I’m still a few years away from retiring, but the years pass fast- and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Retirement scares some people. What will they do, they wonder, when every day isn’t filled with the job that currently occupies their time? How will they define their value in the world? Some of these folks retire, then pass away a year or two later. Or sit in their house, watching sitcoms and gradually wasting away.
I don’t think I’m really like that. I’ve had things I want to do, things I want to learn and experiment with, for decades. Not to make money or ‘prove’ myself: that’s what a job is for in my mind, I guess. Just things that interest me, that likely produce little obvious value. I’ve even tried to work time for these into my life pre-retirement, but have never been able to balance them with my job.
My most recent clock family member arrived on Thursday. It is one that I plan on keeping: a mid-19th century (sometime before 1853) “ogee” style clock made by the Chauncey Jerome factory in New Haven, Connecticut:
I’m getting another round of bits and pieces together in order to work on the next clock repair challenge in front of me: a circa-1915 mahogany-veneered Ansonia time/strike mantle clock.
Working on this clock is like two separate projects in one: a wood restoration project for the case, and a mechanical rebuild for the clock mechanism itself. And this duality will be true of the majority of the clocks I work on going forward: I like wood mantle clocks more than I like the “figural” or the “stone” cased clocks. So that means I need to learn some things that would be familiar to an antique furniture restorer.
One of the things I need to learn is how to deal with putting a broken case back together, and how to restore the finish. Since these clocks were made something on the order of a century ago, that means dealing with materials and methods that are different from how things are done today. Two big differences: glues and coatings.
Modern glues involve all sorts of plastics and fancy chemicals. They can bond two pieces of wood together so that the bond is stronger than the wood itself- this is great for something that is intended to last at most one generation. Older glues were mostly organic: gelatin, or hide glue, is the most common- it creates a fairly strong bond, but no where near as strong as a modern glue.
Unfortunately, any wood that lasts more than a couple of decades will shift, shrink, dry excessively, and expand with time: in old clocks, this puts stress on those weak glue joints, and that’s what breaks down. In newer clocks, the wood itself usually breaks: the idea is, at that point you throw the item away and buy a new one. With the old pieces of furniture, including old clock cases, the idea is that you re-glue, and use the piece for another generation or two. The old hide glues facilitate this: with heat and moisture, you can return the glue to its original “soft” state, allowing you to remove it/reseat it. Further, unlike modern glues, hide glue can adhere to hide glue so your cleanup doesn’t have to be perfect. Modern glues, on the other hand, require harsh chemicals to “unbond” or remove, causing damage to surrounding finishes and even the wood itself… and if you fail to thoroughly clean the old glue away, the new adhesive won’t bond very well.
I’ve put my clock repair self-education “on hold” the last month or so. A few things led to this:
need for parts and tools: my first and second clock both need bushings installed, so I had to order those- now I’ve decided I need a bushing tool rather than trying to hand-bush perfectly perpendicular 0.1 to 0.3 mm holes in 2-3 mm brass. My second clock is also filthy (as are clocks 3/4/5… much dirtier than clock #1), and I bought an ultrasonic cleaner to help with that. As it turns out, I can’t get cleaning solutions shipped from the U.S., so I’ve had to find a Canadian supplier
vacation: I couldn’t order parts and tools by mail for the three or four weeks leading up to our vacation for fear that they would arrive while we were away. Some carriers have five or seven day “return to sender” policies and, given that 30% of the cost (or more) for parts is shipping, I didn’t want to risk that
failure of collectable clock: my Napoleon III era French clock stopped running a couple of weeks before we left on vacation. This is a clock I had no intention of servicing until I had completed all of my “learning” rebuilds as it is a more expensive and “special” mechanism. I spent a week getting advice and examining the movement, got it running without disassembly, then decided to stop it and “preserve” it until I could do a proper cleaning/repair of it later
I’m starting to get parts and tools in order now that my vacation is finished. I’ve found what I hope to be a Canadian supplier of the “correct” cleaning solutions I want, and will hopefully have that in hand in three or four weeks. I’ll probably order my bushing machine in the next week, and the bushings themselves arrived via mail while we were away. Putting this all together means I’ll probably not have much progress on fixer clock #2 until the beginning of November.
I could get all excited and start stripping down more clocks in the mean time, but I’ve decided to try something new: patience. I might take a look at the cases of a couple of my clocks (ignoring the mechanisms) while I wait, but my plan of the moment is to keep reading the clock repair and collector’s forums and practice calm breathing…
I picked what I thought would be the least complicated clock to work on first. This circa 1913 Gilbert “gilt No. 115” clock has a simple time-only mechanism. Unfortunately for me, it is a small and “cheap” (mass produced) clock, meaning the thick brass and large pivots found in some of the other “fancier” clocks are replaced with pot metal and tiny parts that aren’t really made for easy repair.
What follows is sort of a journal of my experiences thus far in working on this clock. For anyone who doesn’t have at least a passing interest in clocks, it is probably advisable to skip reading the rest of this post. The short story: I successfully disassembled, cleaned, repaired the main problem, and re-assembled the clock. It still doesn’t work properly, and I’ve found at least one additional problem that I will have to fix later.
I’ve actually won five out of five auctions, achieving my objective of establishing a collection of various abused antique timepieces. Why would any sane person want broken clocks? Your first mistake is use of the word “sane” in reference to me. But I’ll try my best to explain what is going on here, since there is some logic to what I’m doing.
A few weeks ago I decided to start setting up a little place in the house where I can work on fiddling with clock mechanisms. I have discovered that there is some sort of strange and mysterious aura surrounding what I had originally thought was a humble and simple to acquire item: a suitable workbench.
My “new” antique clock stopped running today. This doesn’t surprise me a lot- it has travelled half way around the world, and it is pretty old, so it being a bit out of sorts is somewhat expected. But I had some learning to do in order to figure out what was going on, and to see if it could be “fixed” without major challenges. I’ve collected some of what I found here for future reference.