Monday, March 23, 2015

Comtoise Clocks

Here's a side by side photo of the two restored clocks. The first one (on the left) being older, dates from around 1840-50, it is 10" wide x 16" tall. The second one is from around 1870 or so, and it measures 11" x 19".

As a small side note, I think the back panel on the older clock is a replacement. I have seen a few other early comtoise clocks with flat doors that also have a flat back panel. I believe this clock originally had a flat back panel as well, and that it was lost or damaged at some point.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Angels Comtoise - Part 2 (Repairs)

As you can see from the "before" photos in the previous post, the clock needed some attention. The case panels and frame needed refinishing, the movement desperately needed cleaning, and there were several bent levers. I also noticed that the clock was not striking properly. Someone in the past had modified the main strike lever. I'll go into more detail farther down.

As I said earlier, the first thing I did was clean the enamel dial. I also discovered that this dial has never been taken apart. The brass front has the original crimping around the edges, and retains the original brass rivets that hold it together. I would have liked to repaint the steel plate, but it was not worth the effort, or the risk of damage, so the dial was kept in its current condition.

Here you can see two of the rivets. One holds the porcelain dial, and the other holds the thin brass decoration. You can also see that this corner has a broken dial foot (tab).

This dial foot is still in place.

I will often say "this was one of the filthiest clocks I've worked on" but this time, I mean it. This was the ammonia cleaning solution after cleaning the wheels.

The wheels needed LOTS of scrubbing, longer soaking time, and an additional rinse in lacquer thinner to remove all of the black tar-like residue. I don't really know what was used on this clock, but the parts did have a roofing tar smell to them while I was drying them. Below you can see the cleaned and buffed (with #0000 steel wool) parts, with all the bent and damaged levers straightened.

One of the fun discoveries on this clock is that it was made as part of a batch, and this one was punched as "number 5" with either 5 dots, or 5 small notches (on bridge pieces and the main frame). Not all the parts were marked, but all of the large ones including the pillars and frame were marked.

Stripping the old paint from the frame and panels.

Before stripping. Note that the bell post ring/base/washer piece is actually brass. It looks black, but you can see just a tiny ring of gold on it.

One detail that I neglected to show on the previous comtoise was this brass bushing in the centre pillar (for the motion works). Most restorers simply repaint the entire frame, but since I consider this a "working section" of the clock, I chose to mask it so it wouldn't be painted.

The simplest way to mask this is with a small ball of blue wall tack. The same was done for the vertical hammer post bushing in the top plate.

New paint. I used gloss black oil spray paint for this. 2 coats on each side, with 24 hrs to dry in between.

This shows the unpainted centre bushing after painting. (Note that the hole has not been pegged out and cleaned yet)

Fan/Fly Wheel Repair:

The fly wheel on this clock had a serious problem. This later design (this clock is likely after 1860) uses a brass tension spring that is held in place with a collar. While this arrangement is quite pretty, and works fine originally, it makes it impossible to disassemble the fan from the arbour for cleaning or repairs. In my particular case, the tension spring (which is brass) had weakened in the centre, and it was beginning to crack. This meant that it was impossible to hold any tension on the fan.

While I generally never like to modify anything in a clock from its original state, in this case I chose to alter the fan design in favour of the older style spiral tension spring. This was an easy and reversible repair, and with this style, the fan can easily be taken apart, or re-converted if desired.

Detent Lever Repair:

This was a fairly complicated, or "advanced" repair. It is not necessarily a very difficult repair, but it is probably not one for a beginner.

The problem was with this lever:

When I originally looked-over and checked the clock after unpacking it, I noticed this botched lever, and as expected, the clock did not strike properly. It would ring the hour once, then do nothing on the half hour. For some reason, this lever had been ground and filed, and it no longer had its original shape. With the rest of the clock restored, and all the other levers straightened and repaired, this lever was in no way functional with the pins and stops that it is meant to interact with.

This lever controls all the strike sequences of the clock, including the half hour strike, the hour strike, and the repeated hour strike. To figure out exactly how it was meant to be shaped, I carefully studied my working comtoise clock, and I will attempt to explain as much as possible how the repair was done.

The first step in the repair was to replace the missing steel. For this repair I used soft welding steel (easily obtainable at most hardware stores). The rough existing lever notch was then filed into a nice rectangle to accept the new steel. It's important to have a nice clean joint. The steel was soldered with silver solder. For simplicity, it was easier for me to solder the entire steel bar to the lever and cut off the excess afterwards, since holding and heating a tiny little repair piece would have been awkward and difficult.

The bar was sawn off, and most of the excess steel was then ground away with a grinder, and coarse files.

Now that I had a nice new "blank" to work with, the lever needed to be ground to length. To do this, I had all the strike train assembled, along with the minute wheel, and with the detent set up before the first hour strike (all the way out), the lever needed to be JUST long enough to drop off the "rack/stop lever pin" (I am not sure of the proper name for this lever). If the lever (the one we're working on) is too short, the half hour may not strike correctly. In my case, the lever was a bit long, so I was able to grind the end slightly for an exact fit. If it had not been long enough, a solution would have been to bend the L shaped arm (the one on the detent that carries this lever) inwards slightly (towards the wheel).

Here is position 1, right before the main hour strike, where the flag is just long enough to drop off the "rack/stop lever pin".

The corner notch is the trickiest portion of the lever to get right. Start small, and enlarge it slowly. The lever will need to be taken on and off numerous times, but luckily it is simply held in place with a screw, and it can easily be taken off without taking anything else apart. The notch needs to be wide enough (to the left) to catch the "rack/stop lever pin" AFTER it locks on the stop pin of the third wheel (just behind it). You can see that I made my notch a bit too deep (top to bottom) but it still works nicely.

Position 2, just after the main hour strike, and before the repeated hour.

After the repeated hour, the detent and lever will be in this final third position.

As the minute wheel advances towards the half hour, the lever will drop down the steps and back into "Position 4" (same as Position 1). The only difference is that the notch in the minute wheel only lets the detent fall far enough to nudge the "rack/stop lever pin" and allow it to do one rotation for a single strike.

Here is the completed lever after final filing, sanding, and polishing. It's not perfect, but it's a pretty successful repair, and I'm very happy with it. I'll just add a quick note here that some of the older levers have a "tail" at the top corner, which is simply decorative. I have no idea if this one had one originally, but most of the later movements were simply shaped in this notched flag form.

The clock is now mechanically functional, but I still need to strip paint off the hammer and bell stand (I had not noticed the paint), and then I will need to buy weight cords, hooks, etc. I should be able to post photos of the completed clock soon.

Angels Comtoise - Part 1 (Before)

Shortly after purchasing the first comtoise clock, I came across this one at a very good price. The movement is complete, with a wonderful dial, but all the other parts are missing. These parts include the pendulum, weights, weight cords and hooks, and a key.

The clock is marked Gaspard Decloitre à St. Martin d'estreaux. I was not able to find any other clocks by this maker, or in this French village. Saint-Martin-d'Estréaux (as it is now written), is a commune of around 890 inhabitants (2012) in central France. The only interesting landmark in this small village is a war memorial dedicated to the lives lost in the first World War.

Here are the photos of the clock when I received it. One of the first things I did was to clean the enamel dial, which had dirt and sticker residue on it.

In this first photo, notice how the clock was packed. I made the suggestion to the seller that she put cardboard behind the dial to keep it from getting crushed. What she came up with was to wrap a cylinder of cardboard (taller than the front) around the bell, and she also placed a double layer of cardboard over the front of the clock. The clock arrived in perfect shape, and I couldn't be happier.

The rest of the "before" photos show the clock with the dial cleaned, but everything else "as is". The clock is much larger than the previous one. This clock is 19" tall, and 11" wide, while the previous comtoise was 16" x 10".

The movement on this one was absolutely filthy, with lots of rust on the lower half.

I believe the bell may have been dropped and partially broken.

Notice the bent levers on the detent.

Note the completely blackened and filthy gear teeth and crossings.

Doors and panels with severely deteriorated finish.

One old hinge repair.

You can see spider webs in between the frames.

Heavy pitting on the base.

Part 2 will show the various repairs to the clock.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Comtoise Clock (Video)

I made a short video of the clock striking. I will eventually make a better (longer) video once I have the clock mounted on the wall in a dedicated location.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Comtoise Clock Restoration - Part 3 (Completed Clock)

There are still a few repairs I need to do with this clock, but they are minimal cosmetic items: new minute hand nut, toothed hour hand washer to hide the square locking nut, acid-wash the hammer (I forgot to do this), and fix the pendulum (which is currently 4" too short).

Overall, I'm exceptionally pleased with this clock. The quality on it is superb, and I've always wanted a crown wheel clock (in any form). If you're not familiar with Comtoise clocks, they are French clocks made originally to be fitted into wooden longcases. The early ones (like this one with a crown wheel escapement) had simple circular bobs with folding rods, while later ones had large fancy pressed or lyre bobs. This clock also has silk thread suspension while later ones have a metal suspension springs. They strike the hours twice (once on the hour, and again a few minutes later), while also striking a single blow for the half hours. I will make a video of the clock striking at a later date.

The earlier versions (in this style) had 2-piece brass fronts, and date to before 1840, while the fancier ones with larger pendulums started around 1860. This particular clock falls somewhere between these dates, and I would estimate that it's from the late 1840s, into the 1850s.

The clock is a medium size at roughly 10" x 16". There are miniatures, as well as larger examples.

The names on the dials of French clocks are of the retailer who sold the clock, rather than the clockmaker. I did a bit of research about "Radet" in Luzy, but I did not find very much. Luzy is a lovely little French village with less than 2000 inhabitants. I did not find any other "Radet Père"* clocks, but I did find 3 "Radet Puiné"* comtoise clocks (which I assume may have been made by the son?), and one mention of a Radet Puiné for sale at auction (a description only - no photo). Other than this, I found one clock by another clockmaker in Luzy named "Mercier à Luzy". Most of all the Luzy clocks I found, however, are dated much later than mine: closer to the 1880s styles (oval/rectangular dials with anchor escapements).

*Père in French translates to "Father" in the same way as in English, where it could mean a dad (father) but also a priest (Father). More likely a dad in this case, but that's just my educated guess.
*Puiné is a French word I've never heard before, but appears to come from the two words "Puis" (also) and né (born) and means "someone born immediately after his/her brother or sister".

That said, here's the completed clock in all its glory! The clock is shown at first without the brass front, to show the restored dial and metal front plate. The complete clock with the brass front is shown farther down after I had crimped it back in place over the front plate.

Neither of the side door photos turned out very well. The patched hinge tabs are on the inside, so they don't show at all unless you open the doors. Also note that this clock has plain flat doors. Many comtoise clocks have fancy pressed patterns on the doors. The doors are popped into the frame by gently curving them.

Note that I still need to clean the rust off the hammer, and polish the brass hammer screw. The large gold washer at the base of the bell stand is iron. These are usually brass, so I chose to paint it gold rather than black.

Left Door. Note top tab is repaired, bottom tab is still original.

Time side, showing the wonderful crown wheel escapement.

Strike side. In case you're curious, the large pointed brass bobble merely acts as a weight. It doesn't actually engage any moving parts.

Hinge repair.

One very nice detail that I photographed separately is the decorative (and very fine) turning on the crown wheel support. The minute hand is shown for size comparison.

Bell, with a small bit of rust, and showing the new leather washers.

Beautiful and rustic original weights, and the key.

Pendulum. Likely a later replacement. Most of the early comtoise clocks like this had plain brass bobs.