Refinishing Juba mantle clock

Schatznut

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Sep 26, 2020
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I've just acquired a Juba mantle clock, circa 1950, whose case is in near-perfect condition - no splits, delamination, dings or stains - but the finish is completely shot and needs to be redone. Although I've redone a number of of cuckoo clocks, they don't generally have a glossy finish, so I want to tap the collective wisdom of this group before starting into it. I have a bunch of questions...

1. What kind of wood is it?
2. What is the original finish? I'm assuming varnish or lacquer because of the age of the clock and the fact that it was mass-produced.
3. What's the best way to remove the finish? I want to avoid chemical strippers if possible, and am leaning towards removing it with steel wool. I have time and a fair amount of patience, and I don't want to use sandpaper so as to remove as little of the wood veneer as possible.
4. Refinishing - what material to use? (See question 2) I'm inclined to use original material, but am open to the idea of a modern finish, although I am not considering polyurethane. At the other extreme, I'm not thinking seriously about doing a shellac finish because it doesn't seem correct for the era and I don't have *that* much patience.

I appreciate all information and constructive suggestions!

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MikeDeB

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Apr 10, 2013
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Very nice clock. The original finish is either lacquer or shellac. Lacquer thinner will dissolve the finish if it's lacquer but will not affect shellac. Denatured alcohol will dissolve a shellac finish but will not affect lacquer. Very unlikely it is varnish. On all the clocks I've refinished they have been shellac and I've used denatured alcohol and a rag to remove the old finish. I don't do any sanding unless absolutely necessary. Once stripped, I decide on whether or not to stain (I use Minwax early american when I do), and what shellac to use. I always start with a couple of coats of sanding sealer then go to the shellac. Shellac is easy to work with and correct mistakes when they happen. The finish is beautiful when done. Take a look at the shellac tutorial here on the forum. Very informative. The attached photo is a Sessions clock I restored several years ago. Someone previously had stripped the old finish and then put a sloppy coat of shellac on. The upper part of the case was on the verge of exploding due to an unrestrained broken mainspring. It was a bit of work but fun and rewarding. Yes, I took license with the column holders (they're supposed to be dark, not gold).

SessionsRest4.jpg
 
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Schatznut

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Sep 26, 2020
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Very nice clock. The original finish is either lacquer or shellac. Lacquer thinner will dissolve the finish if it's lacquer but will not affect shellac. Denatured alcohol will dissolve a shellac finish but will not affect lacquer. Very unlikely it is varnish. On all the clocks I've refinished they have been shellac and I've used denatured alcohol and a rag to remove the old finish. I don't do any sanding unless absolutely necessary. Once stripped, I decide on whether or not to stain (I use Minwax early american when I do), and what shellac to use. I always start with a couple of coats of sanding sealer then go to the shellac. Shellac is easy to work with and correct mistakes when they happen. The finish is beautiful when done. Take a look at the shellac tutorial here on the forum. Very informative. The attached photo is a Sessions clock I restored several years ago. Someone previously had stripped the old finish and then put a sloppy coat of shellac on. The upper part of the case was on the verge of exploding due to an unrestrained broken mainspring. It was a bit of work but fun and rewarding. Yes, I took license with the column holders (they're supposed to be dark, not gold).

View attachment 630980
I'm feeling very lucky with this clock - it is complete and unmolested, and it only took me a couple of hours to get everything working as it should, and that's due only to my inexperience with chiming clocks. It's running flawlessly right now. I think it needs no more than a cleaning and oiling to continue to run well for years. I see no signs of wear on any of the pivots (and there are a lot of them!), which is remarkable.

That clock of yours is beautiful, Mike - you have my admiration for how well it came out! Thanks for the information and encouragement. Based on your message, I did a quick experiment with a couple of flakes of the old finish and determined it is shellac - it dissolved in denatured alcohol, although grudgingly. It did not seem to be affected by lacquer thinner. In your experience, does denatured alcohol tend to raise the grain of the wood? I'm hoping to avoid that if possible. As you suggested, I've read the tutorials, which have a wealth of information in them, and there's nothing there that would put me off from doing a shellac finish. The underlying wood has a beautiful reddish-brown color. I'm inclined not to stain it, and use a clear shellac to let all the natural beauty of the wood shine through. Looking at it carefully, it does not appear to have had any sealing done before the original finish was applied, and I suspect this is one of the reasons it's coming off now.

I'm in no hurry to get started on this refinishing project - I'm just enjoying my new acquisition and I have a couple of other clock projects in the queue ahead of it. In the meantime, I'll continue reading and researching to educate myself before diving into it.

Once again, thank you for the information, and I hope when I dive into it I can make it look as nice as that Sessions in your photo!
 

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