Clock Restoration

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This is an abbreviated presentation of a topic covered in Extreme Restoration. The explanation in the book will be longer and in greater detail, but this overview provides the essentials.

Faux Wood Grain Finish: Simulated wood finishes, created using paint, were common on many clock cases manufactured in the
later part of the 1800's. Small "cottage" clocks as well as large "Triple-Decker" shelf clocks used this finish technique to reduce the use of expensive imported veneers.

Genuine veneers were combined with the faux finish such that it was difficult to tell where genuine ended and faux started. On this cottage clock case, the red arrows point to genuine rosewood veneer while the green arrows point to faux rosewood.

After 100 years or more of use, storage and moving, most of these clock cases show considerable wear and damage. With real veneer, you can often find matching "new" veneer to make your repairs. This isn't possible with a faux finish. To restore this finish, you must be able to reproduce the original grain using paints.

Repairing or recreating faux wood finishes is accomplished using "glazes" which are nothing more than paints that have been thinned to the point of translucence. The techniques necessary to create authentic looking faux finishes are not difficult to master and require no special tools. Practice pieces (4 x 8 inches) can be cut  from thin paneling or door-skin and used to perfect technique.

Materials: Faux wood grain does not require a large investment in tools or supplies but it is important to gather up the needed materials and get organized before the first attempt. The following are basic materials you will need.

Glazes: Artist's acrylic paints work well for faux finishing. They are mixed with water and acrylic medium to create glazes.

Shades such as raw umber, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and black pretty well cover all the wood tones needed.

A product called acrylic medium or polymer medium is used to thin paints for brushing and spraying. It is available in both gloss and matt finish. Either works well.

Artist's acrylics and medium of are available from arts & crafts stores such as Michaels.

One of the nice benefits of using acrylic based glazes is that they are water soluble until completely dry making clean up quick and easy.

Brushes: General purpose artist's brushes work well. A selection of round and flat, soft and firm should be on hand to try. A one-inch throw-away type paint brush has relatively firm bristles and works well for creating the grain effect.

Special Tools: There are special wood graining tools available from on-line sources and many home stores. These are flexible rubber pads with a grain pattern

This type of tool is rarely needed in clock work since most of the faux finishes were rosewood.

The grain on clock cases tends to be a long straight grain instead of the wavy or arrowhead shaped grain often seen on walnut veneers.

Practice Pieces: Thin "door skin" material can be cut into convenient sizes for practice or test pieces.

Reference Images: A photo of the desired wood pattern (or real veneer) will be needed for a visual reference when painting the faux grain. This will be more important than you may think.

Digital photos that can be enlarged to full size and printed are very helpful.

Make sure the colors in the photo are relatively accurate. Here the photo is being held up to the side of the actual case to compare colors.

Surface Preparation: Any damage to the wood base surface must be repaired.

Interestingly, a thin sheet of veneer (from some non-exotic wood) is often applied to the wood case before faux painting.

It may be that these panels were painted in mass prior to installation on the clock cases.

The case here had damage to the base veneer and a new piece was cut and installed. Dings along the top of the case were filled with a wood filler product.

Once needed repairs have been completed, the panel should be sanded smooth.


The base wood should be sealed and primed prior to beginning faux finishing.








A flat eggshell colored alkyd enamel works well for this. It fills well, and once cured, sands very smoothly.

The primer is sanded smooth once cured.

If imperfections remain they can be repaired at this time.

Don't worry if some of the underlying wood "peaks" through the primer.

Base Color: Yellow ocher acrylic is mixed with water and acrylic medium to make a base color. The ratio is one part acrylic medium to two parts water. Enough of the yellow ocher is added to produce an almost opaque paint.

The freshly mixed paint is brushed over the eggshell primer to provide the base color for the wood finish.

It is not necessary (or advisable) to try to produce a perfectly even finish with the yellow ocher. Brushing along the length of the wood will leave brush strokes and light/dark areas that begin to establish a grain direction.

Grain Colors: The door skin scrap noted previously should be prepared with the primer and yellow ocher.

Study the reference photos of the desired wood pattern to get a feel for the colors in the wood then mix and apply several of the previously noted colors to the test piece.

Hold the test piece up to the reference photo or reference veneer to confirm that the selected colors are correct. This may take a little customer mixing, but not too much.

Keep in mind that a top glaze will be applied to set the overall tone of the panel once the wood grain pattern has been completed so it isn't necessary to get too carried away with matching color at this stage.

Applying Grain: Select one of the grain colors and, referring to the reference photo, begin to paint in the grain along the length of the piece. A stainless steel ruler works well for keeping things generally straight. Keep referring to the reference photo to determine the width of grain lines and any waviness.

If the pattern gets way off course, just wipe the paint with a damp sponge and begin again. A little patience here and a good grain pattern will come.

It sometimes helps to take the photo of the wood grain and lay in on the piece then lightly mark the width of various grain patterns with a soft pencil. These marks are then used to align the ruler and paint grain.

The initial grain color and pattern has been painted on the side of the cottage clock case. It's not pretty at this stage, but a pattern is beginning to appear.

Remember that additional layers of glaze will be applied and will soften and obscure most of the sharpness of the base lines shown here.

The one-inch throw away brush has relatively stiff bristles and can be used in a "stipple" (jabbing) fashion to create some light and dark areas within each grain.

First Over-Glaze: Once the basic grain pattern has been laid down, an "over glaze" is mixed and applied. This is a translucent glaze that has a basic formula of 2 parts water to 1 part acrylic medium. Color is added to create the translucent glaze.

Since the grain being created is a rosewood, the over glaze is a reddish color made from burnt sienna.


The glaze is brushed over the case side. Notice how the initial grain colors are already becoming softer and the yellow ocher is now a lighter brown.

The translucent glaze does a lot to pull everything together to begin to actually look like wood natural wood grain. But there is more to come.

Creating Grain Detail: Allow the over glaze to dry for a short while and it will become jell-o-like.

Now, using the stiff bristled throw away brush, make short strokes into the soft over-glaze. This will create very short, fine lines in the glaze that look very much like those seen in real wood grain.






Study this photo closely and you'll see the very fine lines seen in real wood grain. This is achieved with short, jabbing strokes.

Allow the first over-glaze to cure over night.


If you wish to further soften the look, use #600 wet/dry sand paper to very gently thin the glaze in different areas. As with the earlier sanding, you must be careful to not get carried away and remove too much glaze.



Top-Glaze: Once the grain pattern has been brushed out to your satisfaction, a final top glaze is applied to set the overall shade of the finish. With the rosewood the final top glaze was a brownish shade made with burnt umber acrylic.

Again, two parts water to one part acrylic medium creates the glaze base. Actually little acrylic paint is needed to tint the glaze enough for use.

The burnt umber glaze immediately tones down the red-orange shades of the burnt sienna. The overall shade is beginning to look like rosewood.

Allow the top glaze to cure then determine if a second coat is needed to reach the desired shade.




Several light coats are usually necessary to get the tone dark enough and the look deep enough. Use your reference photos as a guide.




Final Sealing: The final step is sealing the finish. After allowing the piece to cure for at least 24 hours, sand very lightly with #600 wet/dry sand paper just enough to get a smooth finish.

Next shellac is brushed or rubbed onto the surface to provide sheen and protection.

Iím a sucker for hand rubbing the shellac. This results in a very thin, very smooth layer that has the look of fine furniture. It also means I never get a run.

The shellac should be allowed to cure for a day or two so that it fully hardens. The piece can then be put into service.

Practice Pieces: Test pieces, and more test pieces. A cheap way to work out the details.

Summary: As can be seen, the materials to do faux wood grain are few: Three or four acrylic colors, some acrylic medium, some inexpensive brushes and some door skin for practice. Investment is under $20.00 and the paint supplies will last for years.

Compare the grain pattern on the base of this case to the un-restored case shown below and you will see that this is the same case.

Compare the faux wood grain pattern, before and after, and you'll see that the original grain design has been faithfully reproduced.

It is possible to produce some very professional results with good planning and just a little practice. Give it a try and you will quickly realize that you have a lot of hidden talent.