Lessons learned restoring grandfather’s old clock

Photo of Waterbury time and strike wall clock sent to me by my cousin

I’ve thought about this clock, dreamt about it, wondered where it was all these years……and now I have it. I was confident that I could do something with this clock since I had just finished a major restoration project.

I had no idea that the clock I was getting was a movement in a homemade case

I have a vivid memory of this Waterbury octagon short drop time and strike schoolhouse clock that hung in my grandparent’s kitchen when I was a young boy. After church on Sundays, my father would take (drag?) us kids for a visit; it was a weekly ritual. The house was stone quiet except for the sound of a clock ticking loudly in the kitchen. My grandfather was a veteran of WWI and was bothered by noises, shell shock they called it, but he did not seem to mind the rhythmic sound of a mechanical clock.

When I was a kid in the 1950s it looked impressive.

So, I jumped on this project and have learned a few things along the way.

The following are lessons learned restoring grandfather’s old clock.

When it comes to family, lower your expectations

I made some inquiries within the family and when I first saw a photo of grandfather’s old kitchen clock and discovered that the case was homemade I was very disappointed. I had no idea that the clock I was getting was a movement in a homemade case. The original case, long gone is but a family mystery. Nevertheless, my cousin said, “You can have it”.  I wondered what I would do with it. I explored several options but at the end of the day I wanted a working clock no matter which direction I took.

Work with what you have rather than dream of significant changes

I could have radically altered the appearance of the clock completely but would it be the same? It is a philosophical dilemma. If too much is done to restore a clock it is not fundamentally the same and cannot be considered original. The homemade case is crude and made some 30-40 years ago but it is part of the clocks history. The chicken pecks on the clock face tell the story of a clock that likely sat in a barn for many years.

Envision what the final outcome should be before you begin and resolutely stick to your plan

Should I restore the clock or preserve what I have? It was an interesting dilemma.

My options:

  1. Do absolutely nothing.
  2. Take the movement out, find an appropriate period donor case or
  3. Make some minor changes but preserve the provenance

I chose #3 for several reasons:

  • To preserve the bygone times of a clock passed on through the family, despite its many warts
  • Labour aside, it was cost effective; my entire monetary outlay was less than $50
  • Ignoring aesthetics, the case was crude, heavy but very sturdy and should last forever

Be content that the clock tells a story no matter how ugly or homely it might look

It may not be the prettiest clock on the wall but it will be a great conversation piece and after 70 years (??) it is finally functional. I can only imagine my grandfather standing under the clock, comparing the time with his pocket watch and deciding if he should make just one small adjustment.

Retouched dial face

Changes I made

  • Sanded, stained and shellacked the case
  • Brass bezel was separated from the dial bezel (don’t ask me why the two were screwed together), new bezel hinge installed, and door catch
  • New convex glass dial installed
  • Brass was cleaned and polished
  • New clock hands
  • New pendulum, pendulum rod, verge and crutch
  • Movement completely serviced, several bushings installed
  • New hinged access door made from century old clock case wood
After servicing, a fully functional Waterbury time and strike movement

What I did not change

  • The overall “character” of the clock
  • The holes in the brass bezel were left as-is; it is what it is
  • Dial is original though touched up in some areas; I considered a new paper dial but decided to retain the original and came very close to matching the colour of the dial face
  • The case is made of thick plywood; it is utilitarian, very solid and will likely outlast the movement
Yes, it is ugly but it works and it tells a story

Final thoughts

I am actually very pleased with the outcome. The changes manage to preserve the provenance but not enough to radically alter the look of the clock such that it is. It is now worthy of being placed on a wall and it will certainly occupy a prominent spot in my home, plus, it tells a fascinating story.

Here is the story told by yours truly.

3 thoughts on “Lessons learned restoring grandfather’s old clock

  1. Wow! You did an amazing job on your fathers clock! I think it’s beautiful and being a part of your families history makes it even more special.


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