow has to be gun-shy when cleaning dials. Lots of people who handle other people's watches don't even touch the dial because the small print (17 jewels, or Incabloc etc) is often transfer printed and comes off as easily as the age-yellowing does.

If you've ever wiped the paint off a dial before, you know that the threshold between looking better and now you've done it is mighty small. You can insert your favorite expletives if you wish! Using your better judgment and instinct from experience, you can usually guess which dials will bear a cleaning and which ones you should just have restored.

Using detergents or a cleaner containing ammonia is a big risk. Mixing small quantities of a detergent into water is prone to variation and even plain water can be a risk using the wrong method. Armor-All Multi-purpose cleaner is surprisingly standardized bottle to bottle and gentle. It is meant for vinyl and upholstery, carpets, laundry and even concrete. Watch dials?

The engineers at Armor-All recommend using a DAMP cloth (I use DAMP make-up sponges from a dollar store). - and to dilute the cleaner with water 10% for delicate painted surfaces. This is a give-away that the cleaner is designed to be safe for most materials because the cleaner gets diluted, and is not added to a larger amount of water.
I have found that the cleaner is fine on even small-print transfer-painted dials as long as you resist the urge to rub and allow the cleaner to work, rinse, re-apply, rinse, and only dab lightly at the surface to dry. Allow the cleaner to etch into the stains. Its surprisingly gentle stuff. I think it is a dry-cleaning fluid that is diluted for the handyman at large.
If after some diligence and patience has been expended there has been some improvement, but you have not gotten a great result, it is better to walk away and accept a few stubborn spots than to ruin it by forcing your will on it. Who can tell when that is!!
The key point I am making is that if it comes off right away, it is too strong a cleaner to control the result.
 

laprade

Registered User
Most white painted dials, (see vitreous: below) made in the period up to say, 1920s (when cellulose lacquer was invented) were "stove enamelled". Basic white paint consisted of whiting, linseed oil and one or two other fairly primitive ingredients. Gloss, paint as we know it today, was not available. Household paints were not very lasting or strong, and getting paint to stick to metal was an even bigger problem, and two methods were used:
1/ vitreous enamel, which is virtually permanent: road signs, baths etc.
2/stove enamel, which is baked more or less plain paint.

The latter was the cheapest and easiest method, though not the strongest, and to get the paint to dry hard and stick to metal, it was baked in an oven. You can get details on google. The early clocks in parts of the US, had their stoving done in strong hot sunlight, in several thin coats. (This was explained to me by the recently retired director of the Bristol museum), whereas in the colder UK, large bakers type ovens were used. So having said all that, it is a problem knowing what to use to clean such dials.

In the past, as a dial painter, I have used a "silver cloth wadding" to gently clean the stove enamel, and had good results. This is fine on steel sheet faces, such as in english dial clocks and long case clocks. The lighter weight zinc dials, used by most of the US companies, and also found in others as well, can be a bit of a problem, as the stoving is very thin. This thinness, isn't to do with the process: i.e. being too hot for the zinc, as I have had several american dials "re stoved" with no problems at all. I think they were too mean to build up a decent strong coat!

Stove enamelling is still done today, for specialist bicycles, and car parts etc.

Vitreous enamel dials, such as found on most french mantel clocks, and on 99% of french longcase / comtoise clocks, is cleanable with virtually anything, as vitreous enamel is fused glass (minerals). The problems arise, with the extras added to the main dials, such as names, and in the case of the smaller clocks, the numerals. They have to be fired a second time, using transfers, and the firing isn't as high as the main firing. The vitreous enamel dials are fired onto a metal base, usually copper, and are different from ceramic (solid) dials, where the numerals can be placed under the glaze. Gilding, in either ceramic or vitreous, is always on the surface, and very prone to damage.

Hope this helps!
 

Thyme

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Sep 18, 2006
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Laprade,

Do you still paint dials?

I'd like to see some of your work, past or present. :)
 

laprade

Registered User
Firstly, I should mention the third main type of dial, which completely slipped my mind: wooden dials. These are mainly found on german and american clocks. The image is painted onto a gesso base, which has a tradition going back many ions! These dials can present serious problems, as the surface is easily effected by damp and stresses in the wood. The paint finish is much more fragile than the oven hardened stove painted dials, and very often the numerals are in a water based paint, which is then sometimes varnished with a very simple varnish coat. Some pics of gesso dials from german wags.

ALIM1986.jpg ALIM1987.jpg

The long lines are caused by the wood "bowing" due to shrinkage of the wood.
The bad patch of broken surface, shows the gesso base.
jesso (2).JPG jesso (3).jpg

These pics show the varying degree of quality in the graphics. Remember that the surface is a convex one.
jesso.jpg jesso (5).JPG

Thyme; I haven't done a dial since 2004, and even then it was a favour for an old client, who discovered that I was back home for a few weeks!

As to old work: It so happens that for some unknown reason, I have a demonstration dial from a class I did. It has only one coat of base paint, but is an original old zinc dial. The numerals are drawn with a rule pen, using diluted Humbrol enamel. The numerals have not been finished off and trimmed. The main purpose of the dial was to demonstrate the "lost ink" process used by us to paint dials. The image in the pics, is completely hand done; no transfers or printing. The dial is a 12 inch.
full close up r.jpg IX-X  r.jpg
 

laprade

Registered User
Keeping to topic. some shots of an english-dial dial. Quite late, probably 1900 +-. The face is ingrained with heavy filth: smoke from a pub. The clock was scrapped, and I was given the dial. It had been hanging for years with no glass.
fraser dial.jpg

I tried some tooth past on it today, with no effect. I don't have any silver wadding at the moment) Someone else tried a heavy scourer down near the six and seven, but it was effecting the minute circles. (that is why I was given the dial: the movement and case went elsewhere <late 70s>)
harsh clean.JPG

You can see the original colour where the dial has been chipped: it was pure white, though I doubt it could be got back to that, without harming the numerals.
white under surface.jpg

This picture shows the area which was covered by a bezel, and has aged "gracefully".

bezel tidemark.JPG

Thyme, not wanting to boast, but since you have asked for artistic proof, I show a pictorial example of my work. I had hopped to have a shot of a spare moon dial, I did twenty odd years ago, but the caretaker back in Eire, can't find it. So I show the only oil painting I ever did.
tableau.jpg
My normal medium for drawing/painting is cartoons, which are then watercolour tinted. Peter Archer (75 years) one of the worlds leading military artists (google) who is a neighbour, asked me to take part in a spoof art show back in 2006: he asked me to show some cartoons and an oil. I had never painted in oil on canvas before: quite a bit different than what is needed on dials and moon calendars. The horses feet are a disaster!

Any way, enough of that: back to topic. Cleaning of silvered dials, depends on the quality of the varnish. The old antique brass dials on LC clocks, were coated with white of egg: say no more!

The victorian dials used a more or less experimental varnishes and lacquers. I say experimental, as most of them tended to fail after only a few years, so the makers were always trying out a new receipt. After 1923, when cellulose lacquer was invented, the problem was thought to have Been solved. However, as we all know now: that was not the case.

With the weaker varnishes, the problem is that cleaning will more or less remove part or all of the coating, eventually. This is a gradual process, and leads to the silver, discolouring in patches. Removing the varnish, poses problems with the numerals: some are printed and not embossed/painted/waxed. Re-silvering is a relative easy process, but repainting arabic numerals is the big problem. Most of the very late dials were electroplated, but a lot of the 19th c dials were done in the old way, which only deposited a very thin film of silver: so thin, that in most cases, it cannot be polished up.

Generally speaking, most dials become dirty with general household pollution: cigar/cigarette smoke, fireplace smoke etc. This can be cleaned with fairly good results. The problem with the very late clocks with cellulose, is that the cellulose itself discolours, and rarely can be "cleared". I say "cleared", as it isn't a cleaning surface dirt problem, but a problem with decaying lacquer, losing its translucency. Anyone who has had to restore 1930s-50s furniture will know: as soon as the C lacquer is off, you suddenly can see the wood.

The various victorian varnishes, peel off or disintegrate, and in most cases can be removed relatively easily.
 

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