Elisha Manross Steeple Clock – addressing spire issues and other things

Elisha Manross 30 hour steeple clock
Elisha Manross 30 hour steeple clock, as found

I am not a huge collector of steeple clocks but I was intrigued by one I found in an old barn. I bought 4 clocks as part of a barn find this past winter (2018). Two including this one are salvageable. The two others are for case and works parts only.

$5 for a clock is a real bargain. This antique American Elisha Manross 30 hour time and strike steeple clock is an interesting variant of the sharp Gothic steeple clock. It looks fairly plain today but it was a striking style for its time. The early Steeple clocks of the 1840s influenced the design of later steeple clocks which were produced in large numbers up to the end of the 19th century.

A unique feature is the 30 hour brass movement with 2 brass mainsprings. Brass mainsprings were used in American clocks between 1836 and 1850. When affordable steel mainsprings arrived the brass mainspring disappeared into history. This clock was made in the Elisha Manross factory in Bristol, Connecticut (USA) August of 1843. 30 hour movements are immediately recognizable because of the proximity of the winding holes to the centre cannon. Eight day movements, which are taller, would have much lower winding arbours.

The dial faces is in good shape with some losses
The dial face is in reasonably good shape with some losses on the edges and corners

The good and the bad

The good: the movement, coil gong and dial face are original as is the pendulum bob. The label is in very good condition for the age of the clock. The upper glass tablet is original and shows the waviness you would expect with visible imperfections. The movement works but needs a thorough cleaning. The movement looks good though I will know more once I disassemble it for cleaning.

The bad: the mahogany veneered case is in poor condition with nicks, scratches and gouges on the entire surface. The very tip of the left steeple is broken off. There is a large piece of veneer missing on the right side on the clock base but that piece was found inside the clock and later glued in place. The most critical issue is the missing right steeple and base. The lower tablet is missing. There would have been a Fenn or similar design. Clear glass has been installed in its place. It is also missing the minute hand.

This side piece of veneer was found inside the case but there is still a small section that needs veneer
This side piece of veneer was found inside the case glued in place but there is still a small section that needs veneering

Work to be done

My first task is to clean the case and determine how I should approach finishing the clock case. I decided not to strip the case because there is a certain patina I would like to preserve.

My goal is the have a running clock in presentable condition and that includes replacing the right steeple. Ordering the missing parts from a clock supply house would seem to be a simple solution but unfortunately these parts must be hand made. To address the steeple base and spire I had some decisions to make. I took careful measurements of the left steeple base, cut a piece of pine stock to the same dimensions and clad it in crotch mahogany.

Pine cut and test fit
Pine cut and test fit for right steeple base

A relatively simple task of veneering took three days as I had to veneer each side, clamp, wait till it dried and trim off the excess before tackling the next side. Hide glue was used for this project. Hide glue is appropriate because it is an organic adhesive and it is the type of glue that would have used at the time.

The steeple base is the middle block of wood
The steeple base is the middle block of wood
Sides and top are done, now to do the front
Sides and top are veneered, now the front

Once all sides were completed the spire was next. I have never made a finial before so this was a very interesting learning experience. The spire was somewhat more challenging since it involved patterning it off the left spire. As I discovered it is much harder than it looks. I do not have a wood lathe so my metal lathe had to do. I bought a set of wood lathe chisels at my local hardware store at a reasonable price though I discovered that they require sharpening prior to use.

Taig lathe with 1/4 hp motor
Taig lathe with 1/4 hp motor

The result was something closer than I expected. Not perfect but until I improve my skills this will do for now. Working with softwood is relatively easy but working with hardwood would be a much greater challenge would think.

Steeple and base but how to get rid of the wood grain!
This is the first application of red mahogany stain on the steeple but how to get rid of the distracting wood grain!

The grain in the spire is certainly distracting and it is something I did not anticipate. One more application of stain concealed some of the grain but it is still visible at certain angles. Will a clear coat over the stain bring me the result I am looking for? Hmm!

Second application of red mahogany stain
Second application of red mahogany stain, grain is disappearing

After thoroughly cleaning the case with Murphy’s soap and Orange Oil I applied a very thin coat of red mahogany stain on the entire case, left it on for only one minute and wiped off all the excess residue. Again, my aim was to preserve the original patina as much as possible but hide numerous scratches. The stain filled in the scratches and I am satisfied with the end result. With the addition of the right final base and spire, the clock now looks complete.

Now to address the spire one more time. I decided that Minwax Poly Wipe was not working very well.  The clear coat absorbed into the wood after two applications and still left a dull finish. I then selected a clear spar varnish and it finally gave me the results I was looking for.

The screws holding the movement were so loose they had to be replaced with bolts. The coil gong and base were cleaned and stripped of years of rust. I then oiled the movement, put the clock in beat and attached the dial face. The moon hands look good but are not original to the clock. While I have the hour hand the original needle type minute hand is long gone.

The clock is assembled and running
The clock is assembled and running

With the cased cleaned and with the addition of the right spire base and steeple the clock now looks presentable. Although I was able to make the spire on a metal lathe it it has certain limitations and I now see the value in using a wood lathe. I am also pleased that the movement is running but at some point it must be cleaned and properly serviced. At the moment there are just too many other projects standing in the way.

A great little project and a test of my veneering and woodworking skills.

4 thoughts on “Elisha Manross Steeple Clock – addressing spire issues and other things

  1. Hey Ron,

    I was surprised to see that you veneered the inside part of the block as well as the top. If you examine the original closely, you might see that these surfaces were not normally veneered. There is often a lot of raw pine showing that was simply stained dark and it’s never really noticeable that it’s not all mahogany. On something like the blocks, only the two primary faces are veneered (front and side). In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t make any huge difference, and I think your clock turned out wonderfully!

    If you want a style of hand that is a bit more period you can always use the Club hands. These were popular between around 1845-1880ish, so they often look really good on a huge number of clocks in that period. The spade hands with the holes are also totally fine for now. I would actually encourage you to further your skills and hand-cut the missing minute hand to match the original hour hand. The style that matches is actually just a thin pointer (no spade tip) and it will be nearly impossible (or expensive) to find a correct set or just the single minute hand. The hand-cutting only requires a jeweler’s saw (as cheap as 10$) and some jeweler’s saw blades (as little as 2$/dozen) and some time and patience. Also files. You need a small selection of files. The hand can be cut from annealed steel or mild steel (as long as it’s not too soft). Or alternatively you can cut it from brass, blacken it, and paint it. Brass is easier to cut and you don’t need to harden it.


    1. I got a little carried away with the veneering and i suppose in future I will save on veneer by applying only what is required.I did not notice it at first but I was so far into it and thought, what the heck. Yes I can try to make hands myself. The clock supplies never seem to have exactly what one is looking for.


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