Restoration of a Seth Thomas wall clock

Discussion in 'Clock Repair' started by SurreyNick, Apr 11, 2017.

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  1. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

    Apr 11, 2017
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    My wife has asked for my help restoring this Seth Thomas wall clock which belonged to her gran and which is precious to her, even though it is unlikely to have any commercial value.

    It's in a sorry state too, having been left in a damp loft for many years, but hopefully not beyond the scope of man to repair. Alas we don't have the money to give it to a professional, so it is going to have to be done by me.

    I know all the working parts are present and I remember it working a long time ago too, so hopefully the mechanism can be got running again. But first things first I want to address how it looks. This might seem rather about face, but the wife says she'd like to hang it as an ornament even if it can't be got going again.

    I'm pretty handy, particularly in the wood working department, so that I can tackle confidently, but there are a few other cosmetic issues which I hope to get some advice about.

    1. I guess at one time it had a domed glass, but this is missing. Is it possible to obtain a replacement?
    2. The metal bezel is broken. Is there a way to repair it?
    3. The circular brass insert in the clock face is partly lost. Is there a way to fabricate a new bit?
    4. The 'brassing' on the bezel is worn away. Should I attempt to address this, or leave well alone?
    5. Some of the enamel at the centre of the clock face is missing. Should I attempt to address this, or leave well alone?

    All help and advice will be well received.

    Thank you

    Nick
     
  2. Willie X

    Willie X Registered User

    Feb 9, 2008
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    My suggestion would be to replace the glass and have the movement serviced/repaired. Don't touch the dial (except with a soft barber's brush), carefully clean everythng up, oil it with good furniture oil, and enjoy your beautiful old clock.
    IMO, the worst thing you can do to an old clock is to 'over restore' it.
    My 2, Willie X
     
  3. JTD

    JTD Registered User
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    Welcome to the board, SurreyNick.

    To answer your questions:

    1. It may have had a convex glass but many of these clocks only had flat glass. Either way, you can buy replacements but flat glass is a lot cheaper. I would use flat glass, in which case any glass merchant can cut you a circular piece and it won't cost much. Convex glasses can be got from the material supplier houses.

    2. The broken bezel can also be replaced. They are sold by material supply houses such as Meadow & Passmore in Brighton (go to their website and browse through their lists). Otherwise, how are you at soldering? And, (though please don't let the others know I said it!), there is always the wonderful world of epoxy.....but I never said it.

    3. The brass trim in the centre is different matter. I have to say I have never tried to fabricate a part for this, nor have I ever replaced the whole thing. I am not sure what the best way would be to deal with this. Maybe someone else will come up with an idea.

    4. You may find the bezel is in fact all brass, and nothing is 'worn away', just very tarnished. You could try cleaning it with something like Autosol and 0000 wire wool in an inconspicuous place and see how it comes up. I think you may be pleasantly surprised.

    5. Personally I think the dial is in pretty good condition and I wouldn't do much to it except give it a good (but gentle) clean. The numbers are probably painted on, so don't rub them hard, but soapy water and a damp cloth will remove most of the surface grime and the dial will look a whole lot better.

    Overall, clean and tidy is good, over-done isn't, after all it isn't a brand new clock.

    Hope this helps; please let us know how you get on and shout if you need more help.

    JTD
     
  4. shutterbug

    shutterbug Moderator
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    It's not a rare clock, and they turn up on Ebay fairly frequently. I think you'll have to get a donor to borrow the new bezel from, so you may be able to get the glass and circle for the dial as well. The movement will be beyond your skill level, and I agree with Willie .... get that part repaired professionally.
     
  5. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    To me, the most obvious issue is the bare wood replacement part at the bottom right. - either was replaced or lost veneer. You can paint it a matching color with faux graining and it will be less obvious. As stated earlier this is not a rare museum piece. As for the bezel crack, if you want the entire clock to retain that "old look" do not polish or solder. A thin piece of brass placed behind the bonded with something like JB-Weld will give strength and be invisible from the outside. If you plan to polish the bezel you can solder or JB-Weld the patch on the back side. Flat glass will be fine IF the center shaft does not hit the glass when closed up. The dial looks like it should, nothing you can do to it improve it. Enjoy until it gets a lot worse. The movement is a simple one and easily repaired.

    When Willy said "oil it with good furniture oil", just so there is no confusion, I sure he meant oil the case, not the movement! I might opt for a good paste wax. Some furniture polishes build up. Be careful around that which looks like decorative inlay, it may just be gold paint and could be fragile - can't tell from the photo.

    Nice old clock and should be enjoyable for many more years.

    RC
     
  6. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

    Apr 11, 2017
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    Thank you for the replies so far.

    I'd like to have a go at repairing the bezel if I can. I think my wife would prefer to keep the original one, even if it's a bit tatty. I have done plenty of electronics soldering and have a very good soldering iron. Will this be suitable and if so is there a particular type of solder and technique which works best for this type of repair?

    I will take the advice about the flat glass, thank you for that.

    I agree with the comments about restoring. I don't want a 'new' looking clock and I know my wife doesn't, so I will take your advice and limit myself to just giving the clock face a careful clean with soapy water and try cleaning the bezel with Autosol and 0000 wire wool in an inconspicuous place.

    I trained as a cabinet maker and the veneer work is well within my skills, so that I will tackle quite happily and the re-finishing too. The decorative inlay is just paint - well spotted shutterbug.

    I will need to remove the movement in order to carry out the case repair, but other than that I will leave well alone. Hopefully it won't need repairing and just oiling. Fingers crossed.

    N.
     
  7. shutterbug

    shutterbug Moderator
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    It was RC who should get credit for spotting the inlay :) I doubt that an iron will get hot enough for the bezel repair, but you can try it. You'll need at least a moderately hard solder and a brace piece. Be careful with the dial. Water could take off the paint.
     
  8. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    OK credit to RC. Thank you :)

    Really worried about the paint on the clock face. My wife just had a gentle touch around where it has flaked off and more came away!

    I can't leave it because it really is filthy. Should I try very carefully cleaning it with acetone and cotton buds as an alternative to soapy water?

    Is there a way to seal it after cleaning too?

    Thanks

    N.
     
  9. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    Acetone will likely take everything off - numbers, paint, everything. I agree with Willie, just a soft brush. No water, no soap, no acetone.

    As for repairing the bezel, it sounds like you plan to polish it back to bright brass. If it is brass, it will solder easily if the metal to be soldered is clean and bright. Don't try to just solder in the crack and pile up gobs of solder around it. You need a thin brass patch soldered behind the crack. Almost any solder should do but you will need probably a 100 watt soldering iron or gun. The little pencil irons used for electronics won't provide enough heat. Electronics solder is non corrosive and with the patch piece bridging the crack should be plenty strong enough. Will help to 'tin' both surfaces first.
     
  10. Willie X

    Willie X Registered User

    Feb 9, 2008
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    Repeat, leave the dial alone, except for a soft brush, like a barber's brush or a high guality soft paint brush. There are many good reasons for this warning.
    Willie X
     
  11. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

    Apr 11, 2017
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    OK. Message received loud and clear about the clock face. I will be very, very careful. Thank you :)

    I have ordered some thin brass sheet to solder behind the bezel and if my soldering iron station isn't up to the task I will get another.

    N.
     
  12. Willie X

    Willie X Registered User

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    A 125 watt regular chisel tip soldering iron is good. If you like a pistol type soldering gun, a Weller D-500 will do it.
    Flame soldering is good too, but it takes a lot of practice, bezel and hinge repair can get a little trickey sometimes ...
    Goof luck, Willie X
     
  13. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    Make sure the solder flows between the bezel and the patch. The solder you see isn't doing any good. I suggest you clean the area to be soldered first (leaving the bezel tarnished) which will prevent any solder running through the crack and 'sticking' to the outside surface. Rosin core 'electronic solder' has flux that will burn, not a good choice for flame soldering. An iron (copper), or gun is your best bet. If you have insufficient heat the solder will just pile up around the patch and not flow into the joint.

    RC
     
  14. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    Thanks. I will have a go with my soldering iron first, following the instructions you've all given me. If that fails to work I may resort to using JB-Weld. My wife is never going to sell the clock, so I'm sure she won't mind as long as the fix is sound and clean.

    I'll report back once it's done, which I expect will be a few weeks because the brass foil is coming on a slow boat from China.

    N.
     
  15. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    If you use JB-Weld I suggest you 'rough up' the surfaces to be bonded first with coarse sand paper.
     
  16. Randy Beckett

    Randy Beckett Registered User
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    When you remove the dial, it would be a good idea to set it up and take a good high resolution picture of it, so it can be reproduced in the future, if need be. Straight on, with the camera on a tripod, would be best.

    I have used spray clear lacquer in very light coats to help stabilize badly flaking dials before with some success. Holding the can well away and making one or two fast strokes, to simulate more of an "overspray" effect, than a solid coat.
     
  17. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    A flatbed scanner also works with no need to worry about being straight on. Be sure to scan at high resolution.
     
  18. Tinker Dwight

    Tinker Dwight Registered User

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    I also recommend using JB-weld, rather than soldering.
    Using an undersized heating device will just make a mess
    with soldering.
    Cleaning up a solder mess requires more heat than creating
    it.
    Tinker Dwight
     
  19. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

    Apr 11, 2017
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    I like this idea of sealing with clear lacquer. Thanks :)
    I will take a high-res picture too - good idea that.
    N.
     
  20. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

    Apr 11, 2017
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    By the weekend I should be in a position to reassemble the clock and thoughts are turning toward getting the clock running again. However as you can see from the attached pictures the mechanism is pretty dirty.

    Can you offer any advice, based on the condition of this mechanism?

    I have read a number of threads herein and note particularly that running a clock which isn't properly oiled and/or which has deposits in the pivot holes can cause irreparable damage and that improper cleaning can be just as bad. I certainly don't want to damage the clock and I know an obvious answer will be "give it to a professional to strip down, clean and reassemble", but I fear the cost of doing so will be prohibitive. Will it be sufficient to just carefully wipe off the surface dirt, clean out the pivot holes with wooden toothpicks and then apply new clock oil with one of those syringes, or does it really need to be completely disassembled, cleaned and rebuilt?

    Frankly I'd rather do less than more.

    Thanks

    Nick

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  21. Tinker Dwight

    Tinker Dwight Registered User

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    This is a simple time only movement. The only issue
    for taking it apart and putting it back together is
    containing the spring. Once apart you can clean
    out the bushings properly.
    Pushing the gunk around with a tooth pick is more
    likely to get it back in the bushing between the
    pivot and bushing than just leaving it where it is.
    This would be one of the easiest clocks to clean as it
    has no strike to deal with.
    Tinker Dwight
     
  22. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    No.
    If you expect it to run properly for any length of time is should be disassembled and cleaned, including cleaning the main spring. As for needing to be 'rebuilt', that cannot be determined while it is still assembled and this filthy. As noted this is one of the easiest clocks to disassemble and clean. If that's beyond your current ability you might consider taking just the movement to a clock shop and ask for a price, which may be less than you expect because its a simple job for the shop as well. As far as the cost to 'rebuild', most of the cost is in the time to disassemble, clean, reassemble, test, and adjust the clock. "rebuilding" generally means installing a few bushing and smoothing up a few pivots so don't expect a rebuild to be that much more than a proper cleaning.

    As for "preferring to do less" I'm afraid there are a few here who advocate such measures but a half-fast repair job is just that. My recommendation is learn how to fix it right, or turn the job over to someone who will.

    RC
     
  23. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    OK. I have studied various guides and instructions and feel confident I can disassemble and clean this mechanism, so I have ordered some Horolene cleaning solutions and will tackle the job once that's arrived.

    In the meantime, I do have a question about letting down the mainspring.

    The click spring and click on this mechanism are inside of the plates (see pic 2 and 3) and I was wondering therefore if the best way to proceed would be to first let the mainspring run itself down by releasing the escapement wheel by loosening off the nut of the bracket holding the pallet (marked A in pic 1). I assume I can then proceed to remove the front plate, gaining access to the click spring and click in order to let down the mainspring completely.

    Is this a reasonable approach?

    Thanks
     
  24. Kevin W.

    Kevin W. Registered User

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    You need to contain the main spring, some good strong wire around it. Then let down the power oh the main spring with a let down tool. The link i posted should help soon. DONOT remove the front plate with the clock main spring not let down. You could be hurt and the clock may suffer damage as well.
    You need to do some reading on how to properly service a clock. There is tons of free information on this web site.
    Here is the link for you to look over on letting down the power.
    http://mb.nawcc.org/showthread.php?104664-How-to-safely-let-down-the-main-spring-on-a-Gilbert-movement
     
  25. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    Thank you. I will do as you say and follow the instructions in the thread :)
     
  26. R. Croswell

    R. Croswell Registered User
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    Step one, remove the screw and bracket lower right and remove the little 'star-like' stop work gear from the winding arbor. Left in place the main spring will only unwind to a point and stop. That's what the 'stop work' is for. Then oil well all the pivot holes. You don't want to let it 'spin down' with dry pivots. Then hold the escape wheel from turning and remove the verge, then gradually release the escape wheel but keep a bit of tension so it doesn't run wild. Allow it to spin down until the main spring expands to just a bit less that the main gear diameter. Then stop the escape wheel, insert a stick or otherwise prevent it from turning. Then tie a piece of steel wire (about #18 of heavier) around the main spring and pillar. Now release the escape wheel and let it run down all the way until it stops. STILL NOT QUITE READY! Hold the winding arbor with the winding key or a letdown tool and release the click and click spring so the click swings free, then unwind with the key or letdown tool until there is ZERO tension on the main wheel. It should feel loose when you turn it back and forth by hand. NOW you can separate the plates.

    The spring will need to be cleaned so put on a glove, get a good grip on it and snip the wire the slowly release your grip and let the spring expand. (Do not try to untwist the wire or use it over again.) When you get ready to put it back we can discuss several ways that you can rewind that spring.

    RC
     
  27. Willie X

    Willie X Registered User

    Feb 9, 2008
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    Yes, you can let the movement run itself down (oil it first). It's best to either let it run down into a 'C' clip, or let it run until the coil is even with the inside edge of the mainwheel rim and contain it with rebar tie wire, then continue to let it run until the spring is held by the wire.
    Note, at this point all of the power is not gone. You can complete the letdown by hand, using your key for control and a small screwdriver to lift the click. When the power is completely down, everything between the plates, including the mainspring assembly, will be loose. This is when you can observe all the wear points for excessive wear. If it's really oily/dirty, rinse and brush in paint thinner or Coleman lantern fuel, dry with compressed air and a hair blower. This will make assessment easier and it's a lot more pleasant to work on.
    Willie X
     
  28. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    Thank you all for the detailed instructions. I feel much more confident about the procedure now :)
    Nick.
     
  29. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    While I await the arrival of the cleaning solution I thought I'd share some of the progress I have been making with this clock.

    The Bezel turned into a bit of a challenge. I thought I just had a simple break to contend with, but no such luck. When I unscrewed the hinge I found the hinge plate was broken in two and that the remaining bit of hinge plate was fractured too. The bezel itself also had several other worrying fractures in the vicinity of the break. It is also quite badly pitted.

    I might have just sought out a replacement, but my wife understandably wants to retain as much of the original clock as possible and so I set about repairing it.

    I used some brass foil and JB-Weld to fix the break from behind and extended the foil/epoxy repair in both directions to provide support for the fractures. It's quite an ugly repair, but the best I could manage and at least most of it is hidden from sight. The hinge I repaired with a piece of 0.55 mm brass sheet glued to the front of the hinge plate with JB-Weld, which I then filed to shape and drilled through the old screw holes. A thorough clean and burnish and I now have (I hope) a serviceable bezel. The new glass will be fitted at the weekend.


    View attachment 343246 View attachment 343247 View attachment 343248 View attachment 343249 View attachment 343250
     
  30. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    The clock case was badly neglected, having been stored in a damp loft for many years. The veneer was split and torn, with pieces missing from the front of the pendulum box and from the side too. It was lifting in several places too. The finish was also shot, having reacted with the damp conditions to go cloudy and pitted.

    Left to my own devices I would have completely stripped the case of its old finish taking it back to bare wood, but my wife wouldn't have it. She thought it would make it look too new so I was only allowed minimal intervention.

    I had no choice but to completely replace the veneer on the bottom right panel of the pendulum box and also the missing piece on the front. I also had to replace a sizable piece on the bottom right hand side. Sadly, I couldn't get an exact match for the veneer and had to settle for Sapele. However, using a combination of dyes I managed to match the colour quite closely even if the grain is different and the repair is really only apparent on the side. Having re-glued the other bits which were lifting I then refinished it with wax over French Polish. The end result is, I think, quite effective.


    View attachment 343251 View attachment 343252 View attachment 343254 View attachment 343253
     
  31. Tinker Dwight

    Tinker Dwight Registered User

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    In Willie's instructions, it is important to not let
    the escapement wheel bang against the pallets. He mentions
    holding it with something to jam the escapement wheel from turning
    until the pallets are clear.
    If you don't do this, it can cause serious damage to the escapement wheel.
    If you have a small tube and you can submerge the movement in kerosene,
    The kerosene will slow the escapement wheel some, as well as start
    the cleaning process.
    Tinker Dwight
     
  32. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    Thank you to all for your help and advice. Clock mechanism cleaned, reassembled and has been running continuously for about 3 hours and counting :)

    I have posted a YouTube video here: https://youtu.be/BqFEsGhjB-Q

    Tomorrow I should collect the new glass and can then complete the rebuild.

    Nick
     
  33. shutterbug

    shutterbug Moderator
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    Looks like it's running strong! :thumb:
     
  34. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    Here's the finished clock and I'm pleased to say that it's working perfectly and my wife is delighted. She didn't want a perfect restoration, only enough to take it back to how she remembered it at her Gran's. I even managed to clean the clock face, for which I used Picture Restorer and cotton wool buds. It took hours, but the effort was worthwhile. I also touched up the centre of the dial where some of the paint had flaked away using antique white enamel, which I discoloured even further. Far from a perfect match, but better than the bright metalwork which was there before.

    Thank you to everyone who contributed help and advice.

    Nick

    View attachment 343697 View attachment 343698 View attachment 343699
     
  35. George Nelson

    George Nelson Registered User
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    Very nice job! Where did you get "Picture Restorer? Is it available from a website? I'd like to get some- it seems to work quite well!

    Best,

    George
     
  36. Dave T

    Dave T Registered User
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    Really does look good. Nice job! I'm interested in the "Picture Restorer" too.
     
  37. SurreyNick

    SurreyNick Registered User

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    The one I use is Winsor & Newton Artists' Picture Cleaner. I bought mine from eBay and I am pretty sure they ship worldwide. A little goes a long, long way and a 250 ml bottle will last forever.

    Shake the bottle well, dispense a small amount into the cap and then dip a cotton bud into it and rub gently over the area to be cleaned. As soon as the bud gets dirty, use a new clean end. After cleaning is finished clean off any residue with turps/white spirit.

    Nick
     
  38. George Nelson

    George Nelson Registered User
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    Thanks for the info, Nick! I've placed an order already.

    Much appreciated,

    George
     
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