The art of veneering – Part III – staining and finishing

This is Part III and the final part of a three part series on my first venture into 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.

A recent acquisition, this is an 8-day Seth Thomas column and cornice time and strike shelf clock with sleigh front. It has a Plymouth (Hollow) lyre movement with a Thomaston Conn. label which means that the clock was made shortly before the incorporation of Thomaston in the early 1870s.

ST column and cornice , as found
ST column and cornice, as found
An example of veneer loss

I assessed this clock in Part I and described the steps in preparation for the veneer repair. In Part II I described the process of  applying veneer. Part III concerns the final finishing. Once the case work is complete I will focus my attention on servicing the movement, addressing the dial issues and replacing the clear glass with a floral pattern in the upper tablet.

The lighter coloured sections in the next photo are new veneer pieces. New veneer is found on the top of the cornice, the left cornice base, the right column support and sections of the bottom base.

Veneer repairs are complete
Veneer repairs (light areas) are complete

Finishing is the final phase of this project. In many respects this can be the most challenging phase of the project because once the hard work of applying veneer is complete the job means nothing if the new veneer does not match the old veneer. Although it can never be a perfect match the goal is to come as close as possible.

One finish seemed to stand out above the others

I conducted an experiment on leftover Brazilian Rosewood.

I selected three stains/finishes, Minwax Rosewood gel stain, Wipe-On Polyurethane satin clear coat and yellow shellac. I utilized various light sources to see the effect colour temperature had on the results and came to the conclusion that there was one finish that seemed to stand out above the others.

In the photo below there are three swatches on a piece of leftover veneer; Rosewood gel stain on the left, Wipe-On Polyurethane in the middle and on the right is yellow Shellac. Wipe-On Poly initially struck me as the best of the three; it is subtle while bringing out the character of the Brazilian Rosewood veneer while keeping that “aged” look but it is too muted. Rosewood gel is reddish and quite dark and looked very striking compared to the original Rosewood.

I concluded that yellow shellac was the best choice. Shellac darkens the veneer and accentuates the red tones nicely. Shellac would have been been the original finish when the clock was made and it is still the finish of choice today.

Comparing three stains
Comparing the three stains
Although veneering is a challenge, it is very rewarding work and I eagerly await my next project
New veneer above cornice, base of cornice is original though it looks like it was replaced
New veneer above cornice. The base of right cornice is original though it looks newer
Most of the base was replaced with new veneer
After two coats of shellac
After three coats of shellac, the case is complete
With dial and doors re-attached
With dial and doors re-attached, movement is out of the case at this stage

Although veneering is a challenge, it is very rewarding work and I eagerly awaiting my next veneering project.

Movement serviced and oiled
Lyre movement serviced and oiled

With the veneer repairs completed and the movement serviced there is still work to be done on this clock. I have decided that the gesso columns will stay as-is. Next is perfecting a tablet design for the access door to replace the clear glass, and finally, making a decision regarding the dial face; whether to leave as-is, find a suitable replacement or buy a new one from a clock supplier.

Seth Thomas column and cornice "Empire" style time and strike shelf clock
Seth Thomas column and cornice “Empire” style time and strike shelf clock

Lessons learned:

  • Allot a significant portion of time for the project, it is time-consuming and meticulous.
  • For an authentic repair hide glue must be used; avoid white or yellow carpenters glue though I would think there are rare times when it would be considered.
  • Hide glue:
    • must be a certain consistency to work properly. It should drip off the brush like honey. My hide glue was too thin at the start of the project.
    • will last a while in the fridge. Don’t cap the glue while it cools; condensation will hasten mold growth
  • Stay away from plastic based modern stains and finishes and go with shellac or any finish that would have been used at the time.
  • Some use filler to smooth the gaps between pieces of veneer, I did not use filler for this project; it is something I might consider next time.
  • A light sanding of the veneer is all you need, aggressive sanding will destroy the veneer (lesson learned).
  • Apply painters tape on the veneer before cutting; doing so eliminates ripping and tearing.
  • Use a sharp hobby knife
  • In future I would consider replacing larger sections rather than a patchwork of small pieces though that largely depends on how much veneer you have to work with.
  • Clamps are essential. Get various sizes of clamps and use wax paper between the clamp and the veneer, you will thank me!
  • Leave the area clamped for 24 hours. Although hide glue bonds quickly clamping for a day will ensure maximum adhesion.

This was a great project and I am confident that my next veneer project will be even better. Time, patience and perseverance are keys to a successful veneering project.

4 thoughts on “The art of veneering – Part III – staining and finishing

    1. Thanks Catalin. I did not calculate the hours but it would have been 40-50 hours spread over 3-4 weeks.I learned some good lessons and have no hesitation tackling my next project which is sitting before me as I write.


  1. Your blog posts are more interesting and informative thanks for sharing. My grandparents had this astonishing pendulum clock that used to ring on the hour and on the half hour, you never anticipated that would truly look at the clock to know correctly what time it was.Best Vintage wall clock


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