The art of veneering – Part I – general assessment and the work to be done

This is Part I of a three part series on my first venture with veneer repair on an antique clock. Prior to beginning this project I spent many hours researching veneer repair, watching YouTube videos and seeking advice from my knowledgeable colleagues at NAWCC.

Repairing veneer on a clock case is inevitable. As much as I love old clocks I will eventually purchase clocks that need a little TLC in the case department. This is that day. Collecting and repairing clocks is not only about cleaning and servicing the movement but the care and repair of clock cases. Aesthetics are equally important in clock work. A clock not only must run as it should but it must be appealing as well. Many of the clocks in my collection are in excellent condition and have required very little case restoration, nothing more than a touch up here and there. I have avoided clocks that need too much work. For example this 30-hour Waterbury Ogee required extensive movement repairs but the clock case was in exceptional condition.

Waterbury OG clock
The veneer on this Waterbury 30 hour Ogee is in excellent condition
The Seth Thomas case is in generally poor shape, has some crude repairs along with many corner chips and missing veneer sections here and there

One of my latest clocks offered me my first opportunity to learn the art of veneering. I really wanted this 8-day Seth Thomas column and cornice time and strike shelf clock and I was willing to overlook the veneer issues.

The clock is from the American Empire period which defined the early and mid nineteenth century design movement in American architecture. It has a Plymouth lyre movement with a Thomaston Conn. label. It has the two original 8.5 lb weights and pendulum bob. The lower tablet is original but the upper tablet which would have had a complimentary design is missing and replaced by clear glass. The dial is original having been introduced in the late Plymouth Hollow era circa 1862 up to about 1879 according to this site. The clock was made between 1875 when Thomaston was incorporated to 1879.

The case was intact save for one trim missing piece on the top section of the left cornice. There have been a number of crude repairs over the years which made the restoration somewhat frustrating but the veneer work was certainly within the limits of my capabilities.

Seth Thomas 8-day column and cornice with sleigh feet
Seth Thomas 8-day column and cornice with sleigh feet
Plymouth ST 6-day lyre movement
Plymouth ST 8-day lyre movement
Cornice trim piece
Cornice trim piece made from pine
New piece to replacing missing top section
New pine piece replaces missing section

The case is in relatively good shape but has some crude repairs along with many corner chips, missing veneer pieces here and there over the entire case save for most of the front cornice veneer and the sleighs which have stood up very well. The gesso columns have some finish loss but they will be left as is. The dial face has loss on the corners, barely visible floral designs on each corner, loss around the chapter ring and a large area of missing paint on the lower left bottom. There are three options for the dial face; a replacement dial, a repaint or leave as-is though this is a decision to be made at a future date. The clock did not come with hands but I have a spare set of Ogee hands that are appropriate for this clock.

Structurally the case is sound with no loose or moving parts save for a left side cornice which has let go and held on loosely by a small screw. The back panel looks secure though Robertson screws were used to re-attach it, a later repair since Robertson screws were not invented until 1908.

Dial in generally poor condition
Dial in generally poor condition
Loss of veneer on the cornice
Loss of veneer on the cornice
Different angle of the same cornice
Another view of the same cornice showing a poor attempt at a repair

The photos show that a previous owner tried unsuccessfully to hide the damaged veneer by applying a “matching” paint. I found wood filler beneath the paint which was used to raise the painted area to the level of the veneer. An appalling attempt at a repair.

Chipped veneer below sleigh foot
Chipped veneer below sleigh foot
Closer view of left foot
Closer view of left foot with veneer chipped off

The bottom left foot had corner veneer damage as one would expect after years of wear and abuse. On the left edge of the foot you can see the same dark paint used to hide the cornice damage.

Having reviewed the work to be done it is now time to move to the next step in the restoration of this clock case.

The art of veneering is a steep learning curve

The art of veneering is a steep learning curve. Part of that requires acquiring new skill-sets and acquiring an understanding of protein adhesives and finishes.

Part II, in one weeks time, will describe the steps in the application of veneer, trimming and sanding. Part III will detail the final finishing.